It’s often something small that ignites an inextinguishable flame. Tiny moments that spark a passion that stays with us from early ages. Their pull compels us to keep searching for little details that reawaken those memories, and give a deeper purpose and beauty to our adult lives. Because they feel like home. For artist Mia Chicco, that pull has always been jewelry. She’s an artist that has a depth and story to her work that spills from every imperfect marking, and informs every nuanced shape. Exposed as a child to discovering artful treasures in discarded wares, to the beauty of reimagining tired pieces, and creating juxtaposition by mixing aesthetics not intended to merge, Mia’s early experiences were the perfect alchemy for a label that so beautifully fuses luxury with a raw, unstructured beauty.
We spent an afternoon at Mia’s light-filled Sydney studio space (fascinatingly, and so fittingly part of a old jail transformed into a workspace occupied by inspiring artists, musicians and creatives) to watch this talented artist at work, and hear the story behind the artisanal jewels we fell in love with when we first discovered the collection.
Of all artistic pursuits, why fine jewelry and where did the story begin?
I guess you could say I’ve always been creative. As a little girl I used to love making things. I would set up shop in front of our house and sell random items that I’d collected to anyone that would walk past. I also got into beading and would string necklaces and bracelets to sell to my friends and their mothers. My family has always had their own businesses as well. My mum used to have a mid century furniture store. I would spend my weekends and holidays with her driving through little country towns in search of amazing pieces. There was always the thrill of finding something amazing. My dad is a hairdresser and also used to collect vintage watches. Our lounge room would always be covered with different elements of watches, and he’d be there opening them up, cleaning and changing the plexi and the bands etc. So I definitely grew up loving the finer details in things.
It’s fascinating the way our early experiences and exposures shape our style…
Definitely! When I was at school, I was always really into art, I decided to do a degree in Art Theory at COFA and thought I wanted to get into art curating. But when I finished the degree it wasn’t quite right and my options became quite limited. However while I was studying I was also taking a course in jewelry making (silver-smithing) which I loved. At the time, I wasn’t really loving Sydney, so I decided to move to Florence for six months on my own!
Oh wow! That’s amazing, why Florence?
Well I’m half Italian, my Dad is from Italy. I just love the culture and I’d travelled to Florence a couple of times previously and just fell in love. It’s also the centre for gold-smithing. So I lived there for six months and did a gold-smithing course and then moved back to Sydney and started a job with a jeweller in the Queen Victoria Building. It was a small team with another girl my age and our boss for 5 years. We mainly did bench work such as engagement rings and wedding bands. It was almost like an apprenticeship, my boss was well renounced and highly skilled and I learnt so much from him. During that time I was also going back to Florence for three month stints where I studied hand engraving and stone setting.
I spent a lot of time honing my craft and getting as much experience as possible. I then started doing my own bespoke rings on the side which turned into a lot of engagement rings for friends and friends of friends which quickly led to picking up my first stockist. We then moved to London for 3-and-a-half years where I worked for a jewelry gallery as well as a jeweller part-time. Since moving back to Sydney in mid-2015, I’ve worked full-time on my own label.
Your style is beautifully raw and organic which resonates so much with the Australian woman and our lifestyle here, and there really seems to be a bigger movement now toward luxurious pieces that are handcrafted. Why are you drawn so much to imperfect and irregular shapes and markings? What’s so important to you about that style?
From early on I realised that jewelry in Australia had always been very commercial and looked manufactured. Even when I was working at the jewellers in the QVB, we were creating engagement pieces that were trying to look perfect and as though they were manufactured. It really made me question why we were doing it that way, seeing as though they were handmade. It should look like someone has made it, imperfections and all, with an artisan touch.
I just love surface textures, patterns and always warmed to eroded and rustic looking pieces but then again I love elegance and glamour. So my work is a fusion. I think Italy has played a big part in that as well.
How was the brand perceived when you first started, you were really going against the grain and doing something quite different in Australia, and still are…
I think it’s growing a lot. I’d say from when I first started doing engagement rings here, the style has definitely changed and customers are turning towards wanting something that is really unique. Why would you want to walk down the street with a ring exactly like someone else’s? Everyone is unique, their relationships are unique and so your jewelry should reflect that too.
Totally, and it says a lot about the evolution of bridal doesn’t it! Finally, we’re all becoming comfortable with not needing to fit in, with breaking away from what a wedding should look like if it doesn’t make sense to you. It’s now more a celebration planned your own way, however it feels right, as a reflection of who you are. It’s interesting to see that in jewelry too.
Definitely, I think nowadays in jewelry it’s less about the size of the diamond and more about the design and using different stones. I do so much with champagne diamonds which I absolutely love and they were once frowned upon as they weren’t as perfect as white diamonds. But they’re just so naturally beautiful and give off such an incredible warmth. It’s nice clients are gravitating to that side of things now.
Yes, I think so too. Are you finding people are requesting smaller diamonds?
I get a mix. So I still have clients that I source large diamonds for, but I think we are putting them into designs that aren’t classic and making them look more interesting. Then I also have clients where the ring is more about the token and significance rather than the value, so it may be a gold band with a few small stones and an engraving or a gemstone that is more meaningful to them than a diamond.
What is that you really love about the jewelry industry?
Probably that it’s so old fashioned in relation to the tech crazy world we live in. A lot of my suppliers would still ask for cheques as payment you know? They’re still hidden away in tiny little buildings, that you have to go through really old security doors to get to and it’s literally just an old man at a desk in an old office space…
It really does still have that beautiful traditional that we don’t get to see often… such a beautiful process to watch when you step into a jewelry workshop!
I agree; they’re so unspoilt and untouched. Everyone is genuine – it’s an amazing community to be a part of.
What is something that gets on your nerves then, about the industry?
Probably just the marketing around the “perfect diamond” and the “perfect ring” which fuels people’s expectations on what the ‘ideal’ ring is. It just takes the romance out of it in the end.
If you could design for one person in the whole entire world, who would that person be?
Probably an artist, someone like Frida Kahlo! It would be such an honour, she has such a strong sense of self and design appreciation. But that’s a tough question!
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When creating bespoke pieces, how you start the design process?
I offer core collections (which I sell online and to stores) in addition to a bespoke design process. I often have clients that will see one of my pieces online but want a different size, colour or stone which we then discuss. Otherwise if it’s purely bespoke, the client will come in for a consultation and we’ll have a chat about their style, what colour golds they were thinking, do they wear bold or finer jewellery and so on. From there it’s about narrowing down the finer details, I’ll do a few sketches for them and from then on will keep them closely involved with the process. If they’re choosing a diamond, I get in a selection so they can come in and view them. You should never buy a diamond online or from a piece of paper because in person there is just so much character to see. Always in a line of five diamonds, one will stand out specifically to the client and they’ll know that’s the one for them.
After they pick the stone, I then get started on making the piece, keeping them updated with pictures of the process. They can come back in and see how it’s all going and make changes if they want. Then after one final approval from the client, all stones are set!
And what is the usual timeframe to create an engagement ring?
I do have clients that request a ring within a week or two, which happens more often than you would think! Of course, I generally accommodate but I usually say 4-6 weeks is a good time frame. It depends, if they know exactly what they want then I can usually say 2-4 weeks.
2-4 weeks? Wow – that’s a short turn around time!
Yep, I’m literally in here day and night, you can tell I love it!
What has been the hardest lesson you’ve learnt in the whole time you’ve had your business?
I’d probably say being true to myself and trying to stay authentic.
I agree. Especially as your business grows, the biggest challenge is always making sure that authenticity and the reason you started in the beginning, remains at the core.
Exactly, you’ll have buyers or certain influencers that that will come in and tell you you’re ‘missing this’ or ‘why don’t you do this’ or ‘you should go in this direction’. The sooner you realise you will never please everyone the better, it’s just about sticking with what you know, perseverance and determination – it will pay off!
Yes, learning to say no!
Exactly it’s a hard lesson.
What’s a piece of advice you’ve been given in your life that has always stuck with you?
Probably, always be present, fully engaged and involved.
Tell me about what’s next for Mia Chicco? What’s the big dream?
Well I’ve always wanted to open my own boutique, that’s always been the dream. So that’s the end goal. This year I want to show in Paris. I was in NYC showing a couple of months ago so right now it’s about expanding and building my brand awareness.
That’s exciting! Did you have a good response to your collection in New York?
Yea I did, this is actually the third time I’ve shown there, this was a new show that I was doing. It was a little different but it was still really positive, good press and I picked up some new stores too so it was great exposure and incredibly worthwhile.
Do you think Australia will always be your base no matter how much your brand grows?
It will. My husband and I would like to have one more overseas experience in the near future but Australia will always be home.
And what is it that you love most about Sydney?
Probably the space, beautiful beaches and active lifestyle. Living in London really makes you appreciate the sun and clear skies, I wake up every morning and can’t get over how beautiful the days are.
What advice would you give someone coming in to have a piece made or buying from your store?
I’d probably just say, don’t get too fixated on the specifications of diamonds. The more Googling you do the more confused you get. It’s more about seeing the stones in person and appreciating each one and finding the perfect stone that way. Also, looking at what stylistically is right for your partner rather than what you think should be the perfect ring. I think it’s much more special having something made that’s going to be unique, that you’ve put effort into, rather than going into a shop and selecting a ring that’s been pumped out by a machine.
Do you get a lot of feedback from the clients afterwards?
I do and it’s always amazing, everyone’s always so lovely and touched. I’ve made friends for life with a lot of my clients.
I bet – you’d really get to know them so intimately in those moments.
It’s so special. You’ve been part of that whole process, it’s such an important time in their lives and it’s something that they’ll have forever, always remember and be able to hand on to their children.