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Raffaella Mannelli

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Italian designer throws caution to the wind to create gutsy, bold looks in the tradition of haute couture.

[dropcap cap=O]ld-world Italian roots aside, jewelry designer Raffaella Mannelli has shaken up the traditional associations of

her craft. From the moment she launched her own jewelry collection in 1998, Mannelli began to develop a gutsy, high-couture look based on irregular organic shapes in wood juxtaposed against the elegance of perfectly set diamond pavé and shimmering gold. Many in the industry have described her pieces as wearable sculptures. “I simply love big shapes and proportions that will be noticeable. They provoke very definite reactions in both those who wear my designs and those who see them,” says Mannelli. Multiple generations of Italian jewelers now work alongside Mannelli in her workshop to develop her collection. All of them have been told by Mannelli: “Please forget everything you know, and let’s develop new ways to make this collection come to life.” — INTERVIEW BY BETH BERNSTEIN [/dropcap]

ITALIAN WILDERNESS: “I had a wonder-ful childhood filled with culture and art. I was born Raffaella Ricci in Arezzo and lived in Borgo San Sepolcro, a small town in the high Tiberina Valley. This area is well known for having given birth to the great artists Piero Della Francesca and Michelangelo, and it is characterized by a wild countryside. I continue to be influenced by living and exploring the nature I was surrounded by in my youth as well as a constant and full immersion in the wondrous art of the Italian masters in museums, monuments and cathedrals.”

FAMILY CONNECTION: “In addition to my earlier inspirations, jewelry making is in my genes, as my uncle owned a small factory in Arezzo. The first time I went to the workshop as a child, I was totally fascinated by the entire manufacturing process and wanted to learn more about it. I continued to visit and began to develop a particular fascination with gold and creating jewels. I felt it was a great privilege to touch, try on and be around these beautiful materials and metals. It didn’t take long before my passion for the craft and design of jewelry was fueled.”

ROUNDED EXPERIENCE: “I achieved a degree in contemporary and modern foreign language, which gave me the possibility to study different cultures and be in contact with varied mentalities and lifestyles. Prior to this, I attended communication and jewelry design courses in Florence. But I think it is when I met Alessio Mannelli at the age of 19 that everything really came together for me in all aspects of my life.”

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[inset side=right]“I have a true affinity for the technical details and how it all comes together.” — RAFFAELlA MANNELLI[/inset]

JOINT EFFORT: “Alessio and I were very young when we met in 1984, but it was definitely love at first sight. From the start, I knew we had different personalities and backgrounds, but we shared common interests, passions and experiences, which is at the heart of any good relationship. When we met, Alessio was working as a sales agent for a wholesale company, and I was at an export sterling silver business. In 1998, we decided to launch our own company.”

A HAPPY UNION: “We’ve now known each other for 25 years and have worked together and been married for 11. When you are with someone for this long, you can disagree and make your points, talk frankly and never be scared to speak your mind. It’s not always easy but it always turns out feeling good and right. What’s important is we both take on very different roles in the business. I love getting involved in the entire design and manufacturing process from first idea to the last and smallest detail. Alessio handles the financial and commercial aspects and, due to his knowledge of gemology, he also selects stones and deals with suppliers.”

THE PHILOSOPHY: “Since the beginning, I have always believed in what I call ‘anti-minimalism’ and exploring new ways of doing things. I work with these great craftsmen who have been in the business for a long time, or new jewelers whose families have worked in this art form for generations. I constantly ask them to push the boundaries of how we can make designs that are asymmetrical, naturalistic and irregular look perfect in the execution.”

THE NATURE OF THE DESIGN: “I’m completely influenced by organically sculptural forms, and I also like big, expressive pieces. These are the two inspirations for my working in wood (primarily ebony). While I prefer bold style, I don’t like anything to look or feel heavy. Wood is quite light and there is a beauty to the contrast it has when used with yellow, rose or white gold and diamonds.”

ALL IN THE DETAILS: “I go through the entire process from the smallest seed of the idea to the final closure on a piece. I have a true affinity for the technical details and how it all comes together and works. I will sketch out the designs, but rather than just explain and give drawings to my craftsman, I sit down at the bench and work it all out with them. I feel that we have evolved, but it’s important to always be ‘a work in progress.’ If you create like this, you will continue to come up with collections that are authentic and fresh.”

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Little Bones Multi Stretch Bangle in hand-carved ebony wood, rubber and 18K yellow gold.

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High Neck Luxury Cashmere Collar in hand-carved ebony wood, 18K matte rose gold and diamonds.

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