By Juliana Inglese, Marist Italy BA
When walking through piazza Santo Spirito, with Brunelleschi’s Santo Spirito Cathedral behind you, looking across the piazza ahead, there is a set of large wooden doors. At Piazza Santo Spirito, 12, 50125 Firenze, Italia, there is the small artisan shop of Giuliano Cecchi, now run by Carlo Ricchi, a shop that has not changed since the nineteenth century. We entered on a whisper that handmade euro coin bracelets could be bought for cheap. What we found far surpassed our expectations. When entering the shop, you seem to be stepping back in time.
A kind old Italian man, with wisps of grey hair and a kind smile, dutifully accommodated us when we entered. We explained to him what we had heard, he knew at once what we had come for and began bustling around. He was obviously content to work in an apartment space turned into his workshop. He led us into the lab downstairs, where he showed us the the mill and pressed our euros into oval strips engraved with the Florentine Giglio (more commonly recognized as the Fleur di Lis). All around us were antique machines like the oven, the polisher, the rocker arms and scartatrici all from the early 1900s. He beaconed us back up the steep staircase, where you were warned to duck due to the low over hang, to the other part of his workshop, across the hall of his merchandise displays that seemed to glow with a mixture of gold and silver metals. In his lab he fitted our oval euro medallions with the chain colour of our choice, light sliver, dark silver, or gold. He was all smiles as he told us about his accomplishments, showed off his stunning merchandise, and explained to us his passion. After leaving we were already talking about coming back.
Giuliano Ricchi began working as a craftsman in 1962 at age 15 and was educated by his teacher Carlo Cecchi, of which the company still bears the name. Giuliano creates about 15 thousand items a year, all handmade at each stage, using the ancient technique of the goldsmith Cellini, called the “lost wax” process. This process was used to create great sculptures like the Perseus we all pass in Palazzo Vecchio, holding up the head of Medusa over the enemies of the Republic as a warning. Using soft metals such as copper and brass, or silver plate and gold plate, his creations are packaged in Florence, but sold all over the world: Rome, Paris, Singapore, San Francisco, New York, etc. He told us proudly of the companies he sells to and the specific items that have been commissioned privately. The list of clients is long, such as picture frames and boxes of various types for Dior; evening bags for Nina Ricci and Ballantyne; business card holders, key rings, pins and more for Harrods, Fortnum and Mason, as well as Philadelphia. Even Bill Clinton, fascinated by the work of Giuliano’s craftsmanship, bought a card holder!
Everything in the small shop recalls the Florentine tradition: the place, the craft, and the personality of the artisan; all elements that make the environment so rich in history and passion.