Sicis Jewels’ dazzling creations stand out from anything else you may find in the windows of luxury jewelers around the world. Unlike more conventional jewels, the star of each design is not a gemstone but micro mosaic. This ancient technique dates back to Roman times and allows rich patterns and intriguing miniature works of art to be created by painstakingly placing together thousands of different colored miniature enamel glass pieces or tesserae. Every jewel is as much a work of art as it is a triumph of design, know-how and meticulous craftsmanship.
The intrepid Leo Placuzzi and his daughter Gioia, the founders of Sicis Jewels, have brought up to date the ancient art of micro mosaic with their new approach. Sicis Jewels was founded in 2013, a division within the parent company. After running the UK business, Gioia followed her heart and completed the Gemological Institute of America course in London and in 2018 took over as Creative Director for jewelry.
‘We have achieved the perfect marriage of the past and present as well matching the intrinsic value of the materials with the artistic input of the craftsmen and women. This makes each piece unique,’ explains Gioia from the firm’s London boutique.
The jewels ripple with life in a unique combination of daring, contemporary designs in vibrant colours rich in textures, opacities and tonal nuances. The delicately uneven surfaces and the generous but harmonious volumes bring an exciting new dimension to jewellery.
Though grand in concept, each jewel takes dozens of hours of meticulous work. Using the smallest specks of mosaic like paint on a brush, the infinite colours and qualities of glass enamel unleash a greater creative freedom. Creative Director Gioia Placuzzi explains: ‘Micro mosaic is our gemstone as it is made from crushed minerals and stones. This in itself is a creative process that allows the artists access a universe of colour and subtlety that is just not possible with gemstones alone.’
Everything about the firm is unusual story starting with the story of the parent company. In 1987 Leo Placuzzi, who supplied luxury wall and floor coverings was working on a sheik’s mansion in Saudi Arabia. When considering the most opulent material for this home, Leo suggested mosaics, as favored by the most extravagant Roman Emperors. Back home in Ravenna, Italy, a city known of its colorful Byzantine mosaics, Leo was unable to source anything of the quality and in the quantities needed from small-scale artisans still producing mosaics. His solution was to set up his own factory, and so Sicis was born.
Sicis, the acronym for the Latin: Sic Immensos Clarosque Inceptus Somniavi that translates as ‘this is how I dreamed of famous and great undertakings’, is now a global company with 22 stores and 400 staff. Its Art Mosaic Factory head quarters produces not just large-scale mosaics or ‘eternal paintings’ as they are also known due to their enduring colours but also precious jewellery.
Though the jewels came after the mosaics, Leo’s passion for jewellery was bound to lead him to it. So deep is his love of this art form that it stretches to his choice of name for his daughter Gioia, that means jewel in Italian. ‘It is a happy coincidence that my father chose this name and it reflects our shared passion of jewellery,’ explains Gioia.
Whether making mosaics that cover entire buildings or the smaller ones that are used in jewelry, the base ingredients and the first phase of production are similar for both. All Sicis mosaics start life as silica blasted at 1,400 degrees in their furnaces. But unlike traditional mosaics, Sicis has patented the process of adding in ground minerals such as diamonds, gold and sapphires to enhance the colors creating the house’s hallmark vibrant hues and effects. Ground rubellite brings a vivacity to red mosaics, and jade or peridot adds a lushness to green tones while sapphire roots – the lower quality part of the stone – brings a vibrancy to the blues. As lower quality and often included stones are used, the process makes use of material that would have been discarded, cutting down on waste. A near infinite array of colors, textures, effects and translucency can be achieved in this key phase of the process.
Once the tiles or tesserae are made, they are then molten again to create slender hand-pulled glass rods from which small fragments are filed off to create the micro mosaic pieces. A look at the jewelry workshop reveals walls lined with boxes containing every hue of glass rods that are the artist’s raw material in this unusual jewelry-making technique. And this is just the start, as each Sicis jewel takes three or four times as long to create as a traditional one. Gioia says: ‘Our jewels take much longer to make than traditional ones as we have the additional two steps of creating the micro mosaics before we even start work on the jewel.’
The 15×15 mm sized pieces of mosaic are filed off the glass rods to create the dots, that like a pointillism painting, are picked up with tweezers and applied to a patented paste base. Dot by dot the designer’s vision is brought to life. There is a constant dialogue between the artists and mosaic makers, requesting specific tones and textures to exactly match the pattern.
Even once the micro mosaic is complete, often on undulating surfaces, these elaborate, three-dimensional jewels are also adorned with gemstones. In a company where color is an obsession, finding the right gemstone can take dozens of attempts to find the perfect match for the mosaic.
When working with fire and glass enamel in such a traditional way, uniformity is not the aim. ‘It is a very complicated process that needs a lot of patience and ability. Our clients love the idea that they really have a one-off, as every jewel is different as there are so many handcrafted elements. Factors such as the temperature on the day the jewel was made and the hand cutting process means that nothing is ever exactly the same,’ explains Gioia.
The process is so labour intensive that number of jewels produced is limited by its very nature . Sicis has worked with some of the greatest names in luxury who seek out its rare skills. The firm has created marble and micro-mosaic jewels for Fendi and intricate watch dials for the American jewelry house Harry Winston.
The master craftsmen and women, of which there are some 30 working in the Sicis jewelry atelier, have all studied Fine Arts and then had at least a further three years training in house. From the one-off high jewelry pieces to the more everyday designs, each Sicis jewel is a contemporary work of art with a very ancient soul. ‘The real value is not the gold and the stones but in the wealth of traditional craft and art in each jewel,’ says Gioia.
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