Valenza, and their struggle to be seen as the fine jewelry capital of the world
Valenza is this small town in Piedmont, Italy, where I fell in love with jewelry. It almost seems a hidden secret, but they want the world to know about their unique artisanal value. I was a guest last week, during the event called: Luxury “Made in Piemonte”: a jewel of sustainability in the digital era. Here is my view on Valenza:
Once upon a time, in a small town lying in the hills of Piedmont, was a goldsmith named Vincenzo Melchiorre. Founder of what Valenza is known for most today: its jewelry industry.
What to expect when visiting Valenza
In this town, an informed visitor may treasure some high expectations of glamour, and a well-kept city and lots of services to welcome them. Being the capital of jewelry worldwide, as they like to call themselves, one should not expect less. However, this is not the case.
Instead, Valenza is full of small workshops, factories, and laboratories that are hard to spot for the untrained eye. On the outskirt of the town, one will find the more massive factories and, of course, Bulgari. One of the leading jewelry brands of the world opened its factory here due to the availability of artisans.
Both images are taken at Lenti & Villasco
Valenza = craftsmanship
Valenza prides itself on its craftsmanship. The people from the little Piedmontese town whisper happily that many French Maisons have their jewelry made here, but that this is a secret well-kept.
Craftsmanship is something precious. Build on education, lots of time to practice, and guidance of Masters. Valenza has this unique treasure but hasn't always been able to capitalize on it, due to many factors. And as competition globally grew, they perhaps even fear to lose that battle.
The town has suffered tremendously from the global crisis. However, the crisis may have started before that. Small family businesses can be flexible and quick to respond to changes. But this is not always the case. The jewelry business tends to be somewhat conservative. It believes that what worked yesterday will work tomorrow too.
Luxury in Piemonte congress
For me, as a guest who got an invitation to attend a luxury congress about sustainability and e-commerce here, it was a trip down memory lane.
Because in my early twenties, I came to this town, straight from the Dutch bulb fields. It was here that my love for jewelry (because, oh my!...the things the people from Valenza can create are truly amazing!)was born. I ran a jewelry store here and got my insights from just daily going around small factories and dealing with consumers in the store.
Valenza, at that time, had at least a third more factories and brands and around 80-90 jewelry stores. ( I counted not more than 5 in the city center)
Both the coral rings are by Alex Ball
We, the journalists, spend the first day in the beautiful theatre right in the town center. We attended the congress together with several jewelry manufacturers of Valenza, and institutions such as the Chamber of Commerce, the local government, and the Confindustria. The jewelry associations: Assogemme and Federorafi, and students.
The next day we got a tour around town and visited Alex Ball ( Guerci & Pallavidini), Lenti & Villasco, and Pasquale Bruni. The latter needing no further introduction. The first two are both companies I worked with while running the jewelry store, and I always knew how ethical these two companies worked-high standards, high-quality work-.
How was it to be back?
Weird. As for anyone who lived abroad will know, it's such a different chapter in one's life. But what struck me the most was the fact it was so visible that this town has suffered lots.
Valenza seems unable to promote itself in such a way, throughout the years, that the name itself rings a bell immediately with anyone involved in (excellent) jewelry. The Italians call it the Cittá dell' Oro. And that's because this town focussed with its retail outlets on selling gold jewelry (made in Arezzo and Vicenza) at a very low price. In the late eighties and early nineties, busloads full of people from a circumference of 200km came to buy gold jewelry that was NOT made in Valenza. This weird strategy helped some of the entrepreneurs getting very wealthy, but did not support the long term future of the town.
Once the competition in other towns, tired of the unfair Valenzan low prices, used the same strategy, the busses stopped coming.
Today, it's a fashion store, but this used to be the jewelry store I ran back in the '90s
It also didn't help that some infamous companies promoted Valenza heavily on commercial tv, with poorly made products.
Valenza failed to inform and focus on their unique position in jewelry. They were unable to educate the consumer on time. Will they be able to reverse this process?
Two different jewelry categories
Valenza has two main types of jewelry production. One is aimed directly at the consumer. Think Damiani, Pasquale Bruni, and so on. And the other, a perhaps much more substantial part, is aimed at the B2B category. Selling finished or semi-finished products to retailers and/or other jewelry companies.
Always fun to see a familiar face! Maria Carola Picchiotti and I at the theater in Valenza
Why does Valenza remain mostly unknown?
People from Valenza tend to be rather pessimistic. Some claim that the more prominent names, such as Picchiotti or Ferraris (Giovanni) Pasquale Bruni and others, have not promoted Valenza at all, just their brand, but not the hometown. They suggest that this is because of their ''jealousy'' and unwillingness to support other smaller companies ''for free''.
True or false, the smaller brands have not been able to collaborate in such a way to put themselves on the national or global map.
But here is what you are missing because of this. In this town, there are so many beautiful, amazing and incredible artisans. And they don't just create stunning classical fine jewelry, but also imaginative, highly technical, stupendous designed and made pieces of jewelry that are unique.
An image of a jewel in progress at Pasquale Bruni
How to promote Valenza - the right way
My valued colleague David Brough from the JewelleryOutlook suggested that the town should promote itself much more, with its own identity, on VicenzaOro. I imagine that it should be like a large area where the many small producers showcase their artisanal genius — divided into categories ( directly to retail, or producers for other companies). Like a ''Mercato Coperto''. Educating the visitors about Valenza and why their jewelry is so beautiful.
But of course, Valenza needs more. It has to start with the people there. Collaboration is not the strength of any small and medium business owner in any industry. But it's the only way to go.
Invest money and energy in getting people to talk and effectively promote the town.
Emmepi and the chicken ring I adore. Emmepi is a company that works with a white label and directly with consumers
Create maps and information and guidance for buyers ( both for retail buyers and manufacturers and brands). One should not arrive and feel a little lost. (as they will do now)
These services should be promoted all over the globe, during trade shows, and through social media!
Solve problems, create an engaging story
It asks for vision and determination. And I know this is not easy. It's easier to foresee the many challenges ahead. But to be honest, what is the alternative?
The many beautiful artisans of Valenza deserve their place in the spotlight.
Not by asking other professionals to work for free to promote the town, but to invest truly in creating an image of the city. Define the client. Create a story that appeals to them!
Stop talking only about how wonderful the heritage is, but start showing and spreading the world of what Valenza can mean for brands, retailers, and other manufactures. If Valenza gets its story right, if they understand that marketing today is about listening and solving problems of clients, then I predict that there is a bright future ahead for this little gem in the Piedmontese hills.
Bracelet with a famous Roman building, by Alex Ball
An impression of a table in Pasquale Bruni's own office. What I loved most? That children's book! That tells me so much about the creative inner child in a designer
If you really love exclusive jewelry, completely handpainted: Gabriela Rivalta
Not from Valenza, but meeting us during the congress was Gioielli Dalla Terra. Silver jewelry, gold plated, artistic and contemporary design.