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Jeweler puts values first


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POSTED: Thursday, December 25, 2008

In a rickety economy, many are rethinking their relationships with material objects. The Internet is full of talk about going off consumption, and among the newest ideas is inventorying belongings and trimming items away until one is left with only 100 most prized, meaningful possessions.

Naturally, every retailer wants to make the cut, not to mention encourage people to add to their more focused collections, and in that, Franco Pianegonda has an edge. He's been thinking about these issues since he launched his company in Vicenze, Italy, in 1994.

The jewelry designer doesn't believe in creations so fragile and ornate that they must be tucked away in a drawer or safe between rare moments of use.

“;Jewels live with you and become part of you,”; he said through an interpreter during a recent appearance at Neiman Marcus. “;It's the life that this jewelry has shared with you that gives it meaning.”;

He said nothing pleases him more than to see his pieces showing the scuffs and scratches that come with constant wear over time.

“;It's like shoes. I don't like new shoes because they don't have a story,”; he said. “;I have many pairs of shoes, all worn out, but when I see them, I smile because I know we've been down many paths together.

“;You can always bring jewels back to make them look brand new, but to do that is like forgetting your past.”;

Pianegonda entered the business as a salesman, but quickly found, “;What I sell is not my vision and it was my goal to express my vision of the world.”;

What is lacking in most jewelry lines, he believes, is a concept of the individual wearing the piece. The value of jewelry is often quantified in terms of the quality of metal and precious gems. “;People wear it to show they have money. That's the old view,”; he said. “;Now people want to express something about their values.”;

His bold contemporary pieces incorporate four key symbols: a cross that transcends religion to represent universal peace and brotherhood; circle of life; a key to opening the doors of your world, whether external or in heart, mind and soul; and the Lovesick Heart with rounded top and dagger point representing the dual nature of life and love that combines romance and disillusionment, joy and pain, achievement and failure. “;You can't have one without the other,”; he said.

The universality of the Pianegonda experience might explain how his concept of 21st-century luxury has led to successful boutique openings from his native Italy to Seoul, Beijing, Russia, Dubai, the United States and United Arab Emirates, to name a few cities and regions.

FANS of the designer gathered at Neiman Marcus for a casual question-and-answer session found a humble man who compares his work to that of a cook.

“;He can say he makes very good cuisine, but in reality, it's you who judge his work,”; Pianegonda told the audience, while sharing stories of growing up in an Italian household surrounded by powerful women. The women he designs for, not so coincidentally, have the qualities of his mother, his biggest role model: strength, secure sense of self, strong values and a seeker of truth.

One of the designs he created for himself, imbued with roses, shows awareness of the balance of life, such that he doesn't want to consider it part of a men's collection, intending his jewelry to be liberated from the idea of gender.

“;Men don't usually want to show this feminine aspect of themselves, they want to show strength, but this is the man of the past,”; he said. “;The new man wants to live in a society were he can combine the two, where he can be strong, but he can also be gentle in dealing with people.”;

Like many in Italy and throughout the world, Pianegonda said he followed the U.S. presidential election and considers Barack Obama to be one of the new men and harbinger of a new era in thinking.

“;America is a country everyone watches and Obama is a big change, that's why the world is changing,”; said the designer, who hopes others will embrace his circle of life, which we might refer to as “;paying it forward,”; and others might describe as karma or bachi.

“;If I do something bad to you, maybe I never see you again, but maybe you do something bad to someone else. But if I do something good for you, maybe you will do something good for someone else,”; he said, hoping people will opt for good. “;Everything you do comes back to you.”;