Fibula, from Cerveteri
7th Century B.C.E., Vatican Museum
Granules being applied to simple gold domes.
The Art of Granulation
The story of the style of jewelry created by Zaffiro begins over 3000 years ago in Etruria which is now modern day central Italy. Etruscan goldsmiths, influenced by even older work of Greek origin, began creating jewelry that showed fantastically detailed images like seed pods or lion’s heads made entirely out of tiny spheres of almost pure gold. These spheres were carefully arranged on thin beaten sheets of gold and then the entire piece was heated to a temperature high enough to form a permanent bond between the surface and the spheres. The finest examples of jewelry in this style were produced between the eighth and second centuries, B.C.E. Even with modern tools and knowledge few goldsmiths today have sufficient skill to compete with the Etruscan’s mastery of this process.
This goldsmithing technique, called granulation, would fall from fashion around 6oo C.E. and the skills and knowledge needed to create this exquisite jewelry would vanish for more than a thousand years.
During the first half of the 1800’s several excavations were carried out in the vicinity of Rome (Cerveteri, Toscanella and Vulci) which revealed resplendent ancient Etruscan granulated jewelry. The famous Victorian goldsmith, Alessandro Castellani, studied these artifacts in great detail to unravel the method of fabrication. It was, however, not until after his death that the puzzle of the granulation bond was finally solved, in the early part of the 20th century.
Although the secret remained undisclosed to Castellani and his contemporaries, they started an archaeological revival of Etruscan jewelry around the 1850’s deploying goldsmithing techniques to reproduce some of the finest ancient jewelry ever excavated. Many of their objects are now in important jewelry collections around the globe, together with the original counterparts.
In the tradition of ancient Etruscan craftsmen, each one-of-a-kind piece created by Zaffiro is individually handcrafted by either Jack or Elizabeth Gualtieri. They start with pure 24karat gold and using a custom alloy “recipe”, making their own 22 karat sheet, wire and granules. The granules are made in 12 different sizes ranging from .14 millimeters to 3.5 millimeters in diameter. Though they use a virtually identical process to that employed several millennia ago, these artists don’t want to recreate historical works. Their designs are a distillation of influences from a modern world that bring an individual spirit to this remarkable ancient technique.
Looking beyond the traditional, Zaffiro has expanded from the classic 22kt yellow gold granulation into a variety of metal colors and combinations, each having its own collection: Classic, Chiara, Etrusco, Jacqueline, Meredith and Isabella. One-of-a-kind pieces make up the majority of each collection, with a limited production line available in the Etrusco style. Limited production means that Zaffiro will reproduce a particular design in small quantities, yet these pieces are also individually handcrafted and meet the same high standards as the one-of-a-kind pieces.
The Classic Collection is Zaffiro’s distinctive interpretation of traditional 22kt yellow gold granulation. The Chiara Collection is platinum granulation onto 22kt yellow gold. The Meredith Collection is 22kt white gold granulation onto 22kt white gold. The Jacqueline Collection is 22kt rose gold granulation onto 22kt rose gold. The Isabella Collection is platinum granulation onto platinum. The Etrusco Collection is 22kt yellow gold granulation onto oxidized fine silver (in the one-of-a-kind pieces only), the limited edition Etrusco line incorporates granulated 22kt yellow gold elements soldered to sterling silver. The Chiara, Meredith, Jacqueline and Isabella Collections are methods of granulation that have been developed by Zaffiro. In addition, the Meredith and Jacqueline Collections are proprietary 22kt gold alloys that have been developed by Zaffiro specifically for the granulation process.
Jack and Elizabeth Gualtieri are proud of their particular contribution to the ongoing story of granulation. Given the amount of hand work required, Zaffiro produces no more than 100 to 120 pieces on average, in a year. Each piece is destined to find a collector who will appreciate the effort and artistry involved and hopefully, the history too.