Gold cannot be pure...

Patrizia di Carrobio, the passion for sparkling things.

28 MAY 2013,
FRANCESCA JOPPOLO
Van Cleef & Arpels
Van Cleef & Arpels

The skill of her fingers handling jewels is of itself a performing art. Quick in showing them, quick in putting them away, because a nine-carat diamond, a Cartier Déco brooch or a Bulgari sautoir cannot be left for a long time on its velvet cushion, under the visitor’s eyes, they too shining - and longing. As a child she was dazzled by diamonds and they were pointing towards her future, that she “recaptured” after having finished the Interpreters’ School. What a lot of world in those gestures: Italian and Flemish Renaissance paintings, well-guarded money-bags, horses galloping in the night, briefcases, hideouts and dark glasses, gem-cutters’ black hats…

A journalist once said that Patrizia di Carrobio is cinematographic. Actually, settling down in an armchair and watching her achievements is as captivating as watching a well-devised film, in which Marlene Dietrich appears shrouded in cigarette smoke, sporting sharp nails and a sumptuous Van Cleef & Arpels’ bracelet of rubies, diamonds and platinum, and with Gary Cooper dazed by desire. The central event of her career is alone enough to tickle our fancy: in the eighties, Patrizia di Carrobio was the first woman auctioneer of Christie’s Jewelry Department and she accomplished a thirty-million dollar sale, the most sensational of the time.

Sold! : this lady is amazing, both for her determination and competence. This competence allowed her, when she quit the auction scene in 1991, to found, in the Manhattan Diamond District, her own personal enterprise for the international commerce of precious gems and period jewelry, the “Patrizia Ferenczi Inc.” (the Hungarian surname that comes from unknown private sources adds a touch of mystery). Her expertise allowed her to desecrate dogmas, first of all the fixation on the purity of gems. “Gold cannot be pure and men cannot be perfect” - goes an old Chinese proverb that di Carrobio quotes. Her advice is: “Buy the ones you like and don’t trouble yourself if they’re not impeccable; in any case no one goes around with a magnifying glass, provided, of course, that their price is not deceitful; and enjoy your piece of jewelry; use it to feel luminous, to recall a love, an atmosphere, always keeping in mind that, as an investment, it is always questionable, unless it has been designed by a well-known jeweler.

Coco Chanel, an authority on elegance and the emancipation of women, used to say: “A jewel is not to be used to show off a nourished bank account, but only to make the person who wears it more beautiful”. In short – Freedom, the freedom that di Carrobio seeks for herself, also through her straightforwardness, rare within human relationships, and useful to avoid the accumulation of the dross of resentment and the misunderstandings that burden the heart. She was born in Montreal, she has lived in Brussels, Milan, Rome and London, she has been living in New York for thirty years; she travels a lot for business and she often visits Italy, the homeland of her parents, that attracts her irresistibly. She’s in love with Sicily, where she finds childhood friendships, evocative places, and the sea of the gods.

She follows her intuition, with a deep trust in the human capacity to fulfill dreams: “It hasn’t been easy, especially when I left Christie’s after twelve years to set up my own business: it is a fact that, in New York, diamond dealers are mostly men who hand down the business from father to son, and the majority of this majority is made up of orthodox Jews. The women in this field are very few and mainly they design jewels rather than sell them. As a woman, not Jewish, and the first of my family to be involved in this activity, it was very hard for me to beat the instinctive distrust I aroused and to conquer my own space” - without moaning, but with great commitment. And destiny has been on her side.

In fact, if we go back to the di Carrobio “documentary”, we find that Patrizia’s grandmother, Gabriella di Robilant, known as Gab, who died when Patrizia was eight, was mad about jewels which she gladly displayed in Paris in the twenties, moving among the Picasso, Cocteau, Apollinaire and Chanel set. Patrizia is certain that her granny transmitted the passion for sparkling things to her. “I’m convinced that there are forces – I wouldn’t know how else to call them – operating beneath the surface, without our being aware of them, that greatly influence our personality. That’s the only way to explain the transmission of certain aptitudes among family members with whom we didn’t share our daily life and whose example did not influence us, but whose paths we find ourselves following. Sometimes without even knowing why”. Grandma Gab, who, in Istanbul, met her husband Mario di Carrobio (son of the Italian ambassador to Turkey, from whom she soon separated), shared her Paris flat with Elsa Schiaparelli, the ‘shocking pink’ couturière who ‘painted’ dresses with Salvador Dalì.

Guided by infallible good taste, she invented a job for herself that today we would denominate, ‘personal shopper’: she revealed to wealthy American tourists her secret addresses to find the most chic and fashionable articles: a necklace, a dress, a hat. Patrizia relates this fact in her book, Conoscere i gioielli. Come sceglierli e portarli, Salani, 2011, published after Diamanti. Una guida personale, Astrea, 2010. A goldmine of information on precious gems, including news, suggestions, memories and stories: such as when she spent three days with a colleague locked up in a vault of the former Bombay to estimate, under torchlight, a maharajah’s jewels, closely watched by ten people who never allowed her to leave, not even to get food. “They brought us sandwiches inside cardboard boxes, with many liters of tea, in a strange but not surprising mixture of England and India. They trusted our competence but, obviously, not our honesty. In any case I never again in my life saw so many jewels all together, and all so beautiful and valuable”. In Mumbai’s underground, among those overflowing coffers, she must have felt like the Count of Montecristo when he found the long-sought treasure.

After all, although the Republic has supplanted the Monarchy, she also once had a castle and a countship. So, she is definitely a colleague of Dumas’ Edmond Dantès.

Translation by Anna Rita Vignati