From Italy, with love

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Imagine stepping inside the history of humanity, taking a leisurely stroll through what man has done best in this world: art and creation. A showcase of culture, savoir-faire and heritage, the invitation-only Biennale des Antiquaires is the France of Louis XIV and his successors in Versailles, that of the Belle Époque and the Art Deco era, that of Le Corbusier and Monet – a France that set the tone for the rest of the world. The Biennale has made of Paris the guardian of a certain idea of France – that of a symbol of luxury – its antiquarians tirelessly persevering to keep alive the appeal of rare métiers performed by generations of cabinetmakers, goldsmiths, lacquer artisans, marquetry craftsmen, bronze workers, sculptors, upholsterers and decorators, who take their time to achieve perfection through activities based on rarity and scarcity. Taking place from 11 to 21 September 2014, the 27th edition of the Biennale des Antiquaires brought together 86 internationally-renowned art and antique dealers, among them 14 contemporary fine jewellery houses, including Alexandre Reza, Boucheron, Bulgari, Cartier, Chanel, Chaumet, David Morris, Dior, Graff Diamonds, Piaget, Siegelson, Van Cleef & Arpels and Wallace Chan – a record number in the Biennale’s history.

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One of the most exciting discoveries at the fair was newcomer Giampiero Bodino, who works out of Villa Mozart – his opulent 1930’s Art Deco home in Milan designed by architect Piero Portaluppi that he restored and decorated, which is surrounded by lush greenery – eschewing the impersonality of a boutique. Featuring floral-frescoed ceilings floating over marble columns, stone mosaic floors, extraordinary woodwork, sculptures by Eugenio Baroni and Antonio Maraini and imposing figurative paintings by Bodino himself, Villa Mozart is where the 54-year-old studies, sketches, creates and welcomes discerning clients behind closed doors by appointment only. He will never reveal their names though, as discretion and confidentiality are the name of the game.

Established just over a year ago, the brand’s participation in the Biennale is nothing short of extraordinary, as the other fine jewellery exhibitors have all been in the business for decades or even centuries – vaunting their centuries-old history and archives filled with commissions from royalty and movie stars – and debuts are rare in the world of high jewellery in general. Still, while the name Giampiero Bodino may be unknown to the general public, he is one of the most influential persons in luxury circles today. Having served as the group art director of the Richemont Group (which includes Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Van Cleef & Arpels and Piaget) since 2002, he has played a key role in the design of the group’s watches, jewellery, accessories and writing instruments and shaped the look of some of the most important timepieces and jewels of our day, and his eponymous brand marks the first time any large luxury group has started a fine jeweller from scratch, as it has previously grown by acquisition. Currently balancing his two roles, Bodino still prefers to stay out of the limelight for the other brands he’s responsible for within the Richemont Group, therefore he doesn’t participate in their jewellery product presentations.

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The first time I’d heard of Bodino was in connection with his one-of-a-kind sculptural fine jewellery creations for Jaeger-LeCoultre, where each timepiece was handcrafted with over 3,000 stones – diamonds, rubies, pink sapphires and tsavorites for La Rose and yellow sapphires, diamonds and tsavorites for La Tulipe – carefully selected to fit into an amazing puzzle of sinuous colour gradations of interweaving petals, corollas, leaves and stems. All intricate details were picked out and reproduced in a manner faithful to their real-life counterparts, which entailed more than 600 patient hours to set each delicate model. Though Bodino had been recognised for his men’s and military watches, his enthusiasm for haute joaillerie creations had won then CEO Jérôme Lambert over, transposing his Italian masculine sensibility into ultra-feminine timepieces.

An accomplished artist in his spare time, the graduate of the Institute of Applied Arts and Design of Turin where he specialised in art styling, industrial design and architecture has designed everything from cars to boutiques and handbags, and worked with major luxury and fashion houses like Bulgari, Gucci, Versace and Swarovski. He recognises that jewellery- and watchmaking inherently involve teamwork, a world apart from that of the artist, yet he infuses his sense of sophisticated artistry into every one of his creations. Having started his career working for car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, he states, “Car design taught me a lot, but the most important thing that remained from that experience is the three-dimensional view of an object – fundamental when you are thinking of cars, but equally indispensable for objects of smaller dimensions.”

Having previously preferred to work behind the scenes, the launch of Bodino’s namesake jewellery brand came about in a natural, fluid way and wasn’t forced, thanks to the far-sighted vision of Richemont chairman, Johann Rupert. When we meet at the Biennale des Antiquaires, the dashing and dapper Italian gentleman muses, “It’s something that probably people who I worked with were thinking at the back of their minds, but I never thought to do that as a goal of my life. I like creation most and creation has no name. So the fact that it’s under my name is something that makes sense for me much more, but it wasn’t something that I always wanted to have. I waited many years to do it because it wasn’t my obsession.”

He discusses how he feels to be exhibiting at the Biennale for the first time, “I don’t have enough words to describe it. For me, it’s like being in a dream. I feel like the name above the door isn’t mine. It’s a huge opportunity, but it’s the fact that people like my work that gives me the most pleasure. It’s important to know people’s reactions. The Biennale is like therapy. You can’t just please yourself, look at yourself in a mirror and say how good you are. This should come from someone else, who sees what you’re doing and tells you. For me, this place gives you feedback; it’s a kind of therapy to double-check if what I’m doing is appreciated or not.”

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Among the 43 capi d’opera (unique pieces that evoke an ancient art form that apprentices submitted at the end of their training before becoming master craftsmen) based on nine themes – Cammeo, Rosa dei Venti, Chimera, Primavera, Barocco, Tesori del Mare, Corona, Passamaneria and Mosaico – which were presented at the Biennale were the Barocco necklace composed of African Paraiba tourmalines, diamonds and white gold and the Cammeo ring featuring a chalcedony cameo, diamonds and white gold. They represented a personal voyage through the eyes of a man in love with beauty and were a discovery of Bodino’s Italy – its history, cultural and artistic heritage and striking landscapes, from the Mediterranean waters to Byzantine mosaics. Bodino draws inspiration from every corner of his home country and its multifaceted traditions: it could range from the colours of a mosaic in a church or an ancient stone statue decorating a balcony in Sicily.

Bodino explains, “I was born in Turin and I lived the first 20 years of my life there. Then I moved to Rome for 10 years, then to Milan. Now I use Milan as a base and I travel a lot. I have the amazing chance to work where I want. All my love for my country of origin comes up and you can feel it in my pieces. It’s my way to say thank you to a country that has the highest concentration of masterpieces in the world in the entire history of art. Concerning clients, it shouldn’t be taken in an arrogant way, but I’m not an opportunistic man and I don’t want to please clients from the Far East, for example, with certain themes. It’s too easy and hypocritical and I have too much respect for clients to do that. In the long term, what I want to do is to try to follow my instincts and hope that people around the world appreciate my work. What I can do is to show the beauty of my country and maybe they can enjoy it, even if they’re not from Italy.”

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However, the Biennale creations were just a small glimpse of what the brand has to offer. “The pieces made for specific clients are never shown,” notes Bodino. “I’m very confidential, but I also need to show the world my taste, style and what I can do. I designed things that I like. I never prepare collections because I’m not seasonal and it takes too long, and we’re not in fashion, but making things that last for a long time. I must produce something that I believe in and propose this to people, and they can be fitted to the client. Or when somebody sees something that has already been done, they can ask for something else. Because we’re a bespoke company, when people come to see me, they understand myself and the product better, and I understand what they want. They don’t buy just an object – they buy a memory, they buy a place and they buy a little part of me, too.”

Bodino sketches quickly and clearly so clients can get an image in their minds of the piece in a very short time, and each piece is fashioned in wax which is turned into silver, modified, then transformed into gold, with the most critical part of the creative process being transforming a two-dimensional sketch into a three-dimensional rough sample. His pieces aren’t rigid but in movement, so he studies where to put the articulations – highly technical work that involves elaborate symmetries, cascades, arcades and swirls that evoke a sense of lightness, freedom and rigour. Volumes are bold and flexible and each creation unites a variety of stones and cuts in vibrant colour combinations that welcome diamonds, emeralds, coloured sapphires, rubies, tanzanites, pearls, red spinels and tourmalines.

“High jewellery in general takes a very long time to make,” Bodino remarks. “Every single piece has a different level of complication. It’s hundreds and hundreds of hours of work for each one, that can go from 200 to 700 hours, which is one year of work on one piece because the procedure is a long process.” While he is currently able to tap on the Richemont Group’s wide-ranging jewellery expertise which is reassuring to clients, he hopes to have a workshop where craftsmen may work out of his villa one day. For the moment, he collaborates with select artisans that the group uses for some pieces, mainly working with Parisian ateliers because he believes that Italy is losing its jewellery-making savoir-faire.

Exclusively producing ultra-bespoke, one-of-a-kind creations that pay homage to Italian art and culture, Bodino only works on one piece at a time, closely following each stage of the creative process. “This is my way of conceiving luxury objects,” he says. “There are people who buy things because they feel reassured that somebody else has already bought them. I can understand this and I’m not criticising this type of attitude, but I prefer people who have their own personality and think the opposite way: ‘If somebody else wears something, I appreciate it, but I don’t want it for me. I want something that is dedicated to me or that I choose according to my tastes.’”

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