On a recent wintry afternoon in a Madison Avenue boutique in Manhattan, Alberto Milani perfectly demonstrates the philosophy of Buccellati.
As he sits at a table talking about the history, creations and enduring popularity of Buccellati, the Greenwich resident and CEO of the famed Italian jewelry company pulls up his sleeve to show that his elegant watch has no brand name blazing across its face.
“The Buccellati name is on the back,” he says with a knowing smile.
Buccellati pieces are elegant and recognizable. There is no need to be showy.
“Even in this case, we believe the style is so particular you will be recognized,” Milani says.
And that recognition is based on nearly a century of history that is never far from his thoughts, even though the company has kept up with modern sensibilities.
Founded in 1919 by Mario Buccellati in Milan, the company remains a family owned and operated entity that has grown to include a fourth generation of Buccellatis.
Gianmaria Buccellati, the son of the founder, and his son, Andrea, continue to design each piece. They closely follow production to ensure that the Buccellati look and quality remain.
“It’s still a family company so anything that we do is designed, sold and produced through the same company,” Milani says. “Anything you buy from us is actually done by a Buccellati. It’s very simple to say, a little more complicated to keep.”
Those creations are sold in boutiques throughout Italy, as well as in Paris, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Sydney and Moscow. In the United States, Buccellati boutiques are found in Beverly Hills and Aspen, as well as this new store on the Upper East Side. (The company relocated from its longtime home on 57th Street in December.). A mere two dozen jewelers nationwide – including R&M Woodrow in Rye and Betteridge in Greenwich – are also authorized dealers.
From its start, the House of Buccellati found fame in Italy.
“Definitely the affluent crowd of Milan was immediately attracted to our jewels,” Milani says. Shops were established in a number of cities.
Soon, the company was expanding throughout Europe. An exhibition in Madrid caught the Queen of Spain’s eye. Her approval meant runaway success.
“Everybody was buying what the queen was buying at the time,” he says.
The company, from its start, put an emphasis on craftsmanship and artistry. Its artisans, many of whom are descendants of original Buccellati workers, draw on techniques dating from the Renaissance to create signature pieces of fine jewelry and silver.
A world apart
The success all comes down, Milani says, to the company’s approach.
He’ll pull out a pen to sketch an example of how the gold is precisely engraved to create a satin-like finish. This textured look has become a signature.
“It is something that doesn’t happen in any other place in the world,” Milani says. “It became the Buccellati style. It became recognized with our name.”
Its nature also makes its execution difficult. The precise detailing is “something that cannot be re-done.”
Milani further explores the technique by taking out a magnifying glass to allow you to see it on an actual signature Buccellati cuff.
The textured look, when magnified, is truly an effect created by intense engraving. Even the little sparkles are made by the delicate workmanship, not actual gems.
“It’s like buying 50 or 70 engagement rings,” he says.
Today, those Buccellati cuffs remain classic choices though the company creates countless bracelets, necklaces, earrings and rings.
Its strength, Milani adds, lies in its belief that it is creating something special.
“Obviously we don’t follow trends,” Milani says.
“I don’t want to sound over-the-top, but we establish trends.”
Milani shares the key components of Buccellati.
First is originality of design: “You immediately recognize it’s Buccellati.”
Second is the combination of colors. Stones, from emeralds to sapphires to garnets and beyond, are selected very carefully.
Finally, the execution must be flawless. It’s so intricate, he notes, that Buccellati designs are rarely knocked off.
“To be a reasonable copy would cost too much money,” he says.
And that is a reflection of the company’s goal.
“This is what we’re all about,” he says. “We’re not selling a commodity. We’re selling a piece of art.”
And that art just happens to be wearable.
“We believe that a piece of jewelry doesn’t have to overwhelm the beauty of the woman that is wearing it,” he says.
He likens Buccellati to the cool elegance of a Grace Kelly, “the opposite of an Elizabeth Taylor.”
Clients, he adds, come back to the company for their creativity, as well. He tells of a time a few years ago when the company had the chance to buy a lot consisting of 25 baroque pearls with very unusual shapes. It was snapped up, with each pearl being transformed into a piece of jewelry based on a different animal.
“This is part of the reason why people come to Buccellati,” he says.
Buccellati, he adds, appeals to a wealthy clientele that is also “sophisticated enough” to relish something creative (and sometimes elaborate) without touching on the garish.
“They enjoy life and don’t like to show how rich they are.” Buccellati pieces, he says, are “recognized within the tribe.”
A new audience
And that tribe continues to grow.
In 2010, the company made a deliberate venture to attract a new, younger audience.
Buccellati Blossoms, the firm’s first foray into sterling-silver jewelry and also the debut of the fourth-generation of Buccellati designers, were introduced. Prices for the floral-themed line of bracelets, rings and earrings are in the $600 to $2,000 range – a marked difference from the previous “entry” price of $5,000 to $6,000 for Buccellati.
“It was an overnight success,” Milani says.
This past spring, two-tone pieces were added to the line along with the Blossoms Oak and Vine group.
The company also continues to design limited-edition pieces, many of which draw on enduring motifs inspired by nature. Its silver line, from sculpture to flatware to frames, is growing as well.
And an audience endures.
“The (public’s) search for quality, the search for customer service is coming back dramatically,” he says.
Milani, whose 26 years in the jewelry industry included work with Bulgari, is proud to be a part of a company with such a storied history, one that was celebrated in “Buccellati: Art in Gold, Silver and Gems” at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., in 2001.
Never standing still
Buccellati continues to grow on other fronts: A new boutique in Chicago will be opened later this year, Milani shares.
The firm’s own corporate headquarters were relocated from Sleepy Hollow to a luxury penthouse office in the Bronx in 2009.
And the move within New York has meant another chapter starting for Buccellati’s American flagship.
After decades on East 57th Street, Buccellati’s elegant new boutique – dotted with gold-accented showcase cabinets – is a bi-level space designed to give a clubhouse feel. The jewels are elegantly housed on the 900-square-foot main floor, while an 8,000-square foot lounge is available for appointments, special events and social gatherings. The boutique features a bar, television screen and Champagne and espresso service for clients.
With the move, the company has also introduced its new private shopping initiative, The Buccellati Club. By invitation only, membership is offered to individuals and loyal clients with a strong purchasing history. The aim is to cultivate stronger relationships while also building a multigenerational clientele.
This year, Milani shares, marks the firm’s 60th anniversary in New York. When it first opened on Fifth Avenue, it was one of three Italian companies (along with Gucci and Ferragamo) there.
So much has changed, Milani says.
“In the ’50s, as you can imagine, there is no fax machine, so if you came to Buccellati and wanted something, one brother was writing a letter to Italy and sending it to the other.”
Today, it’s quite different, with the boutique now settled in a tony stretch with neighbors ranging from Dolce & Gabbana to Cartier, Frette to La Perla and Valentino to Ralph Lauren.
It’s been a smooth move… almost.
Milani notes that the new space has at least one neighbor a bit perturbed.
Milani said he was coming into the shop one day when a man started to give him a hard time.
At first alarmed, Milani quickly understood what the man was saying: When the shop had been on 57th Street, it was an occasional destination for his wife. Now it was mere steps from her front door.
Milani says the man told him: “Now I have no choice. She comes down here and sees you all the time.”
And you just know she likes what she sees.
The Buccellati boutique is at 810 Madison Ave. in Manhattan. For more details, visit buccellati.com