Alice Cicolini’s fascination with mastercraft began long before she decided to launch her namesake jewelry brand, giving rise to “a determination to remind people that for a person to dedicate their life to developing an extraordinary skill is a kind of devotion that we should be prepared to respect and to pay for,” says the designer and curator. And nowhere is that dedication more evident than her line of bespoke, color-saturated pieces, brought to life by Jaipur artisans versed in the time-honored Persian enamelling art of meenakari (also known as champlevé).
“Although I had initially discounted enamelling—in the U.K. its got a very studio jewellery heritage and I wasn’t thinking in that way—something really opened up for me when I met Kamal Meenakar in Jaipur,” explains the lifelong Londoner, whose work has been exhibited at the likes of London’s V&A, the Zaha Hadid Gallery, Asia House and Bungalow 8 in India. Meenakar’s extraordinary craftsmanship not only resonated with her from a historical and aesthetic perspective, but a design standpoint, too. “Because I’m not a maker, nor do I use CAD [computer-aided design]—I just draw and paint—the meenakari is a process that really speaks to my own—its like drawing on gold,” she explains.
Cicolini didn’t always have her heart set on becoming a jewelry designer, though a brief stint working under British society jeweler Andrew Grima in the late nineties “taught me to understand that there many ways to be a jeweler, and to be brave about your point of view,” she says. It wasn’t until years later, that her friend and mentor Simon Fraser, course leader for the masters in jewelry design program at the illustrious Central Saint Martins, helped Cicolini see jewelry in a new light—“a place where you could still create a hybrid identity creatively, part fashion, part craft, part industrial design.”
But the real turning point for the designer came when she came face to face with a treasure-filled jewelry box at Mehrangir Fort Museum in Jodhpur, India, which opened Cicolini up to the world of solah shringar, a Hindu bridal adornment ritual of sixteen stages, including both literal objects (rings, bracelets, necklaces), layers of sensory experience—scent, sound, tactility—and methods of building those layers. “It was powerfully evocative, and the first time my mind started thinking in jewelry,” she says.
Cicolini—who launched her line in 2009—initially began drawing inspiration from the Silk Route (August’s Silk Route Peacock Ring “is one of my absolute favorites,” she says). Though her sources have grown over the years, pattern is always key: “I can see patterns in the built landscape, or in textiles, on ceramics and draw on them for inspiration,” says Cicolini, who also likes to reinterpret existing forms through new materials or stones. The most important part of her process? Sketching. “It can take some time for me to connect with a thought that has been brewing in my head.”
Chalk it up to her roots as a former curator and commissioner for the British Council in India and the U.K., she says—roles that encouraged her to think in terms of how a national characteristic can be expressed through design (her fascination with Savile Row, for example, resulted in the touring exhibit New English Dandy and an accompanying book). It’s a philosophy that continues to shape her approach to designing, too.
“In a wider sense, I also still curate, working with other designers and artists as a creative commissioner, as well as now collaborating with other designers and businesses as a design professional,” says Cicolini. “As a curator, I relished working with professionals at the top of their game, for what I can learn, from their energy and from the constant degree of surprise and challenge involved with working with great thinkers.”