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Brand to Know: A Singapore-Based Italian Jeweller Specialising in the Art of Translating Individual Stories Into Personalised Jewellery

By Caroline Suganda

Courtesy of Arte Oro

Nestled in the Southwestern part of Singapore is Arte Oro — one of the few local jewellery design and production ateliers on the island city-state. Arte Oro means “the art of gold” in italian and it stems from its co-founder, Italian-born Danilo Giannoni’s heritage. his business model is “specialising in the art of translating individual stories into personalised jewellery” and that he does — with a passion that’s evident in the meticulous craftsmanship and use of exquisite materials.

You could say that 47-year-old Giannoni is a citizen of the world — having lived in almost all four corners of the globe — before he finally decided to settle down in Singapore, about three years ago. His passion for jewellery and his Singaporean wife are the catalysts for the move to Singapore.

His story starts in Alessandria, a small city in the north of Italy, where he was born and grew up. “I was attracted by the glittering windows in my home town, which is just 10 kilometres away from Valenza,” says Giannoni, during an interview with T Singapore at his atelier. Valenza is the world’s “capital” of jewellery-making where most of the big companies (like Bvlgari and Cartier) have research and development facilities. At the age of 15, Giannoni, who comes from a family of soldiers, started going to professional jewellery- making school, the Centro Formazione Professionale in Valenza, where he learnt the theory of design, as well as the techniques of jewellery-setting, shadowing master craftsmen from some of the best factories in the city. Three years later, fresh out of school, young Giannoni was working for one of the famous workshops in Valenza, “the one that works for big brands,” he says of the workshop, which caters to brands like Bvlgari and Damiani.

About 10 years later, one of his best clients who happened to be trading diamonds between Valenza and New York proposed that he moved to the Big Apple. “He told me, ‘someone with your skill will kill the market like shooting fish in a barrel’. I was getting a little tired of [the] small town and I know New York will give me a new perspective, so I moved,” says Giannoni, who left for New York without being able to speak a word of English.

Courtesy of Arte OroDanilo Giannoni has been in the jewellery industry for more than 30 years, specialised in bespoke pieces.
Danilo Giannoni has been in the jewellery industry for more than 30 years, specialised in bespoke pieces.

The decision to move to New York in 1999 was a godsend — it gave him the opportunity to pick up the English language and he opened his first workshop, Laboratorio Italiano, albeit a modest one on West 47th street. It opened the door to more opportunities to showcase his craftsmanship. After the september 11 attack, however, business was tough and so he moved to the Middle east, which saw him shuttling between Istanbul, Dubai and the Saudi countries. Five years later, his former employer in Valenza came and knocked at his door, offering a position to head a jeweller’s workshop around the world doing quality control. “it was a very exciting position for me because it gave me time to be at home, to travel around Italy and around the world,” says Giannoni.

During this stretch of his career, Giannoni was introduced to China and hong Kong where he became fascinated by the scale of the manufacturing factories in mainland China. “There were 75,000 people working at the workshop in China. Compare that to a workshop in Italy, with 25 people or the big one, 100 at most. it’s quite exciting,” he shares. As it happened, Gianonni was asked if he’d like to be based in China, one which he accepted but decided to live in Hong Kong instead, and travel across the border to work everyday.

Hong Kong gave him the opportunity to learn about the trade there, but during those years, the creative urge to create something of his own returned as strong as ever. Together with his Singaporean partner (now wife) whom he had met in Hong Kong, he debuted his own jewellery line, Giamore (“love at first sight” in Italian) in 2012. Giannoni had this vision of championing a ready-to-wear line of jewellery. However, things did not turn out the way he had hoped for — it was so much bigger and better. “There were more people coming with stones and asking us to design something for them, or asking us to find some stones. So that basically turned into what we are doing now, and it became our DNA,” says Gionnani. “Our ready-to-wear line was sold out but we decided not to restock because we understand that only 10 per cent of our profit was coming from it, the rest of the 90 per cent was coming from bespoke pieces.”

However, despite a burgeoning business, he realised that Hong Kong was the wrong market for him. “Hong Kong is a market of very low-end or very high-end. The middle market is very difficult to [penetrate],” says Giannoni who saw that the very high-end clients would go to the established brands.

Courtesy of Arte OroIn the light industrial area of Jalan Kilang Timor is Arte Oro, a 110-square-metre atelier specialising in production of high-end jewellery.
In the light industrial area of Jalan Kilang Timor is Arte Oro, a 110-square-metre atelier specialising in production of high-end jewellery.

In 2015, Giannoni moved to Singapore with his wife and two children. It took him half a year before setting up Arte Oro here. “I want to make sure that I don’t make the same misjudgement that I did in Hong Kong,” says Giannoni who discovered that the local market is lacking a very high-end jewellery workshop, one that he’s used to working in. “A lot of people who need to do some form of jewellery customisation would go to Hong Kong because they don’t feel that there are enough [highly skilled] craftsmen in Singapore. Most of my clients in Singapore are the clients from when I was in hong Kong,” says Giannoni in his thick italian accent laced with a slight hint of our local “Singlish”, a sign of him acclimatising well to our city.

But setting up a workshop in Singapore was a challenge on its own — it was not an easy task to find local craftsmen who are skilled in and still employ traditional techniques in jewellery-making like he does. Today, he has three goldsmiths, one stone-setter and a three- dimensional designer under his tutelage. He also has a workshop in Valenza where over 40 artisans support him on design and craft focusing on european and Middle Eastern clients.

With a full-running atelier here, a simple ring would take him less than a week to complete but typically, the waiting time is about three to four months due to the large number of orders he has at present. At the time of our interview, the atelier is swamped with an order for a grand wedding. “We are looking to hire two or more people and by then we should be able to deliver orders within the six-week time frame — just like how they do it in Italy,” says Giannoni. Business is good; he’s also looking to move out of his current 110-square- metre atelier to a much bigger space.

Courtesy of Arte OroGiannoni has his own network of suppliers who are able to procure the world’s top one per cent of stones.
Giannoni has his own network of suppliers who are able to procure the world’s top one per cent of stones.

Giannoni is also known as a gem hunter. “We are the best supplier in the world for certain types of stone because we only work with the top one per cent,” he says. In the last 30 years working in the jewellery industry, he has built personal relationships with trusted mines and suppliers, making sure that all the diamonds and gems sourced are sustainably and ethically sourced. Today, he’s showing me an assortment of loose, rare coloured spinels and sapphires — all of which are already sold.

The beauty of an independent brand like Arte Oro is the personal relationships that are nurtured along the way, where every project has the potential to turn a client into a friend. Today, most of his clients are friends
of friends who got to know him through word of mouth. “It’s very difficult for someone that you [have] never met to commission a million-dollar work,” says Giannoni who counts the Middle Eastern royalties as clients, among others. “that’s the only way to work. You don’t become the jeweller [to] some important family or royalty because they read about [you] in the newspaper or see you in a shop.”