Francesca Villa has designed for some of the most prestigious jewellery houses in the world. In 2007, she launched her solo collection – a homage to her passion for objet trouvé. Constantly inspired by a love for collecting treasures that was instilled in her by her grandparents, Villa’s world is one where old meets new to stunning effect. We spoke with her about these influences and their impact on her collection with Motley.
How has growing up in Italy shaped your work?
Growing up and living in Italy has strongly influenced my work. Here, art and history are so important. I try to tie literature, art and philosophy into my work. When I was young, I felt obliged to go to museums and galleries to learn. Thanks to this education, I think I have a certain sensibility towards jewellery and art in general. I remember, after creating my first collection, I went to my parents and thanked them for encouraging me to see the world in a different way.But I grew up in a very small village and the desire to go away is so strong! I managed to transform this passion to explore into my work. I love travelling and meeting new people, finding new stories.
What led you to start your own company?
I was a creative director for a long time. It was amazing working with designers from all over the world, I was very passionate about my work. However, I began to get annoyed with the strict briefs and the fact that pieces could be produced thousands and thousands of times. I wanted to begin making one of a kind pieces with no rules or briefs. This is when I started my company and began working for myself.
When I first started my jewellery line, the only way to sell was at private events. I think jewellery should be beautiful. For me, this is the most important thing. I love telling people the stories behind the pieces. When someone picks up a piece, and I can tell them about the misty day in New York and the collector I met who told me this long, intricate story behind the piece that they’re now holding, the value of the jewel suddenly changes. They might suddenly relate one of their own stories to it. I love this.
You’re a collector yourself. Could you tell us more about that?
Collecting antique pieces is something that makes me happy. It’s a joy to find the perfect piece. When we could travel, I would go to New York, London, or Paris, and spend a whole week just looking for pieces. I was so happy! After a day of buying, I would go back to my room alone, and put all my pieces on the bed and just look at them. I would start to think about what I could do with them. Sometimes, I was so excited I couldn’t sleep.
Now we can’t travel, I get the same feeling when a parcel arrives. When it arrives, it’s my moment, and I need to be alone. Sometimes it’s pure joy. Each parcel has a different size, shape, smell. It’s not just a matter of shape and colour, but what sensation they give me.
How do you use or display the pieces that you collect?
I like to take these pieces and give them a new life. Not ruin them, but transform them. I have great respect for them as pieces – I learnt this from my first collector. When I asked to buy some of his vintage chips, he asked me “but what will you do with them?” If you want to buy them, he said, you can’t ruin them by putting holes in them. So, we made frames for them. I’ve learnt to respect them for what they are.
My husband often says “you’re not a museum!” and encourages me to sell some pieces! But often, he sees how happy I am when I find the perfect piece and make the perfect jewel. When it’s vintage, it’s often just one of a kind and you only have one shot – if you have to rethink, you risk ruining the piece.
It’s not always easy using antiques in jewellery production. You have to look after it.
What is the most precious piece you own?
One of my beloved pieces is a bracelet with vintage sheep on it. I love them so much. Each sheep has its own story. The collector usually tells you a very long, intricate story around just one little sheep. These old pieces can tell you so much.
You speak a lot about stories. What story did you want to tell with this Motley collection?
It’s related to the first lockdown we had here in Italy. Around this time I had my first chat with Motley. About a month later, a parcel arrived for me. It was filled with vintage Czech buttons. Originally, I had a completely different idea for Motley. But, as soon as this parcel arrived, I knew it was the right story.
Why do you collect buttons?
I have hundreds of buttons. To be honest, I don’t use all of them. In the past, they were on elegant jackets and dresses. They are so amazing. They are jewels by themselves. I wanted to translate this button into a more modern piece for Motley. This was the only parcel I received during the lockdown and, in some way, it saved my soul during that time. I really wanted to dedicate a collection to this family of buttons.