Cover Florentine jeweller Carolina Bucci (Image: Marc Ducrest)

The first woman to oversee her family’s jewellery dynasty, Italian designer Carolina Bucci reflects on the chance encounter that forever changed her career

I grew up surrounded by jewellers and always knew that one day I’d join my family’s business and create my own eponymous brand. Although I must admit that, for a brief time at university in New York, I did dream about opening a small pottery shop with a kiln in the back for fun. I’m part of a fourth generation of Italian jewellers. My great-grandfather opened his Florence workshop in 1885, and specialised in pocket-watch repairs. In all honesty, I’ve always thought that women’s watches have taken a back seat to men’s and have found that watchmakers can be pretty lazy when designing them. Rather than asking women what they want, they take the easy way out by making men’s watches smaller and pink, before smothering them in diamonds.

I had consequently found it difficult finding watches that suit me. Then, one day in New York, by chance I saw a lady wearing a perfectly proportioned yellow gold timepiece. I actually followed her into Bergdorf Goodman to get a better look. Yellow gold is, without doubt, my favourite material to work with. I love its warmth and flexibility, and doing unexpected things with it, as seen with my signature Florentine Finish, which is an ancient Florentine hammering technique. It achieves a frosting effect we sometimes call “diamond dust”, which is created using a diamond-dipped tool that strikes tiny facets into the gold, leaving it sparkling.

The woman was wearing an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, so I immediately went to the store and discovered it was a discontinued model. It had been a men’s watch from the late 1970s or early 1980s, and I was so frustrated. I’d set my heart on it. My husband luckily tracked down a second-hand one through a watch dealer and it looked perfect when worn with my own jewellery.

I never took the watch off and ended up wearing it to a magazine photoshoot, which Audemars Piguet CEO François-Henry Bennahmias saw. He wanted to meet with me, so a mutual friend introduced us at a lunch in London. He’s such a big character and isn’t afraid to ask difficult questions. He asked me why I wore a decades-old men’s watch, rather than a modern women’s timepiece. I explained that their women’s watches simply didn’t do it for me. The women I designed jewellery for wanted more from a watch than what was being offered. He asked me: “Do you think you can do better?” I said yes, and soon afterwards we collaborated on the Royal Oak Frosted Gold, which utilises my Florentine Finish.

The watch was launched during a 2016 dinner, which was attended by about 300 people, at Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. We had a spectacular light show that trailed across the walls and ceilings, which were covered in Renaissance frescoes. The food and wine were provided by three-Michelin-starred restaurant Enoteca Pinchiorri. Talk about a dramatic reveal.

I’m so proud to have found my own voice. It’s so easy to second-guess yourself, especially when you’re first starting out. But over time, you develop an instinct that lets you know you’re on the right track. And what has really excited me is that despite the fact my Royal Oak Frosted Gold design was initially made for women, it has increasingly been worn by men. Great design is about taking bold jumps, rather than small steps.

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