Books: Damiani: Alchemy of Desire

Matilde Parente
January 12, 2015
By Cristina Morozzi, 240 pp., hardcover, illus., publ. by Rizzoli, New York, 2014. US$100.00.
This special edition celebrates 90 years of history at Damiani, the Valenza-based jewel house established in 1924. Visually rich, the book presents the multigenerational evolution of this design house known internationally for its elegantly bedecked celebrity ambassadors and expressive, handmade designs.  

To honor the landmark, the book introduces the Damiani 90th Collection early on, comprising 10 exceptional pieces that mark each decade from the 1920s to the 2010s. Period photographs and sketches enlivened by the artists’ comments—some with more exclamation points than a Facebook post—frame these magnificent pieces as reflections of their time, yet pulsing with a steady beat of contemporary energy and flair.

Woven throughout the book is the thread of an enduring family tradition that is now steered by three siblings who bring complementary skills and experience to the table. Edited by Cristina Morozzi, a writer and art director, the book presents the triumvirate in words and photographs as unified in strength, dedication, and dignity.

The family story begins with master goldsmith Enrico Grassi Damiani, who was said to create jewels for the leading families and wealthy patrons of his day, but about whom we learn little. With succession passing to Enrico’s son Damiano in 1953, the company entered a new period of growth marked by the younger Damiani’s innovations in design, research, and marketing, bringing expansion and heightened recognition to the brand. Although the book’s testimonials paint an incomplete picture of the man, the reader gains a sense of Damiano Grassi Damiani’s eye for perfection and his pursuit of it, embodied by a strong-willed, passionate leader who was able to successfully meld innovation with the new order of style.

Since Damiano’s sudden death in the mid-1990s, his three children, Giorgio, Guido, and Silvia Grassi Damiani, have continued the Damiani tradition. In 2007, the company went public.

The book offers a bird’s-eye view of Damiani’s other notable success: associating its brand with iconic ambassadors of style and glitz. Beginning with Isabella Rossellini as the face of Damiani in the 1980s, the house has also had brand ambassador and other connections with Sophia Loren, Sharon Stone, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jennifer Aniston, all of whom are pictured in glorious Damiani jewelry. At awards shows and A-lister parties, the Damiani-adorned include other celebrities from Paris Hilton to Dita Von Teese.

Brad Pitt’s D.Side collection with Damiani is also featured, which, in a bizarre (and unmentioned) alchemy of its own, was the upside of a legal dispute between the company and the actor along with Aniston, Pitt’s former wife.

While this is an upbeat book in which jewelry reigns as the stuff of dreams and glamour, it also highlights the company’s social responsibility efforts. This is shown by Damiani’s work with Sharon Stone and a nongovernmental organization that has helped bring drinking water to Africans in remote villages in diamond-mining regions.

Notwithstanding the numerous celebrity photos, nearly all in color, the real stars of this show are the pieces themselves. Following a chapter devoted to the unprecedented 18 Diamonds International Awards bestowed on Damiani jewelry, beginning in 1976 with the Shark bracelet designed by Damiano’s wife, Gabriella, the book concludes with a chapter titled “Masterpieces.” Among the pieces that pulse with emotion, boundary-pushing craftsmanship, and staggering beauty are the dreamy “Mediterranea” cuff bracelet, the “Cincillà” collier of diamonds set in burnished gold that evokes a fur neck wrap, the lava-inspired “Vulcania” that practically erupts on the décolletage of the glitterati, and the “Peacock” necklace aglow in sapphires, emeralds, and brilliant diamonds.

Jewelry enthusiasts, stylists, and historians interested in high-fashion jewelry design will be rewarded by this celebration of a remarkable entrepreneurial family and its eye-popping creations.

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