Wearing a bright blue beanie and circular glasses, Marco Cantini polishes a silver skull ring at his desk. The wall behind him is decorated with three portraits- one of him, his wife and small dog; they all have angel wings. Next to the portraits is an actual pair of white angel wings and a mounted cheetah head wearing a red fedora. In addition to his own jewelry, a buddha, a skull and “il Giglio,” a symbol of Florence, line the perimeter of his desk.
Meanwhile, a man and a woman enter the store. Their eyes widen. Scanning the showcases and shelves that feature Cantini’s edgy jewelry, they notice buddha, skull and “il giglio” symbols incorporated into his designs.
“Can you help me?” the man asks Cantini. “I f*cked up my ring.” As a former study abroad student from Boston, Derek James Mattuchio, met Cantini when he moved to Florence seven years ago. Ever since, he has been a loyal customer. “My mom has his jewelry. All my best friends have his jewelry. My girlfriends. My ex girlfriends,” says Mattuchio as he starts to laugh.
Whether he is working with customers, designing jewelry at his desk or sculpting wax in his workshop, contemporary artisan Marco Cantini, 56, can be found in his jewelry store seven days a week. His customers travel from Belgium, Germany, Paris and other countries around the world to visit his store. If they are unable to travel to Florence, they can make purchases through his website and Luisa Via Roma’s luxury clothing website.
Cantini’s interest in jewelry sparked when he was 12 years old. Born and raised in Florence, he used to tell his mother, “when I’m older, I will make you a gold pair of shoes.” When he turned 14, Cantini started his jewelry practice. After months of mastering how to properly clean jewelry, Cantini was finally taught how to design. Working for seven years, Cantini was paid two euros each week. Despite the low income, Cantini continued to work because he had a deep passion for jewelry. Instead of attending university, Cantini opened his first shop with a partner when he turned 21 in 1993. They handmade classic jewelry to fit their clientele of 40 to 50 year old women, all of whom wore small diamonds and pearls. In fact, Cantini used to have short hair and even wore a suit and tie to work. As a result, he got bored and decided to travel for a while.
“I find inspiration through traveling,” says Cantini as he turns around and points to a map covered in thumbtacks that mark all of the places he has been to. When Cantini traveled to London in 1993, he did not speak any English. “But I could sing every Pink Floyd song from memory,” he said. After about five months of English school and a job at an Italian restaurant, Cantini started to work for David Morris, a London jeweler.
In 1997, he moved to New York City for a year. For six of those months, he worked for Kieselstein. To raise his daughter with his former wife, Cantini moved to Brazil in 1999 for three years. Afterward, he moved to Japan for six months and met his current wife. Because his Japanese clientele wanted perfectly detailed jewelry, Cantini challenged himself to improve his handwork.
Longing for Italian food, Cantini moved back to Florence after his travel endeavors and went back to work. Traveling helped Cantini find himself. “I decided I wanted to make things I can wear,” he said. Not only did Cantini grow a beard and a mustache, but he also let his chestnut brown hair grow down to his shoulders. Needless to say, his style changed drastically.
At the time, Cantini had a partner. But he soon realized it was much easier to work alone. “It is simpler to work everyday 10 hours alone than five hours with a partner,” Cantini said. “It is very difficult to find someone who has the same philosophy as me.” Cantini enjoys building one-on-one relationships with his customers. Before designing a custom piece, Cantini conducts a small interview to ensure he creates exactly what the customer wants. “You are the artist. I am the contemporary artisan,” he says. Although he has no employees, Cantini teaches interns and hosts classes in the workshop located in the basement of his shop.
According to Cantini, whether a piece of jewelry is inspired by a picture, a painting or an experience, it should have a story. On Sunday’s, Cantini, his three brothers and his sister eat lunch together. After a few glasses of wine, one of his brothers tattooed a coi fish on his arm. “The coi fish represents joy, so I made a coi fish ring in wax and then in silver,” says Cantini as he admires the shiny ring.
Among silver and beaded necklaces, bracelets, rings and pendants, Cantini designs jewelry for women and men. While jewelry styles are easily accessible for women, the options for men are limited. “I love when men buy their first piece of jewelry from me,” Cantini says. “I have customers who tell me, ‘Marco, you can wear this because you are a character, but I work in a bank.’” About a month after Cantini encourages them to wear his designs, they have a hand full of rings.