LONDON — Ilaria Icardi may have arrived late to the fine jewelry table, but her creations have been worth the wait. The fashion designer turned jeweler is serving up a rich and colorful feast, inspired by her family history — and her long experience in the studios of brands including Victoria Beckham, Celine and Yves Saint Laurent.
Icardi has already built a successful career behind-the-scenes, working under some of the biggest names in the business, including Beckham, Phoebe Philo, Stefano Pilati and Tom Ford — although she’s not giving up her design gig quite yet.
Spurred by the memories of precious time spent with her jeweler father, Icardi has moved from backstage to center stage, and launched an eponymous, high-end jewelry collection that features 18-karat gold, lapis, carnelian, colorful enameling, and a sprinkling of diamonds.
During an interview, Icardi recalled weekends spent at the family workshop in Valenza, in Italy’s northwestern Piedmont region, where her father Umberto made jewelry for his own brand, and bespoke pieces for Cartier, Tiffany & Co., and Pomellato.
Valenza is an historic Italian jewelry hub, and home to many factories and goldsmiths’ workshops. Bulgari’s largest European manufacturing plant is located there, along with the brand’s academy, which trains future artisans and craftspeople.
Icardi spent the first 20 years of her life looking over her father’s shoulder, and learning about the acids needed to refine and fuse gold. She also recalls watching her first boyfriend engraving gold in yet another factory in the town.
“All of my family and friends were making jewelry — in Valenza there is nothing else,” said Icardi, who eventually left the town to study fashion, and who has spent most of her career in Paris and London.
Although she may have opted for fashion design, Icardi could never get jewelry out of her head — or her heart.
“It was always my little passion on the side — I was always collecting, experimenting, changing and customizing jewelry for myself — and I always had the drive inside of me,” said Icardi. “Designing my own jewelry was a natural move.”
She wears the rings that her father made for her when she was little on a chain around her neck. “He was always experimenting, and I absorbed so much from him — I never studied jewelry design. I learned by watching him.”
She’s tapped her brother Lorenzo, a gemologist, to help her with the collection and is working with a factory in Valenza to produce her pieces, which are handmade to order.
During the various lockdowns in Europe, when few could travel, the London-based Icardi sent wax models of her designs back and forth to Italy, sat on many a Zoom call and eventually began traveling to Valenza to oversee the work.
Icardi is also an avid collector. She loves rich and sumptuous 18th-century gold jewelry, but it’s her penchant for ’80s styles that shines through in her collection of gutsy, statement pieces. “It’s the jewelry I grew up with — raw, heavy, chunky — and a bit vulgar.”
Yet there is nothing gaudy — or vulgar — about her designs, which she likes to style with pieces from her own, overflowing wardrobe.
“I use my creativity until the end,” said Icardi, adding that she likes placing her designs in an unexpected context, tweaking classics such as pearls, “and pushing the image to create something that’s desirable” for a woman to wear.
Her designs include a gold key dangling from a Japanese pearl necklace with a keychain clasp; an enamel and diamond cocktail ring that’s made to order in the customer’s color of choice; chunky gold necklaces, and cuff bracelets with ribs as thick as army tank treads.
She styles them in tune with her enduring masculine-feminine fashion aesthetic, and said she loves the idea of creating “characters” for her look books.
In those photos, the ribbed cuff bracelets emerge from the rolled-up sleeves of a denim jacket; a tangle of gold chains and weighty charms glimmer from the neckline of a white tailored shirt, and the pearl necklace is paired with a sleeveless puffer and flat-front trousers.
Many of the styles — the gold link chain, wheat field charm, and chunky signet ring — have been drawn from her father’s archive. As the months pass, she’s also been adding her own creations, updating materials and sourcing to suit the demands of sustainability.
“My father had a lot of pieces in coral, but I’m now using carnelian instead,” said Icardi who (like many other jewelers) works with recycled gold and fully certified diamonds and emeralds.
Icardi added that she’s keeping production tight, and would rather make less, and source everything properly.
Prices range from about 1,600 pounds for the plain gold signet ring to 2,600 pounds for the lapis lazuli ring. Charms and pendants range between 2,000 pounds and 2,500 pounds. The bigger, made-to-order pieces are more expensive.
Fashion jewelry and gold vermeil pieces — which remain popular on luxury retail sites and in department stores — are not for her. “High jewelry has a whole different feeling, value and philosophy, and it can be passed down through the generations. It is timeless,” she said.
So far, Icardi has been selling via social media and online, but she’s preparing to branch into physical retail soon. There are plans in the works for a trunk show in London, and she’s also in talks with stores, including Dover Street Market, about selling a selection of the jewelry.
She’s also keeping her day job and is consulting for fashion houses as she gets her new business off the ground. “Fashion has been my career for so long and I want to be able to do both,” said Icardi, adding that she enjoys inhabiting what are two very different worlds.
“The timeline is different: fashion is relatively fast, while jewelry takes time to change and to modify. With jewelry you have to be very careful because you can lose money instantly if you’ve made a bad decision — there is not much margin for error. But then you learn to recycle the gold and you find your way.”
And while fashion is still in the picture, it’s clear where her passion lies: there is no turning back for this daughter of Valenza. “It’s a beautiful feeling making jewelry, creating it by myself. It’s creativity with no compromises — and it makes me happy.”