This interview originally appeared on the September 2019 issue of Rapaport Magazine.
The acclaimed Italian-born, Geneva-based designer tells about jewellery creation, his sources of inspiration and his projects for the future.
CC: How did you start designing jewels?
MdV: It was a cold evening in March 1966. At the time, I was studying opera singing in Rome and was thrilled to be able to attend Giselle’s premiere, with Rudolf Nureyev and Carla Fracci, at the Opera House. We were waiting for the doors to open when a Rolls Royce stopped before me. Elizabeth Taylor came down from the Rolls and she looked at me with her incredible purple eyes. I was amazed. Her personal coiffeur, Alexander de Paris, had prepared a hairstyle that was a true work of architecture, a tower of black hair, cleverly held by a variety of gems set in brooches and jewellery that made her look like a Madonna — sacred but secular, untouchable yet so worldly. Maybe it was at that moment that I realized that my real passion, even before opera music, was to design and create jewellery.
CC: Nature comes alive in your jewels. What is nature to you?
MdV: Nature is my greatest source of inspiration, and it could not be otherwise, as it is in nature that we spend our lives — whether in large cities, or in the countryside, or in the middle of the sea during my long boat cruises. The whole world surrounding me and in which I live my experiences day by day never ceases to amaze me and tickle my creative vein, submitting to my senses those aspects of myself which are more or less visible, more or less experienceable.
CC: Which gem is your favourite, and how do you choose one for your creations?
MdV: In almost all cases, it is rather the reverse process: It is the gemstone that captures my attention and that, somehow, chooses me. It can be because of its colour, but also because of a particular cut or even because of what could commonly be considered a “defect,” which instead becomes a necessary element once the jewel is complete. I start from a detail that strikes my imagination, a spark that triggers the creative process. If I really must express myself [regarding] the stone I prefer, I declare my weakness for sapphires, which take me back to my beloved ocean.
CC: How do you feel when you look at a diamond?
MdV: I am very sensitive to colours, and therefore I love coloured diamonds, especially blue diamonds, which is why when I look at them, I feel poor…because given their cost, I cannot own them! Jokes aside, diamonds are a universe unto themselves. Sometimes I argue that perfection is boring in jewellery, but the perfection of a diamond for purity and colour is the exception that confirms the rule. Diamonds from the old Golconda mines, then, possess perfection in the imperfection that is proper to them. I am also very fascinated by the old European cuts, for their soft and uncertain line, that persuasive sensation they express when you look at them, like a caress on your eyes.
CC: Who are your clients?
MdV: When I conceive a jewel, I rarely have in mind a specific customer; I usually have the pleasure of creating free from restraints. It is different, however, when clients entrust me with their gemstones, allowing me to make a jewel according to what my inspiration and my imagination suggest. In this case, I proceed with the design, and if the client agrees, I go ahead with manufacturing; otherwise, I return the stones. I have clients who over time have become friends, thus becoming a source of inspiration themselves, thanks to a kind gesture, or a passion that unites us in a project. I conceive extravagance in jewellery only in a positive way: No matter how unique or unusual, a jewel always conveys a meaning — perhaps not decipherable by everyone, but always legitimate and worthy of respect. Like when some South American clients asked me to design some jewels specifically for a funeral; at that time, the idea seemed rather odd to me, but then I realized that mourning jewels are peculiar to some cultures, even though nowadays in Europe they may seem rather extravagant.
CC: How was it to collaborate with Sotheby’s for your bespoke jewellery collection, which sold at auction last October?
MdV: For a designer with a character such as mine, reserved, shy and distant from the whirlwinds of mundanity, it has always been preferable to work with large international auction houses that have allowed me to be known to the general public while at the same time remaining “locked up” in my atelier, concerned only with the creative aspects of my work. They have been my amplifiers and have acted as my marketing department. The success of my very recent experience with Sotheby’s in launching the “Single Owner” project, an unprecedented collection specifically designed for online auctions, testifies to the necessity of taking this new path since nowadays our interests and our lives have shifted to the vast and boundless spaces offered by the worldwide web. The collaboration with Sotheby’s will continue this year, with a new collection that will soon be presented in London and around the world.
CC: Are you a jewellery collector?
MdV: More than jewellery, I am a collector of gemstones; I like to buy stones during my travels or even at auctions and keep them with me. Then sometimes, when the request arrives or even just what I think is the right design, I may mount it and let it go. It’s a game, and I like to keep playing like a child in front of a puzzle board. I love jewellery from the 1920s, and I love the jewellery genius that was [Suzanne] Belperron, a woman who knew how to translate the adventurous taste and elegant style of her own life into her jewellery.
CC: Where is high jewellery heading, in your view?
MdV: On the one hand, we are moving toward more and more personalized jewels, made to [order] for women who know exactly what to wear, in which the inspiration of the designer and the specific needs of the customer find a wise synthesis in the exchange that is established during the creative process… On the other hand, we are looking for jewels full of brio, endowed with communicative verve, for dynamic and sophisticated women who, in a completely natural way, preserve their elegance even wearing witty and original pieces.