Mario Buccellati's necklaces could clear out most family fortunes in a single monetary splurge.
His ruby and sapphire necklaces, priced in six figures, are ornate, Renaissance-inspired--and meant to be worn.
"In public," Buccellati insists.
"One of the biggest curses I have is to explain to people not to get overprotective. If a fear of robbery comes over you, you shouldn't be involved with these pieces," says the 27-year-old president of North American operations for House of Buccellati.
Prescribing such casual treatment for a $240,000 ruby necklace or an $85,000 clutch bag may come from growing up with similar objects around the house. Like the monumental carved silver centerpiece, worth $700,000, which he considered an early plaything: "I used to sit on top of it," he says.
The young Buccellati took over as president following his father's death in 1985. He's the third generation to head this 80-year-old Milanese jewelry house, which specializes in intricate, engraved metal finishes.
At Bullocks Wilshire, which introduced the jewelry line as part of an Italian promotion, Buccellati said his grandfather, and namesake, couldn't bear to leave "any metal unfinished." The senior Buccellati cultivated a type of engraving that removes the shine from gold and silver surfaces, leaving a quieter, light-catching sheen.
This "texture engraving" is applied by hand in lined or graffiti-like patterns, a process requiring numerous hours. How many?
"It's impossible to say," he says, scoldingly. "We are far from a commercial operation."
The market for Buccellati jewelry is admittedly "terribly limited," he says. Prices range from $700 (for a simple gold wedding band) to $400,000--a level of spending he says is reserved mostly to Americans. They account for 85% of his business.
"Americans, to be vulgar about it, have the most cash around. They have the buying power and are thirsting after culture and family history," he says.
Buccellati's own sense of roots includes being the first American, and the youngest, to head the family jewelry house. (His uncle still runs the European end of the business.) Though his youthful takeover might appear "premature," Buccellati notes that it was preceded by a business education and years of company internships.
"I realize my age," he says, "and obviously the arrest of development could be disastrous." His approach to a balanced life includes playing softball, owning a recording studio, living in Greenwich Village--and, of course, promoting the family's one-of-a-kind pieces to a select consumer.
"They're most emphatically not a look for everyone."