Interview: Carolina Bucci

Interview by Brynn Wallner, photos by Charlie Williams
March 2023
       Walking into jewelry designer Carolina Bucci’s eponymous boutique on a quintessential London day is the next best thing to jetting off to Italy. Its warmth and elegance is directly inspired by the city of Florence, where she was born and raised, providing shelter and sunshine to any dampened local. The space is a physical embodiment of the twenty-year-old brand with even deeper roots in the jewelry world. As a fourth-generation fine jeweler, Bucci grew up absorbing the traditional methods of the trade. But as she blossomed into her own after a stint in New York City, launching Carolina Bucci there in 2003, she broke some of the rules (to the slight dismay of her family, but also to great success – her big break came when Carrie Bradshaw was styled in one of her bracelets for Sex and the City).

She has also dipped her toes into haute horlogerie, working officially with Audemars Piguet whose motto is: “to break the rules, you must first master them.” Surely, this shared value between Bucci and the storied Swiss watch brand is no coincidence, and their collaboration is nothing short of ravishing. Since 2016, she has created three iterations of the Royal Oak, meticulously playing with – and challenging – the iconic design. Her signature Florentine finish, which appears on two of the watches and her jewelry, is not unlike Bucci herself: unpredictable and complicated (she’s a Scorpio), but also brilliant and effortless.

Brynn Wallner: When did you open your boutique?

Carolina Bucci: I opened on Motcomb Street in 2007 in a location literally 20 meters from here. I never had a store then, so I wanted the smallest possible space that could be airtight from a security standpoint. But I outgrew it quite quickly, so we moved to this location in 2018. I love the street, and the bigger space allows me to do everything I want to do. My world is jewelry, but the boutique is about bringing a little bit of my Florence to London. So hopefully when you walk in the store, you get a bit of that, you know? You can smell it, you can hear it, you can feel it.

BW: It’s so warm. Really contrasting with the weather outside.

CB: Especially today [laughs]. The weather is delivering classic London.

BW: What are you working on right now?

CB: Lots of new things! This year we are celebrating 20 years of my Lucky bracelets.

BW: The one that Carrie Bradshaw wore?

CB: Yes, that one. The Lucky Bracelet is what started Carolina Bucci. It was my first piece. I go through life and my collections without thinking about it all too much. But then, I thought… 20 years! That’s pretty cool, actually. And it’s still a fresh and relevant piece today – it’s where most of our clients start their journey with us, which is really interesting because that was not necessarily the intention. But even now, whether it's new clients or the daughters of the clients who've been with us for a long time, their first piece is always the Lucky Bracelet. It’s history repeating itself.

BW: Two decades is an accomplishment. Take me back to 2003, when you first started the brand.

CB: The jewelry world was very different. There was no “emotional jewelry.” Now, literally, your socks are lucky and you can make a wish on everything [laughs]. But at the time, it wasn’t like that. I come from a very traditional jewelry background with my family, and what I was craving was… Well, I was personally frustrated because, as the daughter of a jeweler, I couldn’t wear costume jewelry. It was always a big no-no. But I wanted to wear fun stuff! I found fine jewelry boring. So my drive was to create something that was fine, respecting the traditions and the heritage, but also fun. And that’s how Carolina Bucci was born.

BW: And the Lucky Bracelet…

CB: Lucky expresses exactly that at its best. It was inspired by bracelets I used to make as a little girl on the beach with my sister and my friends. We used to exchange them as friendship bracelets and Lucky’s meaning is based on that. It’s 18 karat gold, so it’s precious metal, and it’s made in our workshop. But the threads are silk, which is not something that you’d find in a piece of fine jewelry. And there’s no clasp, so you have to double-knot it and then you make a wish. My family was like, what is wrong with you? No clasp?! [laughs] But I kept insisting, and 20 years later, they’re still popular.

BW: I can see why.

CB: We hear so many amazing stories with these bracelets.

BW: Like what?

CB: A lady wrote to us saying she got struck by lightning on the beach, but the bracelet absorbed all the electricity and disintegrated, leaving just a little scar. It saved her life, she says.

BW: Oh. My. God. Wow. So, Lucky is your first baby, right? Because one of your sons is 17.

CB: Yes. And my first son was actually my third baby because, after Lucky, came my miniature yorkie, who was with me in New York and left us at age 16. He led the way to my pomeranians.

BW: I read that you went to FIT [Fashion Institute of Design] in New York City.

CB: I did. A long time ago. 2000.

BW: That must have been a fun time to be in New York.

CB: The best. I was there from 1995 until 2003, when I got married.

BW: So you met your husband in New York.

CB: Yes, and he brought me to London saying, it’s just like New York! [laughs] That is not so. But we love it here, it’s home. New York, though, is really important to me. I’m from Florence, but my mother is actually from New York. She’s been living in Italy for 53 years, but she still has a very strong New York accent. I’ve always felt comfortable in both worlds, but I’m Florentine.

BW: Like your finish.

CB: Like my finish! But I moved to New York when I was 18. I was told that university only happened in America, so off I went. I did the same college tour that I just did with my son, and at the end of it, I said what a waste! Because I knew where I wanted to be, and that was New York City. I craved the noise and the speed and… All of it. 

BW: You loved it.

CB: Carolina Bucci wouldn’t be what it is today without it. Again, I was raised around tradition, but living in New York really gave me that visibility and that confidence and that feeling that I could make jewelry in the fun way I was craving. And leaving Florence allowed me the distance to appreciate where I came from.

BW: How was FIT?

CB: I went into it knowing exactly what I wanted to do. Everybody makes fun of me for this, but I always say that if I wasn't a jeweler, I’d be a lawyer because I'm pretty good at arguing [laughs]. One of my first successful arguments was with the dean of FIT, who’s now a jewelry designer, actually – Anthony Lent. I remember I sat with him and said, okay, I know what I want to do. I’m going to make a brand. I just want to learn. I don’t want to make. I will never make. I will design. So can I please skip all these classes? We made a deal.

BW: I appreciate that you could identify what you wanted to do and then work towards it. And it’s my understanding that you still operate this way. I read that, in your partnership with Audemars Piguet, you fought for the mirror dial. They said it was going to be very hard to make, and you said –

CB: It’s going to be cool [laughs]. I mean, listen, my first project with AP was for the 40th anniversary of the Royal Oak, and I *just* touched the outside. But with the second one, I was like, hi! Now we go deeper. I remember the conversation with François Bennahmias [the CEO of Audemars Piguet] and the head of the workshop and they said, you’re not touching the Tapisserie dial. But I was like, why not? For me, it was about creating a contrast between the Florentine finish and all its chaos and unpredictability and irregularity… Contrasting that with something so still. So flat. So smooth.

BW: And the mirror box it comes in…

CB: Oh, that was an even harder win. I said, you have these beautifully made objects, but they end up in a cupboard somewhere. I wanted people to put their boxes on display. And, you know, I’m the queen of variation – but here, I was making one watch with one color and one dial. So I thought, how do I make this watch work for a range of different women (and men, as it turns out) around the world? So the mirror dial displays a reflection that never looks exactly the same. You could be in London or in some beautiful garden or on a beach, and that’s what you see. I wanted the box to do the same. To reflect where you are, the environment. That was a big fight because of logistics. They asked, why? And I said, because! [laughs] But also, it could break, it has to travel… But I don’t think any of them have broken.

BW: And I’m sure people love them.

CB: Yes, I got a little satisfaction back even further because, when we launched that watch, we did a multi-location tour with small events reflecting different women. When we were in Hong Kong, someone was buying the watch as a gift for their partner who couldn’t make it, so they asked if I could write a note. So I wrote Happy Anniversary with a gold marker on the box, and then everyone started asking if I could sign their boxes, too. We put a video up on Instagram and people went bananas – AP called saying that everyone who’d already bought the watch were sending their boxes back so I could sign them. These boxes… Not only did they go out the first time, but they traveled a second time. And none of them broke!

BW: How was it working with Jacqueline Dimier [the designer of the first women’s Royal Oak] on the 40th anniversary of the watch?

CB: She’s wonderful. First of all, she has a mass of experience and knowledge. And I don’t think I was nervous because I was so confident in the watch… I loved it, of course. But you know, having someone who has been such a huge part of the brand’s history, who is also a woman, I really wanted to hear what she thought…  Expecting that maybe she wouldn’t like it so much. But it was flattering and an honor when she was like, no, I love it. And actually, she said that she was a little – jealous isn’t the right word – but in her time, she wouldn’t have been allowed to break the rules. So it was nice to work together because you can see that, throughout different times in history, good design is good design.

BW: I’m so happy you got to work with her.

CB: It was an honor. And she has a great sense of humor.

BW: Every time a woman touches the design of a watch, I feel as though it creates more space and more female-forward opportunities. Even 5 years ago, it seems like things were different.

CB: Oh, completely. There was this misconception that women were not buying watches for themselves. When I started, my jewelry client had always been a woman, but it was a bit like… what do you mean? She’s buying it for herself? The man is supposed to do that. And I think watches are even a bit further behind. There was this understanding that women were not interested, but, to me, you just need to talk about them in a different way. The mechanics of a watch are interesting, of course, but it’s not necessarily going to capture me. You need to capture me first with how it looks, and once I fall in love with how it looks, then I want to know more. And that’s exactly why I did the Florentine finish on the first watch because I wanted to treat it like a piece of jewelry.

BW: It really is striking.

CB: You could be at a party or on the street or wherever, and you’ll see something sparkling that captures your attention. You want to get closer to see what it is and find out more. That’s why I created the Florentine finish in the first place. And applying it to the watch, you know… you have to get closer, you have to see it, you have to touch it. And lots of women are not afraid of asking, oh, where did you get that dress? What are you wearing? That’s how I spotted my first Royal Oak! I saw it on a woman and didn’t ask her, but I stalked her [laughs] because I needed to see what it was. That’s how I got pulled in.

BW: It feels so natural.

CB: I designed the watch for me first. Officially, my task was to design it for women. But men find it appealing too, which is very satisfying and also unexpected. That wasn’t in my plans or even in my orbit. I wasn’t thinking about men.

BW: How about your black ceramic Royal Oak with the rainbow dial?

CB: That one was intended for everybody because at that point, we realized people like to wear whatever they want.

BW: It’s a fun time to be in the watch industry.

CB: There’s a freedom to do things, but not to do too much, you know? There’s always a balance. When I create my jewelry, it needs to be sellable, it needs to be wearable. I don’t design pieces to stay in a case and just be admired. That's never been my thing, and it’s what I did with the watches, too. I want people to wear them, I want the box to be shown.

BW: It’s nice to know they aren’t just collecting dust.

CB: There’s a lot of design to be admired, but for me, everything needs to be used and enjoyed. But you have to protect yourself! Which, you know, in London, it’s a funny time right now, wearing jewelry and watches. There is a lot of theft. But I got the best tip from the Audemars Piguet security guy: he told me that when you stand on the sidewalk, you never stand at the end, step back a little. Because people working in organized crime – they’ll push you into the street and there’s all this confusion, and that’s their chance to rob you. So stay back!

BW: Any other words of wisdom? Not for warding off theft, maybe, but for someone trying to forge their own path like you did.

CB: “Don’t ask, don’t get?” [laughs] Listen, for me, the biggest thing I tell people is: there is no book. There are no rules. I mean, there might be rules, but it’s about following your gut and not taking no for an answer if you really believe in something. That’s how I’ve done it, and to be honest, I don’t know how to do it any other way.