Italian jewellery designer Francesca Urciuoli has travelled the world whilst developing her creative practice; born in Perugia, a small city in Central Italy, she relocated to Florence to train at the historic Alchimia School of Jewellery, before journeying to the US to undertake internships in San Diego and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. She then returned to Europe, completing a two year residency at Birmingham School of Jewellery.
Francesca is now based in Berlin, and her most recent collection Under the Surface: Mapping Mokume Gane debuted at Shine, our annual talent showcase which went digital in 2020. In a recent interview, she describes her fascination with the Mokume Gane technique and how her nomadic life is represented in her pieces.
What first attracted you to a career as a maker, and how did you get started in the industry?
From a young age, I’ve always liked to make and create things. Specifically, when I was little, I started making jewellery with my sister, and then I kept cultivating that passion on my own. After I finished school, I wanted to pursue some kind of arts education. At first, I tried interior design, but found that it wasn’t for me, so I didn’t even make it to the end of the first year. I asked myself what it was I liked to do, what my passion was, and I decided to jump into the jewellery world. I knew I needed to ask for advice from someone in the industry, so I met with Giovanni Corvaja, a jeweller, artist and designer currently based in Todi, which is pretty close to my hometown, Perugia. He recommended that I go to Florence and start jewellery school, either
Alchimia or the Le Arti Orafe. I finally decided to go to Alchimia, and that’s where everything started.
So what can you tell us about the collection you'll be debuting at shine 2020?
My collection is an exploration of the Mokume Gane technique. Through the creation of the jewellery and through looking at the finished product, I want to raise questions like what can the metal reveal, what is under the surface? Those questions are a key point of my collection, but in general, my creative practice is about leaving some space for unpredictability. That’s the reason that I fell in love with Mokume Gane, because no matter how hard you try, you can never make two pieces that look exactly the same. It’s amazing how every time I work with the technique, it’s a surprise to see the outcome. It’s always fun to play with. I have to admit that this is a key point perhaps because it reflects my personality in some way - I’m a person that doesn’t like to plan every little detail of a project, or, maybe it’s more accurate to say that I like to plan, but I don’t like to stick to that plan religiously. It’s through unexpected detours that the surprises come out, the fun and valuable elements. Central to my work is the question ‘what if?’ It’s what keeps me going and keeps me hungry for new things to learn and make.
Can this focus on unpredictability be seen in the pieces, and if so, how?
If you look at my jewellery, there are lots of lines that intersect and make knots. Those knots, in some sense, represent the detours. They’re the paths I could have taken, the chances, possibilities and mistakes that become the value of the whole piece, the whole journey. The idea of a journey is relevant to me personally because since I started my jewellery education, I have travelled and moved around a lot. I started in my hometown, which is a really small city, and although the centre of Italy has a lot of history, it didn’t have the educational opportunities that I wanted. So I moved to Florence for my Bachelors degree, where I stayed for three years, before moving to the US to do my Masters degree and some internships. First I had the chance to work with Heidi Lowe, in Rehoboth Beach, and then I moved to San Diego, CA, and it was there that I learned the Mokume Gane technique. After my visa expired, I had to return to Europe so I decided to apply for residency programmes and got accepted to the one at the Birmingham City University in the UK. I was there for two years, and then finally, when those two years were up, I moved to Berlin, where I’m currently based.
So every time I move or travel, it’s like a new beginning, with all new possibilities, and at the same time, it’s a new attempt to find out where I belong. So again, this kind of uncertainty and unpredictability is manifested in my collection in a way. The lines and patterns represent a memory from my journey. It could be a detail from a street that I visited or a pavement that I was intrigued by. I’m always attracted to imperfections, by anything that looks off, because I believe such things often have a story sealed behind them. That’s why I try to give a certain old, worn look to my jewellery pieces - so that whoever is wearing them or looking at them can make up their own stories as well. I try not to be too literal, but still represent my journey through a certain aesthetic.
What does being chosen for Shine 2020 mean to you - both on a professional level and a personal level?
Being chosen for Shine was great news for me, I was very pleased. I love to be a part of events organised by the Goldsmiths’ Centre, because the Centre has great staff and every event is very well known, so you’re likely to get known as well - you’re going to make contacts and meet new people. That’s great, especially this year as Shine is an online exhibition, and my aim right now is to build up an online presence. So an official opportunity like this one is a great time to get into that.
What have you learned from the process of planning and creating your collection?
As I said, planning is not really my strong suit. In a way, it was my weakness during grad school, as I struggled to focus on just one thing - I’d jump from one thing to another, and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. However it also turned out to be helpful, especially for Shine, as by jumping from one thing to another, I was able to find a bridge between the two main collections I was working on at that moment - one focusing on Mokume Gane and the other on silver wire. The silver wire collection is called Knotted and is basically about making patterns and motives with knots, and thanks to my habit of jumping from one thing to another, I was able to merge these two collections, integrating the knots with Mokume Gane. This is why the lines and patterns in my collections intersect and make knots, connecting to the whole concept of journeys and memories. When you make a knot, you want to remember something and not forget it. It’s about remembering, fixing, repairing, memories and the stories behind them.
How have you found structuring your working day whilst working from home?
Right now, I have three jobs, two part time jobs and on top of that I run my own business, so I’ve had to learn to manage my time. The part time jobs mean that I don’t have to be stressed out all the time about bills, and they also really give me discipline in terms of planning my days. On the other hand, it’s hard to balance them all, as having 3 jobs can be sometimes overwhelming and it can slow down my development for my own creative business, but I'm working on it and I’m looking forward to investing more and more time into my jewellery.
What do you enjoy most about being a maker - for example, is the joy in the making itself, or in sharing the finished pieces with the world?
I would say both the making process and the contact with my audience and clients. Sometimes, I really need to focus on working in my studio, making my own jewellery and having my own creative time. At the same time however, I really like to receive nice, interesting feedback from customers, it motivates me and gives me renewed energy to learn more and be a better maker. That’s another reason why I have a part time job - it involves a lot of talking and contact with people through teaching jewellery classes. I couldn’t do that full time, as I need alone time in the studio, but it’s good to have that balance. When you’re making, it’s easy to get lost, you’re isolated, and sometimes, you need to get out and interact.
What kind of person do you think will be most attracted to your collection, and to your design style in general - do you have a target audience in mind?
I always try to aim my jewellery collections at a wide audience. That means that, for example, my prices start from very low, from around eighty euros, up to 1000 or more. I try to keep it open, and that means I don’t get stuck on a certain kind of client, and I’m able to get a wider range of feedback. For this reason, I use the Mokume Gane technique, working with precious metals like gold and palladium, but I also work with less precious metals like silver and steel. That’s a metal that I’ve used a lot in this last collection, because it has a similar outcome to the combination of silver and palladium 500, which is great - the only thing is that you need to take more care of jewellery made with mild steel, as it can rust. I wear these pieces every day though, and I keep them on even when I shower. As long as I keep them close to my skin, it’s like a polishing process that goes on all day. So it’s really important to educate customers on how to treat these pieces and take care of them.
What were you most looking forward to about participating in Shine 2020?
I'm really looking forward to building more of an online presence, and also just seeing what happens, as this is the first time Shine has gone digital, so it will be interesting to see both sides, the outcome for both the clients and the Goldsmiths' Centre itself.
What’s next - what are your professional and creative goals for the next two years?
My goals are of course, to keep making jewellery, and eventually, open my own studio. I would like to have some kind of co-working space, rather than working alone, but it’s hard to find the right kind of people who make jewellery or who work with another material on a professional basis, rather than having making as a hobby or something they do once in a while. So my goal is to set something up with a small group of people, and, of course, to work really hard! I also want to develop more of an online presence and get my online shop up and running - it was finished just two months ago and is online now.