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Designer Profiles: Sergio Antonini

Third-generation designer blends Italian tradition with business savvy to take the line global.

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ANTONINI, THE LEGENDARY Milan-based jewelry company, dates back to 1919, with a history rooted in one-of-a-kind pieces commissioned by Italian luminaries and famous opera singers. The business was taken over in the mid-1980s by third-generation siblings, Carlo and Sergio Antonini. Carlo left in 2008 and  the company Milano 1919 acquired the brand Antonini in January 2009. Today, under Sergio Antonini’s role as  as head designer and sales manager, the company remains true to its values while offering elegant takes on tradition through a balance of exclusively cut stones and sculptural, streamlined shapes in 18K gold.

ROOTED IN CULTURE: “In the early days under my grandfather’s leadership (and later my father’s), Antonini was known for dealing in beautiful and rare loose stones and for fulfilling special requests made by opera singers. The gems needed to be the right size and color for both onstage costumes as well as these legendary women’s individual personas. From the greenest emeralds to the richest reds of rubies, the family business became know for the ability to find and design these stones into pieces of jewelry that were tied into Milan’s art and cultural scene. Fashion, design and the music at Scala, our opera house, have continued to be present in the pieces as Antonini has expanded and evolved.”

A FAMILY AFFAIR “I remember my father taking me to the workshop when school was over for the day. He would show me new stones he had acquired and different facets of creating jewelry. At dinner, I would listen to discussions about jewels and the women for whom they were being created. When you grow up around all of this, you breathe it and live it every day.”

AFTER SCHOOL: “I first studied architecture in Milan. I then decided to go to Manhattan, where my inherent instincts for jewelry eventually led me to study at the GIA in New York City. In 1984, through mutual friends, I met Nicolas Franzis, a great designer and businessman that was working for ‘Le Petit Salon’ at Harry Winston. We started a great collaboration. When my father passed away in 1989, I had to make a quick decision to go back and help out with the family business. We moved production of the ‘Le Petit Salon’ pieces over to our factory in Italy. We produced beautifully manufactured, very wearable, high quality pieces with impeccable stones, and it was wonderful to follow the realization of this line of jewelry.”

TIMELY EVOLUTION: “Eventually, we began to concentrate on evolving the Antonini line. Our goal was to design shapes and forms for modern jewels with clean lines that were versatile and could keep up with the contemporary global lifestyle. We would still have our own famous customers for whom we’d do one-of-a-kind pieces, but we needed to grow from our specialized, custom-made beginnings into styles that women across the world would want to buy and would feel comfortable wearing.”

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CHANGING ROLES: “In 2009, I formed a new company to take Antonini forward with an infrastructure that would be prepared to handle future challenges. Our master craftsmen, standards of design and stone selection continue to be part of the brand. Our goal now is to expand into emerging markets and to consolidate our presence in the U.S., where we have an office in Miami handling customer service, repairs and special orders. Our look is still clean-lined and unstudied, with rich details and subtle nuances that give it a distinct personality. The gemstones continue to be specialized and cut to emphasize the beauty of the designs.”

CUSTOMER RELATIONS: “The woman we are designing for wants something special – the exact opposite of anything she views as commercial. She is educated in jewelry, knows herself, and knows what she looks good in. She is more casual in her approach to life and fashion, and she prefers her jewelry to possess a nonchalant elegance that reveals high quality without being fancy or overstated.”

FUTURE GENERATIONS: “My daughter is 8 now, and we sit around the table like when I was a boy, spending time together playing and talking about jewelry. She is very aware, and she comments on the concepts, shapes and colors in the collection. I think she is over her ‘sparkly princess’ phase (thankfully), which every young girl goes through. I was just happy she liked lilac instead of that very bright bubble gum pink. She has an extremely creative nature, so I would just like to see her follow her sensibilities and her heart.”

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Beth Bernstein is a published author of three books and jewelry and fashion expert with 18+ years experience. A broad knowledge of the history of jewelry and fashion coupled with a background in "the story", writing, trends, design concepts has earned Beth a proven track record.

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