The Arno River originates in the remote Apennines of the Casentino and flows into the Ligurian Sea after meandering through the placid hills of Tuscany for about one hundred and fifty miles. During the Renaissance period its sinuous course was described as the “garden of the world,” caressing numerous towns and villages, shaping their landscapes and history.
Florence is inextricably linked to the Arno River’s presence: a cradle of the Renaissance, the city lies in a scenic amphitheatre-like valley.
When the Romans established the ancient settlement of Florentia, they were attracted to a strategic location on the major trade route known as the Via Cassia. The beauty of the natural environment is what later inspired Renaissance artists like Domenico Ghirlandaio, who painted splendid landscapes and townscapes in the background of his frescoes in the churches of Santa Trinita and Santa Maria Novella. As early as the second century AD, a bridge linked the ancient city to the countryside. Florentia became the region’s main centre, and its bridges made the city a symbol of prosperity.
Carolina Bucci’s new flagship store is next to one of Florence’s oldest bridges, the Ponte a Santa Trinita. From the boutique’s main window, an incomparable view of the Ponte Vecchio. This iconic monument has been connected to the story of fine jewellery since the late sixteenth century, when Grand Duke Ferdinand I de Medici assigned the butchers’ and fishmongers’ shops to the goldsmiths, to avoid unpleasant smells on the route from Palazzo Vecchio to his residence at the Pitti Palace — the famous Vasari corridor, a suspended street that connects the two. Ponte Vecchio holds a special place for Carolina Bucci — one of the brand’s workshops is in one of the mediaeval piers supporting the bridge. The atelier is the only room with a window directly overlooking the Arno. There, time flows with a gentle rhythm compared to the city below. The hands of expert craftspeople patiently assemble contemporary creations, employing the ancient techniques that are embedded into Florence’s history.
This year, Carolina opened her first store in Florence. The almost-perfectly symmetrical and double-height space exemplifies the purist geometry of Florentine architecture. When Carolina first visited the location, walls and plasterboard ceilings masked its rigorous volumes. However, sensing its potential, she embraced the considerable challenges posed by bringing late thirteenth-century architecture back to its original form. Every detail takes up, extends, and reimagines codes and materials that are quintessentially Florentine: an arch painted in a deep tone of charcoal grey establishes a contemporary dialogue with those in pietra serena stone designed by Brunelleschi in the Piazza Santissima Annunziata. A subtle trompe-l’œil on the walls mimics the distinctive shade of blue of the city’s sky.
At a time when serial production seems to dominate every sphere of our lives, Carolina Bucci has looked towards craftsmanship. Thus, even the utilitarian function of a door handle acquires unexpected aesthetic and tactile dimensions, contributing to the whole store experience with each individual tesserae of a mosaic. Prominent in many of Florence’s iconic buildings, such as the octagonal dome of the Baptistery, mosaic decorates the entire ground floor of the boutique. Carolina’s search for the best masters took her to Venice, the historic bridge between East and West, where the expertise has been passed down from one generation to the next since Byzantine times. Pure notes of black and white give a fresh twist to mosaic and terrazzo floors, revisiting these ancient techniques in a contemporary way.
Past and present merge seamlessly in Carolina Bucci’s Florentine store, as in her jewellery, which conceals the meticulous processes behind their spontaneous visual immediacy. The term that describes the designer’s creations more than any other is sprezzatura, the ability to conjure an effortless appearance of what is in fact complex and laborious. Sprezzatura was the quality that distinguished the perfect courtier according to the sixteenth-century Italian writer Baldassare Castiglione, immortalised by painter Raphael Sanzio around 1514 in a famed portrait now at the Louvre. Similar to the sprezzatura of a Renaissance dame nonchalantly walking in her damask robe through the frescoed halls of her palazzo, precious and semi-precious stones are ironically transformed into notes of colour that lighten their actual value.
On the ground floor, a 1930s armchair designed by the great master Gio Ponti for Casa Giardino has been reupholstered with a Bargello stitch fabric, while a pair of rare 1940s Bentwood armchairs by Giuseppe Pagano and Gino Maggioni, famously known as “Bocconi chairs,” has found its place on the upper level. On the wall, a 1981 Luigi Ghirri’s unique polaroid print titled Mappamondo from Still Life bears an ink annotation by the artist on the margin.
The Florentine boutique is a love letter from Carolina Bucci to her native city, a tribute to the place where her jewellery is crafted. With a store that is more a jewel box than a retail outpost, it’s a place to be experienced. An ode to the value of expertise typically passed with time, and other sentiments that define her beloved hometown.