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Selling joy

Nanis’ Laura Bicego talks of beads and women, jewelry and joy

GOLD BALLS that look like silk. That’s what we first noticed at Nanis Italian Jewels, a brand from Italy still run by its co-founders, couple Laura Bicego and Piero Marangon.

Each ball, made of 18-karat gold, is painstakingly hand-engraved with the ancient millerighe burin technique. During the Oct. 26 launch in Rustan’s, Ms. Bicego took off the necklace around her neck and looped it around this reporter’s neck (the necklace reportedly cost more than a million pesos, according to a model who wore a similar necklace). Ms. Bicego explained the work that went on to creating the necklace. Two gold shells are soldered together, then hardened, then linked to each other by hand. After that, they’re engraved, and it takes one person between 12 to 15 hours just to engrave the beads to look like silk.

There are other textures available: Ms. Bicego showed us another bead that looked like the surface of a nut.

She also showed off the Transformista bracelet, a piece with gold shells strung together. “You have to close your eyes for a second,” she said, after showing the bracelet. With a slight twist of her hand and a rattling sound, the bracelet unraveled and became a necklace. “Everybody talks about versatility,” she said. “This has been in our (brand) since Day 1.” That necklace won the Centurion Award in 2016 and the Inhorgenta Award in 2018.

Most of the jewels have round organic shapes, which one associates with seeds, or beans (think of Elsa Peretti’s Tiffany beans). Ms. Bicego said she uses round shapes because “It reminds me of the roundness of women. Women can shape, move; they can readily adapt.”

Nanis’ Italian branding is prominent in its name: Ms. Bicego takes pride in being a second-generation jeweler. “I was born and raised in the middle of craftsmanship,” she said, pointing to her childhood in Vicenza. As for the Italian penchant for design, she said, “I think it’s the culture. Full of art.”

“It’s something we have in our DNA, I think,” she said. “I start from the gold bar, and arrive here.”

The name comes from a girl her husband and she met in Haiti in 1986. “Her name was ‘Nanishka’ and she lived alone in a sugar cane field. Her strength and smile captured them. To Nanishka, and to her light, Nanìs owes its name,” the company’s website said. Asked where the brand’s namesake is now, Ms. Bicego admitted, “I don’t know. That’s my main problem.”

To this day, Ms. Bicego only uses gold certified by the Responsible Jewelry Council to have come from non-conflict areas, and have not been produced using child labor.

Asked what sort of person wears Nanis, she said, “I think everybody can wear Nanis.”

More than the intrinsic value in the gold and precious stones the brand uses, Ms. Bicego sees the jewelry and sees the value in the work done by their artisans. “Hours and hours (from) people,” she said on what makes each piece truly valuable. “A piece of jewelry is something that can last. It’s ornamental, but it’s durable. You can give it to next generation.”

More than ornamentation, however, Ms. Bicego thinks that what she’s really selling is joy. “I really feel my goal is complete when I see a woman or a person wearing a piece of Nanis, and she has sparkling eyes.”

Nanis is available in Rustan’s Makati. — Joseph L. Garcia