Emilian and also from Romagna, with the warm accent typical of that region, Franco Lipparini was an estate manager and CPA until one hot July day in 2007 when, swamped with work among sales tax calculations, invoice registrations, social security compensations and other fiscal incumbencies, he decided he had had enough of spending entire days locked up in his office and that his life had to change. He turned on the TV and stumbled on a documentary about Hawaii and dancers with straw skirts and orchid leis. Memories of his summers in Rimini and the rose he had gifted his first girlfriend flooded his mind: “What a pity that flowers don’t last and cannot be worn over and over. It would be so beautiful if one could give an ornament made with real flowers but that lasts more than a few days”.
How did you transform this idea in reality?
Flowers have always been used as ornament for women. Ancient Egyptians used to adorn themselves with white, blue or pink lotus flowers. They put them in their hair in such a way that they would hang in front of their forehead so that they could feel their fragrance. The peoples of the Pacific islands wear leis and tiaras made with orchids and plumerias while at all latitudes little girls play making strings of daisies as necklaces and bracelets. The flower has always been a source of inspiration for great jewelry designers, from the Etruscans to contemporary designers like Cartier, Buccellati, Boucheron, Bulgari, and Van Cleef & Arpels have manufactured spectacular flowers in the most precious of materials. I thought it would have been beautiful if there could be jewels made with real flowers that could last over time but still gave the feeling of freshness and lightness. An analysis of the jewelry and accessory market showed a widespread use of flower designs in a wide array of materials, from gold to cloth, but nothing was manufactured with natural flowers. This made me realize that it was the right sector and after a year, right before the big 2008 economic crisis, I left the foggy Po Valley, moved to sunny Sicily and started my jewelry company.
Tell us about raw materials.
Flowers. Simply natural flowers and petals. After flowers undergo a long, laborious, and meticulous treatment of resin coating, I mount them in combinations where the natural product remains the protagonist while pearls and stones play a supporting enhancement role. I had found some resin coated flowers which were close to my concept but they were destined to home décor and were too big for jewelry pieces, others were treated with a too thick and yellow resin and had a too coarse aspect or, in other cases, flowers had been mistreated before the resin coat and presented wrinkles or brown spots. I met with some chemists and orchid growers and the perfect resin was developed: transparent and extremely thin but very sturdy at the same time making the flower or petal almost infrangible. When I saw the first results I exulted. I finally had what I needed to unbridle my imagination. With regard to metal, I elected to use sterling silver and vermeil because, especially in that historical time, it was necessary to create an affordable yet precious jewel destined to jewelries that were looking for a natural product that would not mimick expensive jewelry and instead be an alternative. With regard to pearls, the natural pairing for flowers, I chose Akoya pearls and cultured freshwater pearls of various shapes – round, keishi, baroque. With regard to stones I have followed the same criterium of natural so, forgetting about synthetic and hydrothermal stones and quartzes, I proceeded with natural stones of various purity and, above all, in the shape of faceted drops or briolettes that confer more dynamicity above all to earrings.
Which flowers were selected?
Ancient Egyptians used the lotus, daisies and cornflowers. Ancient Greeks made wreaths of roses and pansies. Hawaiians use plumerias and orchids. I have preferred the orchid with its full and fleshy petals, symbol of elegance and sensuality thus particularly appropriate for a woman. Then I added open roses in different sizes, rose buds, pansies, daisies, dahlias and, finally butterflies. No, we never mistreated or hurt the butterflies which came to us only after the conclusion of their short life cycle.
How did you make people aware of this product?
When you talk of a diamond, a coral or a silver bracelet, everybody knows exactly what you are talking about. But a natural flower jewelry? It cannot be imagined, most think it is fragile or an imitation of a flower. I had only one very expensive way of acquainting people with my product: trade shows. Having Sicily as base, logistics were particularly costly and hard but with my small team we were able to bring my flowers all over the world and acquired clients from China to the United States, from Norway to South Africa. We brought about an innovation to jewelry trade shows which, in Italy, tended to be very essential and with few colors behind a security glass. We started with an open booth where people could look at the product from up close, take it in their hands, test its lightness and resistance. We participated to the most important trade shows: Vicenzaoro, Hong Kong, MACEF and HOMI in Milan, Oro Arezzo, Orocapital in Rome, JA New York, JIS Miami, JCK Las Vegas, Trinacriaoro in Taormina, Inhorgenta in Munich, Bijorhca in Paris, JGF in Freiburg, and many smaller shows in England, California, and around the world. It has been a wonderful experience and has allowed us to meet many different people who have taught us their country’s taste. Thanks to this we have been able to create collections geared to a certain country: Italians love large earrings, Russians pretend complete sets that show the concept of luxury, French and Americans prefer minimal and essential designs, Spanish love pansies, British prefer rose buds and Chinese the small open roses. It is fascinating to see how every country has its own esthetic in the choice of a jewel.
Which woman do you have in mind when you create your designs?
All the women. Women are the essence of life, they are the sun rising every day, they are the joy, the beauty of a flower. I think of all the women who work outside and inside the house, they have very heavy days and need color, joy, and fun. From a practical point of view, notwithstanding the use of stones or pearls, earrings weigh very little so they become a fun game and it is possible to use an entire orchid with no fear of hurting the earlobe.
Encounters to remember?
An evening, at the end of the first tradeshow day in Paris, my partner and I were at a restaurant across the street from Porte de Versailles. At the table next to ours a group of Russians was having dinner in joy. We noticed one of the ladies looking at the pearls and orchids necklace my partner was wearing. She smiled at us and, speaking only Russian, compliments us for the beautiful pieces. We understand thanks to Google translator and we end up toasting to work and Paris while exchanging business cards. The following Natalia, the lady from the previous night, and her assistant come to visit us at our booth and place a beautiful order for her stores in Moscow and St Petersburg. This is how a professional relation and also a beautiful friendship started. Our booths have been visited by designers and stylists of great fashion houses but also by actresses and bloggers who have shown admiration for our line. In my memories of the Italian years I have Princess Corsini from Florence and the important handcraft show she holds every May in her palace garden and of which we have been part many times. Among lucky encounters, Sarah, my assistant has a place of honor. Tireless craftswoman has helped us meet all deadlines especially the stringent ones of an American TV show which launched our products in the USA.
Moving from Italy to California, what changed?
Market has changed, times have changed. Brick and mortar stores are disappearing while internet sales are booming. So, I have decided to sell exclusively on the major online markets while keeping and catering to old consolidated clients. This allows me to have more time to create new and unique pieces but also to enjoy my great passion, the ocean.