By Åse Anderson
"A world in miniature" is how Italian jeweller Francesca Villa describes her collection of fine jewellery, in which each piece tells its own unique story.
Born in the north-west region of Liguria in Italy, Francesca's love of jewellery stems from the summers she spent at her grandmother's house looking through her "magic boxes" of jewels. Rather than trying the jewels on as other little girls might, the young Francesca was spellbound by the elder woman's detailed descriptions of each piece. She says: "Every jewel had a life of its own, the meaning of which went beyond the value or its evident beauty. In my grandmother's mind, a jewel was a memory, a connection to a time, a place, a person, maybe lost, maybe still close, something which made that single item a piece of your heart. A lesson I never forgot."
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Francesca's love of precious stones and metals is equalled, if not surpassed, by her passion for travel, which takes her to all corners of the globe where images, sounds and flavours inspire her unique jewellery. As she puts it: "Many people work in their own atelier, considering it a place to hide. I prefer to free myself and get in touch with the world by travelling - a unique chance for discovery and enrichment, inseparable from my work."
With a career that includes working as creative director for one of Italy's most famous goldsmiths, designing for brands such as Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and Mikimoto, Francesca decided to go it alone in 2007. While she describes her previous roles as "a dream come true", a deep desire to experiment and innovate spurred her on to establish Francesca Villa jewellery.
Working with a variety of precious materials, from coloured gemstones, pearls and corals to gold in different hues, there is always a leitmotif running through Francesca's work. This "fil rouge" (red thread), as she calls it starts with an objet trouvé that she has picked up on her travels, be it a love letter, an antique toy soldier, Chinese boules from the 1800s or vintage chips from an American casino. "Because a simple object - as with Proust's Madeleine - connects you to someone, to ourselves, to a remembrance of time past and lost," explains Francesca.
She only makes one-of-a-kind jewels, and each piece of Francesca Villa jewellery plays out its own theatre of unexpected, ironic encounters, be it a toy soldier dangling from a necklace, or a lamb gently swaying from a pair of drop earrings.
While having her own unique jewellery brand is not without its challenges - "every day there is a difficult decision to be made" - Francesca wouldn't have it any other way. As she succinctly puts it: "It's the bridge through which I can express my personality, my creativity, and get in touch with people. People I encounter during my travels, people I meet in my showroom in Rome, people helping me make my creations come true."
Francesca Villa rose gold antique toy soldier necklace measuring 50cm, set with 0.20ct of diamonds (£1,249).
Rose gold antique toy soldier earrings, set with rubies, blue sapphires and blue topaz, from Francesca Villa jewellery (£2,499).