Paper Earrings, Welded Bracelets and Accessible Gold: Atelier VM Marks 25 Years of Jewelry Design


MILAN — If one asks Atelier VM’s cofounders Marta Caffarelli and Viola Naj-Oleari the reason why they launched the jewelry brand back in the late ’90s, they’d start talking about their personal lives and friendship cemented in high school.

Personal and professional are undistinguishable fields in their life and very much informative of the Milan-based brand’s roots and DNA.

Marking a quarter of century this year, Atelier VM is celebrating with a book and an exhibition, both titled “Two Gold Nomads — From Poetic Jewelry to Experiential Design, 25 years of Atelier VM Creations,” and a new gold alloy — the patented 3kt.

The latter particularly speaks about the brand’s young-at-heart attitude and penchant for ongoing innovation, which has been at the core of their mission since the inception.

“This milestone has represented an opportunity to look back at our history… Atelier VM wasn’t born as a traditional brand, it speaks to our personal stories, it developed by stages, it didn’t come from a deliberate plan,” said Caffarelli, a trained goldsmith.

There are several cornerstones in the brand-building history, from setting up a formal company in the wake of growing buzz in Milan around their project to linking with the first retailers such as 10 Corso Como and pre-bankruptcy Barneys New York, to opening their first showroom and shop in Milan’s Piazza Sant’Eustorgio square, in the Navigli area, to introducing paper jewels in 2003 and the “L’Essenziale” jewel in 2014.

Two designs from Atelier VM's Paper Jewels collections introduced in 2003.

Two designs from Atelier VM’s Paper Jewels collections introduced in 2003.

Courtesy of Atelier VM

The latter — a golden chain bracelet, laser-welded on the customer’s wrist to become a permanent accessory — has been Atelier VM’s boon, propelling the brand’s visibility locally and internationally.

It was Naj-Oleari’s answer to a personally tough period. “I wanted to embrace an idea to avoid seeing it shattered. I wanted to remember what I had been through to overcome it without forgetting it,” she explained.

The bracelet — “like a tattoo made of gold, a durable, shining, beautiful and high-end material,” as Naj-Oleari put it — came with a dedicated tagline, “the perfect closure is no closure,” suggesting the duo’s marketing acumen.

The bracelet has matured and accrued legions of fans, and was expanded to include a new version, a titanium and 18-karat gold chain welded together via two small rings and embellished with a range of charms, as part of the Cosmo collection, which was introduced late last year.

Atelier VM sketches

Atelier VM sketches.

Courtesy of Atelier VM

“The past 25 years were not that easy, on a global and economic scale. To avoid feeling overwhelmed by the difficulties we encountered, we have always come up with creative answers to what was happening around us,” Caffarelli noted. “We like to describe ourselves as nomads of creative solutions, a lot of stages and defining moments in the history of the brand were intuitions answering to complex historical moments,” she said.

“We were never backed by investors or capitals, we did everything on our own terms, step by step, at the beginning investing all profits in growing the company,” echoed Naj-Oleari.

The celebratory exhibition takes over a decadent, 19th-century palazzo on Milan’s central Via Cesare Correnti, open to the public from Thursday until Sunday. Like many of their previous projects, it stemmed from an encounter with curator Milovan Farronato, who had little knowledge of the jewelry industry but easily sensed the passion and authenticity behind the brand.

The exhibit combines memorabilia of different kinds, from early ad campaigns lensed by Naj-Oleari’s brother Francesco Nazardo and imagery by photographers Fabrizio Ruffo and Nicola de Rosa to displays of signature jewelry pieces and cabinets or art installations Atelier VM has always scattered in its stores, including sculptures by Flaminia Veronesi and artworks by duo Goldschmied & Chiari, as well as video content by filmmakers Alberto Caffarelli and Matteo Erenbourg, of the Alterazioni Video collective.

Marta Caffarelli and Viola Naj-Oleari, cofounders of Atelier VM photographed by duo Goldschmied & Chiari.

Marta Caffarelli and Viola Naj-Oleari, cofounders of Atelier VM, photographed by duo Goldschmied & Chiari.

Goldschmied & Chiari/Courtesy of Atelier VM

“Window displays were and are always carefully thought after. I have always loved the metaphysic idea of windows, with props supporting the jewels that didn’t look like window props, and eschewed the classical idea of jewelry [display],” Naj-Oleari explained.

The 2003 paper jewels are also poised to make a cameo appearance in the exhibition, sourced from Atelier VM’s unsold inventory.

A book is to flank the exhibition as an item, Caffarelli said, that not only customers and brand fans can keep and treasure, but which also represented for them some sort of catharsis on retracing the brand’s history. Published by Corraini, it includes archival imagery, sketches and texts by design critic Domitilla Dardi, curator Alessandra Pomarico and Farronato.

“It’s a retrospective filled with the entire history of Atelier VM, but we want to maintain a forward-looking approach,” Caffarelli said.

To this end, the new patented 3-karat gold alloy, called “3kt,” is bowing Monday within the Bloom collection of laser-cut, 2D earrings in the shape of camellias, lilies, jacarandas and bamboo leaves.

The launch answers a need for accessibility and democratization as the alloy is made of the same components as 18-karat gold but in different proportions.

“It’s essentially gold that didn’t exist, a new material, which we managed to patent,” Caffarelli explained. “We have defined Atelier VM as accessible luxury and so rather than giving up on gold [for lower-priced pieces] we are keeping gold’s preciousness but making it affordable,” she said.

Atelier VM's Bloom earrings in 3-karat gold.

Atelier VM’s Bloom earrings in 3-karat gold.

Courtesy of Atelier VM

Over the past few years as the brand has expanded its size and international footprints — with two flagships in Milan and stockists including Paris’ Le Bon Marché, Liberty in London and Rinascente’s outposts in Italy — much of the cofounders’ work has been geared at bulking up the company’s structure, Caffarelli noted.

“We are now supposed to be handling the new structure and forge ahead with expansion, trying to keep the original soul intact,” she said.  

Marta Caffarelli and Viola Naj-Oleari, cofounders of Atelier VM.

Marta Caffarelli and Viola Naj-Oleari, cofounders of Atelier VM.

Courtesy of Atelier VM



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