Photos by: Donnelly Marks & Buccellati, Hair and Makeup by: Olga Postolachi
In Italy, the great fashion houses, most of which are run by founding families or their descendants, often look for next-gen leadership around the dinner table rather than at Harvard or Stanford business schools. But when Lucrezia Buccellati told her grandfather Gianmaria, head of the most exclusive jewelry company in Italy, that she wanted to go into the family business, he replied, “Maybe you should be an actress. Or a singer.”
The response startled her. “I thought he would be excited about it,” she says. After all, she had grown up with the scions of other great fashion families, so when your surname is also a renowned label, the family business as a career option looms large. For some heirs, of course, it proves to be an irresistible lure; for others a gilded handcuff to be shaken off at any cost.
Despite what her grandfather said, Lucrezia wanted in. After all, the Buccellati business had been handed from father to son for three generations. And therein lay the challenge: She wasn’t the son. “I think everyone was expecting my brother to go into the business,” she says of her sibling Gianmaria, who ultimately would find the tech world a more intriguing career path.
Lucrezia had considered different creative professions, like architecture or fashion, but after graduating from the Politecnico di Milano, traveling extensively, and collaborating with her mother, a designer, on some fashion jewelry pieces, she began to rethink her options. During a trip to India, where she was dazzled by the local color, jewelry, and architecture, she realized that her passion for the infinite possibilities of design made her desire to join her family’s company even stronger. When she returned to Milan, she had no doubts about wanting a role at Buccellati, but grandfather Gianmaria still had to be convinced. “There was a rough patch, at the start,” she recalls. “My grandfather was concerned I wasn’t aware of the work that would be involved, that I would eventually have a family and wouldn’t have time to devote to the business.”
Her father required less persuading, but his conditions were firm. He said he’d be happy to teach her jewelry design, but only if she could demonstrate that she loved the work and could commit herself to it. “If you want to do this job, then you have to go for it,” he told her. “He felt that deciding to be a jewelry designer was similar to choosing to be an artist,” she says. “You are one or you are not. It is part of your DNA.” After he saw she was willing to work what she calls “crazy hours”—he let her in on a little family secret. When Andrea wanted to design for the company, his father had reacted as he had with Lucrezia, providing a hurdle of doubt so his son would know that having the last name Buccellati was no guarantee of a job at Buccellati. It was a test to see if Andrea had the mettle and desire to give it his all as his forbearers had. “People think it’s easy working for your family,” she says. She pauses and gives a little laugh: “Here you really have to prove yourself.”
Lucrezia went on to study jewelry design at GIA Milano and at FIT in 2010, a move that brought her to New York, where she worked at Buccellati part-time. Her stateside presence helped her cause, too. In 2013, the senior Buccellatis sold 67 percent of the company to Cressida Capital Partners, and expansion plans were in the works. “We were opening more stores in the U.S.,” she says. As important as it was to have a family member in New York was the fact she had begun collaborating with her father on their first collection, called Blossoms. It would be a bold debut—the company’s first silver line, defined by a fresh textured gardenia motif and lower price point ($2,000 and under)—and became a runaway success soon after the launch. Her grandfather was impressed with the results, and then some. After Blossoms, there was no doubt about a role for her in the company; in 2014, she was appointed co-creative director, a title she shares with her father to this day.
Having demonstrated her design talents, Lucrezia’s promotion proved to be well timed. The company was in the midst of a major rebranding. The retail climate was changing; lifestyles had become more casual; digital natives would soon be a buying force; and global tastes and sensibilities were skewing younger. Lucrezia, in her early 20s when she began working (she is now 27), could play a key part in helping position Buccellati—known for its statement jewelry and decorative objects worthy of royal households—to a new customer base, with more affordable price points and with designs that could sync easily with today’s more relaxed dress codes. “When we launched Blossoms, I thought what we lacked was a certain wearability,” she says.
At Buccellati, it’s been a long-standing tradition for collections to have the input of two generations of family members, with each contributing a different design sensibility. Gianmaria’s aesthetic was influenced by the Roman Baroque era and by Benevenuto Cellini, a Renaissance artist and master jeweler. Her father’s work draws from the Renaissance but also from more recent decorative arts periods, such as Art Deco, for example. Lucrezia praises his design style for its exquisite symmetry and geometry. As for her own design, she describes it as “freer, and inspired by so many things,” not just by art history but by nature and fabric,” and admits to wanting to offer a new take on the brand’s storied “traditionality” and classicism. “I like to think outside the box,” she says. “And I believe that’s what the brand needs.” Of the major gems (diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires) long associated with Buccellati pieces, Lucrezia prefers sapphires, but she is just as happy to work with semi-precious stones, like aquamarines and opals.
The last three years at Buccellati have brought a lot of change. In addition to the Cressida investment, Gianmaria’s retirement, and Lucrezia’s appointment, the company introduced its first engagement ring collection, called Romanza. While the Buccellatis knew how successful engagement rings had been for other brands, and had been creating them as custom pieces for clients for decades, they didn’t want to create a line “just for the sake of doing one,” she says. It would have to be different yet very Buccellati, but also right for a new generation of brides who wanted a distinct ring, something that featured the brand’s signature styling though with a modern, lighter touch. They introduced seven models, each named after a noted literary heroine and each with varying degrees of engraving (and different price points). This line, too, was a hit.
2015 marked the end of one Buccellati era—patriarch Gianmaria died at age 86—although the baton had already been passed. Lucrezia and her father were responsible for two major launches that year: The Art Collection, a jewelry line inspired by elements of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, which was timed to the opening of the new Buccellati Madison Avenue store; and Opera, a collection that reinterprets classic design motifs at new and lower price points ($380 to $2,000). “Opera sold out immediately,” Lucrezia says. During the summer, Buccellati debuted its capsule, called Opera Color, using less precious stones like lapis, onyx, opal, and mother of pearl, again targeted at a customer looking for a more informal take on fine jewelry.
When developing The Art Collection, the Buccellatis had an incredible resource right at hand: David Wildenstein, scion of the Wildenstein dynasty—whose family has handled the world’s greatest art for more than a century—also happens to be Lucrezia’s husband. When they married three years ago, they became an instant New York It couple—a stylish duo linked to two legacy brands, with exquisite taste, who are also impossibly photogenic as well. While the Wildensteins are certainly visible on the New York social circuit, their life now centers around their young family, a three-year-old son, Nathan, and an infant, Daniel, born last September.
As a modern business executive juggling family demands, Lucrezia admits, “It’s challenging. In this role you have to travel a lot, you have to be out there for the brand. You need a strong work ethic to do it all, but it gets back to what my father told me, ‘If you follow what you really love and what makes you happy, you dedicate yourself.’ ”
She and David, who are in the process of renovating a house upstate, plan to divide their time between city and country while their children are young. They’re building their own art collection, although not with the mega names associated with the Wildenstein galleries, but rather with up-and-comers and Cuban artists. The country is where Lucrezia likes to paint, to synthesize ideas for new collections from her travels, from nature, and tangentially from fashion and contemporary art. Her paintings (whose styles range from Pop Art to realism) have become an important first step in formulating concepts for the collections that will take Buccellati into the future. But whatever new thinking she brings to the company, Lucrezia is mindful that it needs to reflect what the brand has always stood for as well. “We are known to be original, timeless, unique,” she says. “We never go out of fashion. If you love Buccellati, you can’t find anything else like it.”
Lucrezia Buccellati’s New York
We live Uptown now; it’s easier for our children and our businesses. But Gramercy Park, where I first lived when I came to New York, is my favorite.
For sushi, Yasuda; for Italian, Il Gattopardo; for Japanese, Kappo Masa.
No one designer or brand, but I like Valentino—it goes well with our jewelry—and Alexander McQueen for evening wear. Pucci made my wedding gown, so there’s an emotional attachment to the brand. Also, Wes Gordon. For everyday, I’ll mix Zara with a designer label like Chanel.
What she does to relax
I’ll do yoga or go to Central Park. New York is such a concrete city. When you visit Central Park, you feel like you’re in the middle of the country.
The Whitney and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
What she’s reading now
The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown; and Deluxe, by Dana Thomas.
Her own engagement ring
A deep blue cushion-cut sapphire in a simple, classic setting. My husband chose it.