Ancient techniques still setting the standard for fine craftsmanship

As much in the nineteenth century as today, finely crafted gold beads and swirling gold wirework set the family firm of Castellani apart from all competitors. Think twisted gold wires encircling ancient cameos and granulated gold accenting micro-mosaics – Fortunato Pio Castellani became the jeweller of the Archaeological Revival style.

Though he first opened a jewellery shop in 1814 in Rome, it was a meeting with scholar and jewellery techniques specialist Michelangelo Caetani in 1826 that set Fortunato on his path to success. Attending one of Caetani’s lectures, Fortunato was inspired by the styles and craftsmanship of ancient jewellers, particularly the ancient goldsmiths’ application of gold decorative elements to their jewels. From this initial meeting, Caetani continued to support the Castellanis and their friendship resulted in the mutual sharing of ideas.

By the 1830s, the Castellani firm was so known for its interest in ancient jewels that upon the opening of the Etruscan Regolini-Galassi tombs in 1836, Castellani was invited to study the jewellery found within. Similarly, the director of the papal savings bank allowed Fortunato and his sons, Alessandro and Augusto, to ponder over his vast collection of antiquities. With every ancient jewel, Fortunato and his sons deliberated over how a nineteenth century goldsmith could achieve such decorative techniques, as the art of gold granulation had almost completely been lost.

Experiments began and soon their workshop was the place to go for jewels of the archaeological revival movement. Castellani jewels paired new and ancient together: from intaglios and cameos, to Egyptian scarabs and modern micro-mosaics by famed Roman mosaicist Luigi Podio.

Though Castellani closed in 1930, having been led till then by Augusto’s son, Alfredo, their jewels still draw attention today. Countless other jewellers tried to emulate the Castellani style and share in the archaeological revival success, but none quite captured the scene as much as Castellani.