Italian jeweller Carlo Palmiero has his sights set on Asia
The founder of Palmiero Jewellery Design reminisces about his Italian hometown and his first encounter with Middle Eastern royalty
"I grew up in Valenza in the north of Italy. It is a small municipality of about 20,000 people. Valenza is famous for its jewellery and is full of workshops and ateliers producing pieces for export all over the world.
Growing up, there were not that many high jewellery manufacturers in the world like us. There were some French companies who also made luxury jewellery pieces, but they focused on big production orders. Valenza on the other hand, was a wonderful community of about 2,000 small workshops.
In those years, artisans in Valenza had high expectations and standards because they knew they could create something important. People in the community were not rushed or busy, so we had time to make fantastic creations.
Thanks to Vincenzo Morosetti, a very skilled jewellery artisan, Valenza became one of the best goldsmith schools when it established in 1845. When he opened the jewellery school, everyone all over the world used to flock there.
I studied at this school and gained first-hand experience working for a lot of the local ateliers at the age of 15. It was this nurturing environment that enabled me to develop a sophisticated and intimate knowledge of my craft.
At that time, the main jewellery aesthetic in Valenza was very simple, classic and featured one key stone. You couldn't experiment with the materials such as moulding gold or creating new shapes. After working for other companies, I eventually became frustrated and quit.
I create Palmiero Jewellery Design in 1979 so I could express the ideas I had. The company was a means to realise many of my ideas which were inspired by nature and art.
Starting the business was difficult at the start. Thirty years ago, my work was considered too avant-garde. But even to this day, some people still consider it to be too forward-thinking.
It was also difficult because a lot of my ideas require a long product-development process. Palmiero's products are also very sculptural and colourful, and it can take from several months to a year to create a design. Many pieces also feature gradient tones, and it requires us to have stones in 20 to 25 different shades to create an ombré effect.
We've been lucky to have had a number of high-profile royal clients. The first time I encountered royalty was in 1999 in the Middle East when I was attending an exhibition in Bahrain. A sheikh's mother came to our jewellery booth, as she was attracted by all the different colours we used. The exhibition staff closed our booth so this woman could browse privately. Eventually, she selected so many pieces for purchase that I nearly had a heart attack.
We have created customised pieces for Arabic princes, Russian ladies and even the Sultan of Brunei. We also offer our signature collections to customers, although we do tend to keep production numbers low to make sure they stay special.
I'm incredibly passionate about art. Maybe it has to do with my Italian blood and the fact that Italy has a very strong history in art. It was therefore quite natural that Palmiero create products that pay homage to some of the world's great artists: Picasso, Mondrian, Van Gogh, Matisse. My favourite artists are Kandinsky, who uses a lot of colours to express emotion, as well as Caravaggio.
Another passion of mine is timepieces, an area I've wanted to enter since I started the business. Our first watches arose quite casually, when customers would ask if we had any watches for sale. During those moments, I would make one-off pieces for them.
We've evolved a lot since then, and about seven or eight years ago, we officially launched our watch collection. We don't consider other high-end watch brands as competitors to us, nor do we want to compete against them. Rather, we think even of our watches more as jewellery pieces because the design is so different and unique.
Since 2004, we've worked with Masterpiece by King Fook in Hong Kong. My son Luca worked for the company previously. And because I am not as fluent in English, he has been a big help in managing a lot of the overseas accounts we have. This gives me time to stay in our headquarters and concentrate on creating the best products.
It's nice to see that Luca has taken an interest in the family business. He has seen our company in good and bad times, and he knows howuch love I have for the business. Even as a child, he would go around our headquarters to observe everyone and see how jewellery is made. With his background, studying business and economics along with a masters in luxury marketing, he can now support us and improve Palmiero's brand awareness.
Of course, as father and son we have different opinions, and I don't always agree with everything he says. But one thing we agree on and are excited about is renewing our focus on Asia - we are looking to create a few pieces that are tailored and specific to tastes in this part of the world."
As told to Daniel Kong