Professional Jeweler Archive: Made by Hand ... in Italy

May 2001

Precious Metals & Bench/Metalsmithing

Made by Hand ... in Italy

Italy is well-known for machine-produced gold jewelry, but there's still a sector making pieces entirely by hand. Nicolis Cola shows how

Nicolis Cola, an Italian manufacturer of handmade 18k gold jewelry, produces necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings using methods that date back centuries. A look at the company’s metalsmithing techniques and their link to the history of Italian gold jewelry production will make it easier for you to convey to customers the romance and mystique of all handmade Italian gold.

Where It Started

The history of jewelry production in Vicenza, where Nicolis Cola is located, dates back to the fifth century B.C. The first known goldsmiths’ guild was formed in Vicenza in 1339. Today, Italy is the largest producer of gold jewelry in the world, using over 400 tons of gold yearly. Forty percent – or 175 tons – of Italy’s gold jewelry output is manufactured in Vicenza, and the surrounding region of Veneto is home to more than 1,100 large and small jewelry factories that employ more than 11,000 people. Because of the importance of gold fabrication, the region has become a center for research, education and production of the most technologically advanced tools, machinery and techniques of jewelry production.

Handmade Mystique

While Italy is a leader in the design and production of jewelry manufacturing machinery, especially gold chain, there’s a special allure to handmade jewelry. Nicolis Cola is known for its handcrafted hollow-tube manufacturing technique. On a recent tour of the factory, Professional Jeweler saw how this ancient process works.

The goldsmith starts by wrapping a layer of gold sheet around a base-metal rod. The tube is drawn through dies to the desired thickness and then hand-hammered, -twisted and -coiled to create the shape of link needed for the chain. The surface is treated if the chain will have a textured or matte finish. Then the tube is cut into pieces that are hand-shaped further and hand-soldered into a chain. Some chain is so complicated a goldsmith makes only one foot of it each day.

Another Link in the Chain

After the links are joined into a chain, it is hand-hammered, -pulled and -twisted to achieve the proper feel and lay (it must lie flat and be flexible when worn or it won’t look or feel right). How do you know when it’s just right? Several goldsmiths at Nicolas Cola say it takes years of training and experience to learn, but note it should feel luxurious and sensual.

After some hand-finishing or polishing, the chain is placed in an acid bath that doesn’t hurt the gold but dissolves the base metal still inside the links.

This process is much more labor-intensive than machine-made or hand-finished gold. But for the discerning customer, the thrill of knowing the jewelry was hand-worked in an ancient shop in the heart of Vicenza is an added value worth the extra price.

• Nicolis Cola, distributed by Termine & Winer, Boston, MA; (617) 325-4764,

– by William H. Donahue Jr.

Hand-hammering, -pulling and -twisting are performed after a chain’s links are attached to achieve a perfect feel when lying against the neck.
An Originary Classic Collection link chain from the Rafaello line.
From the Young Classic Collection, this chain is part of the Love line.


Nicolis Cola’s Collections

Nicolis Cola recently introduced four Classic collections, each designed to reach a different category of buyer, though they share a fidelity to handcrafted gold techniques. They are:

  • Originary Classic features lines named for such artists as Botticelli, Rubens and Rafaello. This collection relies on purity of form and classical design. Designs in this line come in white or yellow gold with a variety of surface finishes. Many are accented with diamonds.
  • Contemporary Classic features a more modern look.
  • Transgressive Classic consists of bolder designs.
  • Young Classic translates design aspects of the other collections into lighter, often more delicate pieces. It’s aimed at younger buyers.

– W.H.D.

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications