I recently had the privilege to interview Italian jewelry designer Ugo Cacciatori. What was supposed to be a weekend showroom visit turned into a crash course in gemology and a lesson on how to tell stories with "sentences in silver". In our little chat, Ugo talked about his inspirations, his favorite materials, the rising price of gold and silver, and told one precious story of obsession that resonated very much with how I find myself obsessing about certain things I see, around, on particularly special people.
Tell us how you started making jewelry.
It all began by chance. I didn’t study fashion; I studied architecture. I’m more like a designer in the wider sense. I was born in Carrara, in Italy, where the white marble is from. I was born into a family of quarry owners. The respect of the material is what you will see in my collection. The silver is not plated, it is oxidized naturally with an old alchemistic system. My background is in architecture, and my mother is a scientist.
Ugo Cacciatori and Etna, the pharaoh hound, at the New York City showroom he designed
What inspires you?
The base of the collection is my childhood. That’s in everybody. If you you’re your little child awake, you’re always ready to absorb, to be surprised, to be emotional. Many people, they put it aside, because they have to go somewhere. I have to go nowhere, I just have to enjoy, in the end.
Some of my pieces are really childish. Not that they’re made out of cotton candy, or that they’re pink, but they’re childish in the sense that they are part of something in my childhood, like a pirate’s sword in a story, or a ring with powers---and when you wake up, you still have it on your finger. Materializing dreams.
hidden gem rings by Ugo Cacciatori
a ring with mobile "wings"
But everything inspires me. All my experiences are mixed together in a story and they just explode in these sentences made out of silver. To me, it’s like writing a book, and instead of writing with words, I write with silver sentences.
If I design for somebody else, they have their own story.
Do you do bespoke things too?
I could only dream of having a piece custom-made by you!
I want to be more of a jewellery maison, not just an accessories line.
the skull series: a silver ring, a pendant, and the mabe pearl and silver and diamond ring that needs to be slipped on my finger someday soon
The one piece that turned me on to Ugo Cacciatori was your mabe pearl ring with skulls and diamonds, I thought it was just fantastic. How do you feel about pearls?
In the beginning, I just wanted to use mabe pearls, because it’s something that hasn’t been used for a while. And I like that you can put half and half together and make them look like one whole.
"dot" earrings made out of two mabe pearls put together
What are your favorite materials to work with, besides silver?
Silver is not my favorite material. To me, it’s like bread. It’s something that is good with everything. It’s a more alive material, it oxidizes unlike gold. It is a cheap material, but at the same time, it’s precious.
a chain bracelet with a fine floral motif, subtly studded with dark diamonds
The bracelet decides to join that morning's wrist party.
Yes, you can plate it. But then why do I see jewelry pieces that are made of “oxidized gold”?
Gold does not oxidize. What you can do with gold is that you can mix it. For example, white gold is slightly pink, it’s a beautiful material; it’s not white-white. I like to mix: silver, copper, and gold; platinum and gold; it’s more alchemistic.
In silver, I only use garnet, onyx, and citrine, and smoky quartz, and with gold, I only use 9 carat gold, the gold that was used in the Victorian age.
I love how you describe how you make jewelry as like mixing cocktails. What is your favorite drink?
I usually drink vodka straight on the rocks---rough materials! (Laughs)
Tell us about your aesthetic.
As an architect, I was against ornament. My reference architects were Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, more minimalist… At a certain point in my life, I said, I should break, I shouldn’t dwell so much on one concept. I began to tattoo my body, I began to break my cultural fixations.
This dot ring with a bluish gray mabe pearl is the perfect execution of Cacciatori's minimalist tendencies, and a simpler, more wearable alternative to that pearl and skull ring.
the same ring, set with a white pearl
Does the fashion media (magazines, blogs, etc.) play into your design?
It’s peculiar that in all these years, I don’t read any fashion magazines. I’m very happy that there are blogs nowadays, that at least they give you a more direct and real sense of what’s going on. Most of the press, the established press, is influenced by who’s buying pages, more than what’s nice or what’s new.
A vintage feathered pirate's hat is one of the many found objects that add character to the showroom. To the left, a leather jacket with silver buttons, part of the limited line of clothing to be released.
How do you deal with the rising price of gold and silver?
In eight years, it’s become ten times more expensive. I still have heavy pieces, I still create what I like. But of course, the market is less ready for expensive pieces. They’re more ready for smaller, less expensive pieces. I don’t care, I still make what I like. It’s not just for me, it’s a problem for everybody. My clients know better; they know about the prices of gold and silver rising. I don’t think it’s a matter of costs of materials. If you like something in this collection, it’s very transversal. You can find pieces that cost 300 dollars, 3 thousand, pieces that cost 30 thousand. The meanings and the concept are still the same.
Ugo Cacciatori silver hair clips
a sage shagreen wallet that is surprisingly supple due to a special sanding process
What do you feel about jewelry and men? I think American men are generally averse to jewelry, but they’re getting more and more into it. You see guys wearing more and more bracelets…
First of all, I think it’s something that’s always been there. In other cultures, men have always been wearing jewelry, it’s not even a trend. I have a memory of when I was 18, when I went to Florence to study architecture. I didn’t know Florence, and I was just wandering around and I see this beautiful church next to Ponte Vecchio and I hear some music. So I enter, everybody was silent. In front of me, there was this African man with a ring. In my culture, in my family, the only ring my father wore was a wedding ring, and not even, because when you work in a quarry, you don’t wear it because it might be dangerous with the machinery. I wasn’t used to seeing men with rings. And I see this man, super elegant, with just one chevalier ring. And I remember, the entire time during the concert at the church, I could do nothing but dream of this jewel---where the guy found it, why he was wearing it… It remained so much in me, and from then on, the jewelry I started to create was for men.
the designer Ugo Cacciatori shows off his two "everyday" rings
If there’s one piece of jewelry a man should have, what should it be?
I think, a pendant, even just hidden, that you don’t see what it is, but you understand from the chain that it’s there. A pendant is a beautiful symbol; it’s something that remains close to the heart. I think a pendant is something every man should have.
photographs by Hudson Shively