Crafted to perfection


February, 2018

High craftsmanship goes industrial: Riccardo Renzetti, master guillocheur, reveals the secrets of his precious art.

Riccardo Renzetti, a man of great culture with an incredibly refined sense of humour - just like the most brilliant minds. He’s also an almost fanatical perfectionist, just like the greatest artists. Every day in a small workshop in Milan, with great dedication, he lovingly practices an ancient art that is gradually vanishing. You may not know its name but you’ll have almost certainly seen a very exclusive watch or a fountain pen with an engraved pattern of lines. These patterns are precious elements thanks to the art of the guillocheur masters - who take their name from the machine used to engrave the metal surface. The technique was born long ago (probably the early 17th century) and it was particularly in-vogue between the end of the 19th century and the first few decades of the 20th.

Back in 1909 Eugenio Renzetti - Riccardo’s grandfather - gave his name to one of the goldsmith workshops most renowned for this technique. To this very day it remains a landmark in Milan and throughout the world for guilloché decorations. After working as an apprentice in Florence in one of the city’s most famous goldsmith's workshops, Eugenio worked in Paris for Fabergé, learning the best of the art of jewel-making, including guilloché engraving, which Fabergé often used to make the surfaces of his celebrated works (such as his eggs) even more refined. Upon returning to Milan he opened a craft workshop dedicated to jewellery, silverware and the working of precious metals. He soon became one of the most popular goldsmiths among the aristocracy in Milan, who wanted to show off his items at important events such as premières at the Scala theatre.

The family tradition is now continuing with his grandson, Riccardo, and numerous collaborations with international companies. For Nobili he created the guilloché surfaces of the Dress mixer taps. In these two finishes of different patterns (chevron and tartan) that dress this line of mixers, Nobili’s advanced production techniques go hand in hand with the charm of real craftsmanship. The methods of the guillocheurs are the same as they were four hundred (or more) years ago - all that has changed is the material used to make the incision tips. Steel, which wears rapidly, has now been replaced by cemented carbide, a metal-based material almost as hard as diamond. Also unchanged is the patience and precision required of a master guillocheur who practices such an ancient and delicate art - he must be sensitive and have a certain ingrained sense of beauty.

Nothing can really replace the human touch if you want to achieve certain types of engravings, explains Renzetti. A master guillocheur must be able to maintain a constant pressure on his fingers, since the tiniest difference causes a variation in the pattern repetition. Although you’re using a machine you can’t rely on mechanical criteria. Time, mood, strength... lots of dynamics influence how the decoration develops. These imperceptible values are synonymous with uniqueness - exclusivity lies breaking the rules. A craftsman gets inside the decoration, giving it that human warmth that a machine alone cannot give. Technical mastery reflects passion and produces timeless objects, the preciousness of which lies in the time taken to make them and the quality of the skill employed. The enchanting guilloché finishes of the Dress collection express this skill, a timeless language that spells a new relationship between industry and fine artistic craftsmanship.