Jeweller Creates ‘Medal of Honour’ Brooch to Recognise Coronavirus Healthcare Fighters
May 14, 2020
Franco Valobra, like many of us, stayed at home during the global coronavirus pandemic. New Orleans, which was hit hard and fast by the virus in the early days of March, ordered businesses to shut down on 15 March and Valobra quickly closed his boutique on Royal Street.
“I vowed to keep all of my staff on full pay and I did the same for our showrooms in Houston and Switzerland,” he said. The Lugano, Switzerland boutique closed first, in early March, because of its proximity to Lombardy, the region hardest hit in Italy. “Fortunately none of my staff and family has been infected by the virus, but lots of friends’ families in Italy have directly experienced the malignity of COVID-19. Thankfully, no one has died.”
Valobra, restless at home in his living room “quarantine office”, watched the images of front-line healthcare workers and first responders fighting to save lives. He also saw people around the world sharing expressions of gratitude for their immense sacrifice and commitment.
“The passionate serenading from balconies, the protracted applauses from windows and the flyovers of the Air Force jets, are, indeed, great pronouncements of universal gratitude and heartfelt appreciation,” he said. “But the musical notes are so regretfully and quickly lost in the air and the rumble of the planes turns into fleeing plumes of jet exhaust.”
Valobra, a GIA graduate, wanted to create a more durable symbol of gratitude for healthcare workers fighting the coronavirus.
“It took me no more than a few minutes to conceptualise the ‘Defeating the Virus’ brooch,” he said. “I had a clear image of the symbol of medicine (the caduceus, a commonly used symbol) stabbing through the coronavirus, but also clearly towering over and overpowering it. The ratios needed to be better than 2:1 — the caduceus being at least twice as big as the virus.”
Once the final drawing was done, Valobra asked his in-house CAD designer to create a rendering and his team of bench jewellers in Houston (which re-opened on 1 May) started to manufacture them. The brooches are completely hand-made, cast in sterling silver and then gold-plated. Each features a round garnet, the gemstone that symbolises health and crisis resolution.
The team has been able to produce 25 to 35 brooches a day and to date more than 500 have been shipped all over the world: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Israel, Canada, Italy, most countries in Europe and virtually every state in the US, including Alaska. All of the brooches are gifts from Valobra to the recipients.
“Naturally lots of them were sent to Texas, Louisiana and New York,” Valobra said, adding that the first five celebratory brooches were shipped to the Coronavirus Task Force at the White House (President Trump, Vice President Pence, Dr Anthony Fauci, Dr Deborah Birx and Surgeon General Dr Jerome Adams).
Valobra originally committed to make and give away 1,000 brooches, but has decided to gift as many as he can. He said anyone is welcome to contact firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate a worthy recipient (someone who is going above and beyond the call of duty in a hospital, healthcare centre, testing facility, laboratory, etc.).
Valobra has received many notes of thanks from healthcare workers who have received the Defeating the Coronavirus brooch.
“As respiratory therapist, we are usually not mentioned as front-line health providers, but the word 'ventilator' is mentioned often. Respiratory therapists specialise in the skills of cardiopulmonary care that determine the appropriate ventilator settings to match the patient’s needs. We stand with the warriors of the front line and we are an essential component for the patients,” said Rosalind Lyssy, of Houston. “To me, the brooch is a symbol of being appreciated and recognised on the front line. Thank you for the honour of letting me wear it.”
Valobra hopes the “Defeating the Virus” brooch will be worn on the lapels of medical scrubs and lab coats for years to come.
“To me, it represents the soon-to-materialise defeat of the virus, a symbol of human triumph through science and medicine,” he said. “I wanted to gift these modern-day heroes with my own version of the Medal of Honor.”
Amanda J. Luke, a senior communications manager is the editor of the GIA Insider and has been an editor and writer at GIA for 19 years.