The designer at work. Alessio Boschi has been passionate about making jewellery since the age of seven.
I first met ALESSIO BOSCHI at Baselworld more than a decade ago, when he was the creative director for an important pearl brand. His amazing creations, using pearls and coloured gems, were so totally original, that I have followed his prolific career ever since. He is truly one of the greatest designers of his generation. When you step through the door into the home of Italian-born Alessio Boschi, among the first things—of many objects from around the world—that command attention are sketches by the famous 17th century family of artists, i Ligari. Clearly, the artistic genes of this remarkable family have passed down four centuries to flourish today in one of the world’s most passionate and creative jewellery designers.
Illustrating Alessio Boschi’s concern for climate change and the plight of the polar bear is this ring that was featured in Vogue Italia’s “The Protagonist” exhibition of sustainable fine jewellery at a Christie’s event in New York City in December 2018. A white topaz domed “iceberg” sits atop the 18-karat white gold ring, accented with gold pieces in the shape of icicles and snowflakes, along with white diamonds and Paraiba tourmaline, complemented by moonstone water droplets. True to the designer’s style, a secret cabochon moonstone activates the opening of the iceberg, revealing a polar bear family carved from tagua seeds sitting on the melting icebergs of lapis lazuli and druzy that separate the mother polar bear from her cubs.
Historical, yet also with an element of surprise is the portrayal of prisoners who would sigh as they marched across a bridge in Venice on their way to prison in the “Ponte dei Sospiri” (Bridge of Sighs) ring. The top of the ring opens to reveal a desperate wife saying goodbye as her husband is marched across the bridge.
With his celebrated ancestors, it was only natural that Alessio Boschi would choose to live in a home that reflects his Italian heritage. It is located in a medieval village, which makes a triangle between Tuscany, Umbria and Rome, not far from the famous Civita di Bagnoregio, an ancient town seemingly suspended in the sky.
Alessio’s house is also “antique”, with parts dating back to the 15th century. “In 2005, I had the chance to purchase this property, which needed a lot of work,” notes Alessio. “During restoration, we discovered that the basement—which was originally used to house animals—dates back to the 15th century. The main floor is 300 years old and the top floor is 150 years old.” In excavating the basement to make it liveable, architects found pieces of Renaissance ceramic and two arches made of large stones, indicating that the original owners had a certain standing and wealth. “You can also see the strata of lava flows over the centuries,” he adds. “Today, the house is a magical place and full of positive energy.”
If we turn the clock back a few decades, Alessio began life in Rome in a house built in the early 20th century. He was a precocious child, creating simple designs in jewellery when he was only five or six. At seven, he developed a real passion for jewels after visiting an archaeological museum in Athens with his mother. But life was not easy for the young man. “I suffered from the divorce of my parents when I was seven,” he recalls “and retreated into my own world of design and Nature—my safe zones.”
In his late teens, he attended the Accademia di Costume e di Moda in Rome where he received a Bachelor’s degree in jewellery design. Before long, the young designer was winning many international prizes for his unique designs.
After graduation and to perfect his craft, Alessio spent time in Greece, Milan, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Australia working for various companies. The accolades for his work began mounting and, by 2013, he had been recognised with more than 28 awards from competitions around the world for his original creations. He then decided to move back to Bangkok and establish his own company, AB Jewels. He was joined in this bold venture by his sister, Valeria, who “is invaluable to me and the business,” smiles Alessio.
While production is done in Bangkok, where he overseas a highly skilled team of talented artisans, Alessio returns to Italy as often as he can. “It is a good place for inspiration, and I feel close to Nature and the amazing history of Italy.” This closeness to Nature and history is undoubtedly the driving force for telling stories using jewellery. Amazing examples of this storytelling can be seen in collections such as Historica, Naturalia and Thalassa, among others. There is also a whimsical side to Alessio’s creativity as seen in the Surprise Me lines. Multi-functionality is also important to Alessio and is a part of his collections, with interchangeable rings, earrings, brooches, pendants and more.
Taking months to complete, the 18-karat Narcissus Bridge ring features an 1820s antique micro-mosaic centre of the Ponte Nomentano, accented with tsavorites, sapphires, sillimanite and round, rosecut and tapered diamonds.
Venice is a fertile source of inspiration, and one of Alessio Boschi’s favourite Venetian symbols is the gondola, epitomised in rings and earrings, in gemstones, diamonds and 18-karat gold. The small gold chains move, suggesting the movement of the gondolas through the water.
In the Thalassa collection, Alessio Boschi has created a series of fish and other marine creatures using pearls, gemstones and diamonds set in 18-karat gold.
Among the portrayals of Romeo and Juliette created by Alessio Boschi are these arrings
in gold, diamonds and pearls.
On a more whimsical note, the Surprise Me collection offers a variety of rings, pendants and earrings, depicting different shapes of gift boxes in 18-karat gold embellished with gemstones and diamonds. With a push of a button the boxes pop open, revealing a message en tremblant.
The designer’s “activist” side is seen in this Great White Shark brooch, in the Thalassa collection, which he hopes will bring attention to the horrible shark practice of shark-finning that is destroying these magnificent creatures. The 6-inch palladium and 18-karat gold brooch/pendant features baroque pearls, aquamarine, indicolite, and diamonds. It comes with matching earrings that can be transformed from shoulder dusters to shark-fin studs, crafted in baroque pearls, Paraiba tourmaline and diamonds, enhanced with micro chains decorated with baby blue akoya pearls. The belly of the shark is decorated with marine life and opens to reveal a precious space containing the earrings.
Paying homage to Queen Marie Antoinette, the floral side of the Naturalia collection is seen in the magnificent Rose de France line. The flowers, en tremblant, feature more than 101 carats of natural unheated spinels, set on petals of pink sapphires, Paraiba tourmalines and yellow diamonds. The leaves are composed of indicolite and aquamarine. This image shows the versatility and transformability of the set.
The Jewel of Rajasthan ring in Paraiba, one of Alessio’s favourite gemstones.
The designer has a preference for organic, curved lines rather than sharp edges, as well as colour. “In multiple shades or contrasting tones, colour reminds me of the versatility and depth of life and emotions.” And while a brief glance at any Alessio Boschi piece will capture its beauty, time must be spent to understand it, to decipher its messages, to grasp the uncompromising genius behind it.
The core of his work involves great attention to detail and a myriad of little surprises. Since the jewellery is so intricate, the details are often missed unless they are pointed out. Alessio’s creations are also known for their ludic elements, their hidden compartments and articulations, which suggest an imaginary journey in a playful way. “I love to hide small surprises in my pieces,” he smiles, “where different stories are concealed in the settings and galleries and offer a different dimension. I want my creations to spark curiosity and guide the wearer on a whimsical journey full of discoveries where nothing is ordinary.”
“The Historica collection is a glimpse into a luxurious past,” he explains, “highlighting intriguing stories and people from the rich history of Europe, the Middle East and Asia.” Some of the pieces feature complex architectural motifs, while others offer ageold jewellery techniques to bring personalities to life. He has also taken an inspirational “Grand Tour” of Italy with jewels evoking daily life in Naples, the Tower of Pisa, Rome’s Coliseum, the gondolas of Venice, Verona (of Romeo and Juliette fame), along with the architectural details and stained glass of the famous Milan cathedral and other important Italian churches and monuments. His more “worldly” travels speak to the delicacy of Versailles, the bold colours of Rajasthan and the geometric and floral patterns of the Mughal era, along with so much more.
The latest creation in the Historica collection is the “Neo-Classical Renaissance” necklace/collar, with matching earrings. In 19th-century Empire style, taking fashion cues from Josephine Bonaparte, with a touch of Georgian and Victorian influences, the necklace holds a rare cameo carved in 1850 by the famous Roman artist Saulini. Inspired by Thorvaldsen’s famous bas-relief, Saulini’s cameo is surrounded by rubellites and supported by 18 strands of pink Akoya pearls and rubellite beads. “The dangling tassel can be removed and worn as a pendant, while a hidden system behind the removable brooch-cameo allows a view of Michelangelo’s ‘Night and Day’ at the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo in Florence,” explains Alessio.
Evoking the style of India are these Maharaja Fresco earrings and pendants in a variety of gemstones set in 18-karat gold.
Alessio Boschi and his sister Valeria Boschi; on his lapel is the chrysanthemum brooch, composed of baroque pearls and gemstones.
Hanging on the walls of his ancient Italian home are sketches by the famous 17th century family, i Ligari, ancestors of Alessio Boschi.
A book about members of the i Ligari family and their work.
One of the recent masterpieces in the Historica collection is the “Bella Napoli” necklace that celebrates, in extraordinary detail, the colourful traditions of Neapolitan life—food, coffee, theatre, music, dance and more. Crafted in morganite, enamel and other precious gems and metals, it even includes black rhodium spots that suggest a burnt pizza crust after it comes out of the wood-burning oven.
Another new addition is the Peacock Dance collection that evokes the architectural, decorative and artistic elements of the natural habitat of the peacock—India. The name derives from the traditional Asian dance mimicking the mating dance of this beautiful bird that is performed in southern China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. “My inspiration was drawn from the peacock’s vivid iridescent plumage, as well as the architecture of Rajasthan’s palaces and forts where the birds roam freely.”
The bold yet delicate colours of Nature come to the fore in the Naturalia collection. “Nature’s palette is so vast that the inspiration is endless,” comments the designer, “and gives me the opportunity to focus on the beauty of natural species of flora and fauna, as well as impressive physical phenomena such as erupting volcanoes, exploding stars, blue glaciers, stunning sunsets and more.” Whimsy also delights in a series of delightful rabbits, birds and other animals, crafted from baroque pearls and colourful gemstones.
On the floral side of Naturalia is the magnificent Rose de France line. It pays homage to Queen Marie Antoinette and her love of a very special hybrid rose that was created in her honour. Alessio immortalises these delicate flowers, en tremblant, in more than 101 carats of natural unheated spinels, ranging from purple to fuchsia to pink and even blue, set upon petals of pink sapphires, Paraiba tourmalines and yellow diamonds. Indicolite and aquamarine leaves complete the garden of colour. “The detachable dangling parts and clasp can be removed and worn as brooches, pendants or earrings with a separate rose-engraved butterfly,” describes the designer.
Breakfast in Jaipur rings and earrings, in 18-karat gold, emeralds, pearls and diamonds.
The Star of the Taj, inspired by the Taj Mahal and its bold lines. Underneath is a gold carving depicting the remarkable monument.
Inspiration for Peacock Dance in the Historica collection came from the bird’s iridescent plumage, captured in vivid gemstones in 18-karat gold, set against a backdrop of architectural and decorative elements found in India.
One of the more remarkable jewels to come out of Alessio’s “Grand Tour” of Italy is the Coliseum ring, crafted in 18-karat gold, gemstones and diamonds, embellished with details of the Roman city.
With a touch of whimsy, baroque pearls, gemstones and diamonds come together to create an adorable series of rabbit brooches, in the Naturalia collection.
On a more serious note, Alessio makes his feelings known about the dangers of climate change with his depiction of polar bear jewels. And, on this subject, he recently participated in a partnership with Vogue Italia, curator of “The Protagonist,” an exhibition of sustainable fine jewellery featured at a Christie’s event in New York in December 2018. The central element of this exhibition was the use of the sustainable tagua seed. Alessio used this ivory-like nut in his “Melting Arctic” ring, which he hopes will raise awareness of global warming and the effect it has on all living creatures, especially polar bears. A white-topaz domed “iceberg” sits atop the white gold ring that is accented by gold pieces in the shape of icicles and snowflakes, along with white diamonds and Paraiba tourmaline, complemented by moonstone water droplets. In true Alessio Boschi style, a secret cabochon moonstone activates the opening of the iceberg, revealing a polar bear family carved from tagua seeds sitting on the melting icebergs of lapis lazuli and druzy that separate the mother polar bear from her cubs.
The Thalassa collection, named after the Greek word for “sea,” captures life in the world’s oceans. From bejewelled sea anemones and urchins evoking the multi-coloured shades of the coral reef to a series of playful baroque pearl and gemstone fish, Alessio draws inspiration from the natural marine world. Thanks to hidden movements, the jewels appear to be carried along by the tides. Many creations also have an element of surprise in their delicate engravings and handcrafted details.
The designer’s “activist” side is also seen in a very prominent way in the Thalassa collection that displays his concern for the survival of the Great White Shark, and the horrible shark-finning practices that are destroying these magnificent creatures. “The spark of creation for the Great White began when I found an extraordinary silverblue Australian South Sea Keshi pearl in the shape of a shark’s face, with a recessive bump that looks as though its mouth is opening. After much research, we finally found several pearls for the shape, colour and quality to reproduce the shark’s fin,” he reminisces. The 6-inch palladium and 18-karat gold brooch has matching earrings that are transformable from shoulder dusters to bejewelled shark fin studs, adorned with micro chains decorated with baby blue Akoya pearls and dangling aquamarines. And, of course, the shark holds a signature surprise. “The gallery on the belly allows us to observe marine life: octopus, seahorse, starfish, shells, fish, sea anemones, squid, seaweed, crab and different coral structures,” he explains. “Then, by putting a fingernail on a hidden little knob, the gallery opens to reveal a precious space containing the earrings.”
The most playful collection is undoubtedly Surprise Me. “We decided to delight and surprise with little bejewelled gift boxes in three different shapes: a cylindrical one reminiscent of vintage hat boxes, a delicate sphere, and the traditional square one.” Even in these miniatures, details reign supreme. Once the jewel is opened, a quivering message is revealed. The collection features rings, pendants and chandelier earrings, all decorated with ribbons and bows.
Among his prolific offering of original and remarkably outstanding pieces, one stands out as truly amazing—The Cedar necklace. “I came up with the idea when I saw a batch of long, tube-like Panjshir emerald crystals and immediately thought of the needles on a pine tree,” he recalls. No one had ever used emeralds as “needles,” but he rose to the challenge. And, the challenges were many.
In this Plumes necklace, shimmering opal picks up the colours of the other gems in the necklace, crafted in 18-karat gold.
The newest addition to the Historica collection is this Neo-Classical Renaissance necklace/collar, with matching earrings. The centre of the necklace is a rare cameo carved in 1850 by the famous Roman artist Saulini accented with rubellites and Akoya pearls. A hidden system behind the removable broochcameo allows a view of Michelangelo’s ‘Night and Day’ at the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo in Florence. The tassel can be worn alone as a pendant.
The Cedar necklace and earrings is an amazing combination of art and technology. Emerald crystals make up the mobile pine needles and specialtycut spessartites combine to create the pine cones. LED lights illuminate the needles, and the “bark-like” branch is made from the Japanese mokumegane metalworking technique.
Fascinated by the colours, culture and architecture of India, the designer created a number of pieces, such as this Maharani necklace and earrings in emeralds, diamond, gold and pearls.
First was finding enough of the crystals. Second was how to mount the stones so that they remained mobile. Here, the elegant and ingenious answer was to design a special miniature cap with a spring that fixed the crystal to the branch, thus creating the effect that the pine needles trembled on the branch. The silver cap was then specially coated with a compound to make it green. The third challenge was to make the necklace look like an actual tree branch. The solution was to use the special Japanese mokume-gane metalworking technique that mixes layers of metals. “It took three months of experimentation to obtain the right alloy for each of the layers, nineteen in all,” he describes, adding that he decided on a combination of 14-karat pink gold, 18-karat white gold, 18-karat yellow gold, palladium and 925 silver. The final step was to find an acidic solution that dissolved the silver, leaving a vein-like structure in the contrasting colours of the tree bark. The orange pine cones were created using a mosaic of small specialty-cut spessartites, fixed together. Inside the necklace, a system of electric wires, connected to LED lights with changeable micro batteries (like those used in acoustic devices), allowed the pine cones to light up, gradually changing their intensity. A brilliant and illuminating work of wearable art, The Cedar necklace and matching earrings were sold to a collector in June 2018 after being shown in Baselworld.
While he loves all gems, Alessio admits that he has a preference for unusual stones, even those that are not considered “precious”, but that are beautiful, such as rutilated quartz and cat’s-eye. He also has a fondness for opals and their changing colours, as well as Paraiba tourmaline “especially the Brazilian stones since they remind me of the blue-green of the ocean.”
Aside from gems, Alessio has commissioned some amazing micro-mosaics from Rome’s pre-eminent artists, such as those used in his spectacular and awardwinning Homage to the Renaissance set. He is also now using antique 19th century micro-mosaics, “which are opening new doors in design.” One of these doors is seen in the Greek mythology inspired Narcissus Bridge collection, conjuring the story of Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. At the centre of the piece is an antique 1820s micro-mosaic depicting the bridge. When the top of the ring is opened, the mosaic can be removed and worn as a pendant, leaving a mirror reflection in the base of the ring to echo the Narcissus story.
Many other new doors will surely be opened by his design creativity, as Alessio Boschi continues along his personal and precious journey in the world of extraordinary fine jewellery.
The award-winning spectacular Homage to the Renaissance set showcases remarkable micro-mosaics, adorned with pearls and rubellites. The earrings feature lockets that are opened to reveal intricate micro-mosaic paintings of famous Italian motifs, including Michelangelo’s David, with no detail spared. The necklace’s 18 strands of rubellite beads and pearls hold a locket featuring micromosaic paintings of the dome of Florence’s Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Caterina de’ Medici, regent of France in 1611.
A recent addition to the Historica collection is the Bella Napoli necklace that celebrates the colourful traditions of Neapolitan life—food, coffee, theatre, music, dance and more. Crafted in morganite, enamel and other precious gems and metals, it even includes black rhodium spots that suggest a burnt pizza crust after it comes out of the wood-burning oven. The morganite was specially cut to evoke a theatre stage, with chains as the curtains that can be ingeniously pulled back to reveal Pulcinella and Arlecchino (the harlequin), characters from the Commedia dell’Arte, with the comedy and tragedy masks in gold and enamel crowning the arch of the pendant.