Get to know Elisa Santuliana, the designer and founder of PIQUÉ, who let us peek into her work and life a little bit.
Tell us a bit about you...
I was born and raised in Riva del Garda, a small town on the shores of Lake Garda in Northern Italy, which is bursting with tourists in the summer months and deserted during winter. When I was younger, I couldn’t really appreciate the positive aspects of small-town life. I moved away to the nearest city as soon as I was able to do so. I studied and lived in Verona and Trento for several years but eventually, I returned to Riva del Garda, where all my loved ones still live. Although the high mountains and lake waters that encircle my town can seem to be a limiting barrier, they also offer a circle of protection that encloses me in warmth and familiarity.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO DESIGN?
My journey into design has been a bit unconventional. I graduated from university with a degree in philosophy and taught in a high school for three years. Eventually, the need for artistic expression that I had felt ever since my childhood, but cultivated only as a hobby, came forth with a sense of urgency. I contacted a local artisan to teach me the basics of goldsmithing. I spent six months in his workshop learning all the techniques of the trade. Later I took evening and weekend courses on jewellery design, goldsmithing, stone setting, and gemmology in the city of Bolzano. Once I had completed all the courses I made the decision to quit my job as a teacher and opened up my own studio.
My mother ran a small jewellery shop and I used to work with her as a teenager when school was closed for the summer holidays. Being an active part of her business, spending hours browsing through her books full of images of jewellery from cultures near and far helped me to develop a certain taste for the art of jewellery and shaped my own sense of aesthetics.
WHAT DOES YOUR TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
My typical day begins with a good breakfast and a quick scan through the notes on my telephone. I need to write down everything otherwise I feel as if I don’t have things under control. I make lists of client appointments, emails that require detailed responses, and any ideas or reflections I might have regarding my work plan. Once my to-do list has been organised according to priority, I finish my cup of green tea and ride my bike to my workshop. My mornings are dedicated to working on the computer – I check for new orders, prepare packages to be shipped by the courier, respond to messages and emails, and update my social media accounts. This way, I can spend my afternoons focused on designing and making jewellery.
WHAT PART OF THE PRODUCTION DO YOU ENJOY THE MOST?
There isn’t one aspect of my work that I prefer over others. Perhaps the thing that I like most about my job is that it is quite diverse and that it allows me to work on many different activities without ever having the time to feel bored. But if I really had to pick an aspect of my work that I never get enough of, I think it would be the conceptualization and design of new jewellery pieces. The process of researching and developing a new design idea and then refining it so that its physical manifestation is technically structured, aesthetically pleasing, as well as contemporary and in line with my style – this is what gives me the greatest satisfaction.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE THE MOST CHALLENGING IN JEWELLERY MAKING NOWADAYS?
In my personal experience, the most challenging aspect of running a small jewellery business in Italy today is creating space and visibility for your brand without getting lost in the shadows of larger jewellery chains. Attracting and maintaining a slice of the market is extremely difficult for independent ventures like my brand. We are constrained by the time required to manually produce an item, the need for specialist inputs and materials, and the commitment to making ethical and sustainable choices all the way from the sourcing of primary materials to the production of the final product. The challenge lies in upholding these standards while remaining financially viable in a field dominated by big-name designers who can take advantage of their size and scale to produce jewellery orders at the speed of light and take advantage of low production costs.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
I draw inspiration from the shapes and details of various objects and elements that I come across in photos and images. Finding inspiration is not a quick process for me. And it is definitely not something I do consciously in the beginning, but once I have an idea it quickly transforms into a real and intentional line of inquiry.
I have always envied people who are lucky enough to experience a sudden stroke of inspiration, as if being struck by Cupid’s arrow. I usually need to work through several ideas at one time, compare them, discard them one by one, perhaps keep one and then continue working on it. Then I develop it, compare it with others, and modify it again. It is a long process that sometimes leads to nothing but, fortunately, most of the time it helps me create something good.
The current Echo collection is inspired by jewellery designed in the 80s -90s. The pieces in this collection echo a vibe that originated in the 80s and come to us in the form of reminiscence. The echo is strong and, above all, nostalgic.
CAN YOU GUIDE US THROUGH THE PRODUCTION PROCESS OF THE BOLD RING?
The Bold ring is first created in wax. I create the first half ring in wax and then I join it to the other half in wax. When I have the whole ring in wax, I clean it as much as I can to remove all the processing marks. Then I proceed to the lost wax casting, then cleaning it again and polishing it to perfection.
HOW DO YOU SELECT THE MATERIALS YOU WORK WITH?
I work only with silver and gold, and between the two I undoubtedly prefer gold for its warm colour and for its greater malleability. I only buy ethical and eco-friendly gold and silver that has been certified by Fairmined. This means that the metal I purchase has been extracted in accordance with the rights of miners, especially children, in countries such as Colombia (where these mines are located) and where such rights are not always recognized or respected. It also implies that the environmental impact of the metal extraction process is minimised thanks to the use of sustainable practices that prevent the release of toxic materials into the environment.
WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT YOUR PRODUCTS?
Every one of us is unique in our being, and the act of creation instils this uniqueness into the objects we produce. I think what makes my creations unique is a sense of poetry and grace, a reference to the past embodied in a continuous search for contemporary reinterpretation. These elements breathe life into each of the pieces I create.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE JEWELLERY PIECE?
My favourite jewellery pieces are the ones that hold an emotional meaning for me. A vintage ring with marcasite stones that my boyfriend found for me in an antiques market, and a yellow gold earring from the 1930s that my grandmother used to wear.
BOOK: All the books of Pirandello, Pavese and Whitman | SONG: Teardrop, Massive Attack (and so many others!!) | PLACE: The big cities in winter and the Greek Islands in summer | >FOOD: Pizza, in this I'm a true Italian =) | ARTIST: Francesca Woodman | MOMENT: When I can travel and visit new places
YOU LIVE AND WORK IN RIVA DEL GARDA, CAN YOU RECOMMEND SOME PLACES THAT ARE A MUST-SEE FOR DESIGN LOVERS?
I would recommend taking a stroll through the narrow streets of the historical centre to admire the mediaeval architecture of the city. The Piazza delle Erbe (where my studio is located) once hosted the historical fruit and vegetable market, and Piazza Catena is a necessary stopping point for its numerous bars and cafes. Here you can relax and admire views of the lakefront with a nice glass of wine. Other must-see streets include Via Fiume, which leads to an old drinking well, and Via Montanara, which is full of typical Italian ‘trattorie’ or restaurants. Nearby you can also find MODUS, a high-end shop selling design items personally curated by the owner.
WHY SHOULD CUSTOMERS CHOOSE SMALL INDEPENDENT BRANDS OVER FAST-FASHION?
Choosing to buy an item from a small independent brand means acquiring a piece of the person who conceived and created it. In a way, you receive a piece of their ideas, skills, time; their aesthetics, and their commitment to the use of quality materials and functionality. There is also the care that goes into the production of every individual piece. Small brands pay attention to how waste is disposed of during and after production and treat the customer as a person rather than a number. These are just some of the reasons why an article bought from a small independent designer carries an indescribable yet powerful feeling that an industrially produced item can never offer.