The Gismondi family has had a century-long romance with natural diamonds.
Written by LAURA RYSMAN Photographed by BILLY BALLARD
The Gismondis are nice people. Among many faithful clients, including Angela Bassett, a visit to the Italian brand’s jewelry boutique in Portofino for their diamond-studded extravaganzas includes a meal with Massimo and Stefania Gismondi. The experience of seafood and conversation shared at a port-side restaurant table is only enriched by this kind-eyed and warmhearted couple’s radiant passion for the long heritage in jewelry that they’re bolstering—something I would see more of later that day.
“I grew up at the counter of my family’s jewelry store,” says Massimo. “At ten years old, when I was asked what I wanted to do with my life, I already had my answer.” Astronaut? Fireman? Nope. “I said I wanted to grow my family’s business.” And grown it has.
Massimo, neat and office-ready in an ecru herringbone blazer, is seated in Gismondi headquarters, the 1550 Palazzo Centurione in Genoa, a formal noble residence whose delicate Renaissance-era grottesco frescoes are still largely intact on the ceiling. The headquarters’ windows overlook the street of the family’s longtime shop. In 2011, Massimo, who trained as a gemologist, left that neighborhood business to his aunt and uncle and opened a Gismondi outpost in Portofino, then another shop in the swank ski destination of Saint Moritz. There’s now a boutique in Prague, lucrative wholesale accounts in the U.S. and the Middle East and a Gismondi collaboration with the Baglioni group of five-star hotels as house jeweler. From its beginnings as a modest multi-brand store with petite pieces of jewelry, plus bridal registry porcelain and silverware for Genoa clientele, Massimo transformed Gismondi into an internationally renowned jewelry house with fans among the Hollywood and superstar set.
The Ligurian city of Genoa is a bit unvarnished today, but for centuries it was a maritime powerhouse whose sailing dominance brought riches to local nobles and traders, fostering commerce for artisans and luxury merchants. Gismondi traces its roots to this period of prosperity. Massimo is the seventh generation of the family in the business. The first, Giovan Battista Gismondi, was born in 1754 hence the brand’s complete, history-redolent moniker of Gismondi 1754—and apprenticed in a jewelry workshop by the age of nine.) In his own workshop, he chiseled out fine silver tableware for the ruling Pamphili family, as well as, records seem to indicate, Pope Pius VI. In 1880, Giuseppe Gismondi moved the family establishment to Via Galata, where it remains, and where Massimo himself waited on customers until he launched an international chapter for the Gismondi name, with resort town boutiques and high jewelry masterpieces adorned with gemstones by the handful: his own visions of expansion, and his diamond-stacked designs.
The Raggio di Sole necklace, a sumptuous pendant of diamonds on a chain composed of more diamonds, depicts the sun with a whopping 5 carat fancy yellow pear shaped diamond, rays bursting out from it in slightly flexible spokes of yellow and white diamonds; its nearly 44 carats in all, and the fruit of over 600 hours of fabrication. The design, Massimo says, is a celebration of life he came up with after the loss of his mother; the sunbeams are a sign of the earth’s continuous rebirth.
The family of Stefania, Massimo’s wife, maintained a clothing store just blocks away from the Gismondi shop. Like many neighborhood denizens, they were longtime patrons there. “I always loved jewelry,” Stefania tells me, her green eyes glinting. She heads up Gismondi’s marketing these days. “It’s even more fun now because Massimo showed me how to understand jewelry as more than a client: to see all the steps in how it’s created, which makes me appreciate it even more.” There’s a Gismondi Vela bracelet of diamond and gold links sliding around her wrist. “And I get to wear a lot of it.”
Just outside of the palazzo, Massimo picks up some local specialties—a pile of fresh focaccia from the bakery, a few vegetable tarts typical of Liguria—and we head for lunch at the Gismondi residence in Genoa’s hills. At the gates, we’re greeted by a menagerie of pets: four cats and four dogs, including a lame-legged yet unforgettably sweet-faced mutt, all adopted rescues. “We’re animal lovers,” Massimo tells me with a smile and a shrug.
Gismondi Raggio di Sole necklace featuring 27.83 carats of pear shaped white diamonds and 16.04 carats of fancy yellow diamonds.
Inside, hanging above the mantle are antique molds that were once used for casting the silver tableware of the Gismondi store, bookshelves hold centuries-old silver frame mirrors from the store’s collection and other chiseled frames display family photos of the couple and their son Matteo, now sixteen years old and studying film. (He has yet to show a precocious interest like Massimo’s in carrying on the family business.).
With a view over all of Genoa below and the bright cyan blue of the bay, we sit in the shade of giant oak trees. The lunch table is laid with flowered porcelain and Massimo’s Genovese delicacies while Stefania brings over a bowl of tomatoes freshly picked from their garden. The pool next to us glints in the sun, as does the diamond festooned Raggio di Sole ring, big as a cookie, that Stefania has slipped on.
Stefano Rocca joins us at the table — he’s an alumnus of Bulgari from its decades of growth as a family business in Rome to its international juggernaut status, who as Chief Operating Officer is helping Massimo expand Gismondi. Stefano tells me that over long meals (lots of pasta al tonno and spaghetti all’amatriciana, prepared by him), they began to define the values of the brand—values that came directly from Massimo’s time growing up in the shop, with its family ideals and neighborhood sense of service and a humanity uncommon in businesses looking to go big-time. They cite “happiness’ and “humility” among their core values.
“It’s not a question of how much we earn,” says Stefano, “but rather if we do this work well, and if we can continue to do it with the same attention, the same passion and the same excitement.” He bites into a slice of the Gismondi’s homegrown tomatoes, nodding in satisfaction.
Yet since 2019, Gismondi has been a publicly traded company on Milan’s stock exchange, and last year, its growing international presence helped sales grow by nearly half over the previous year. Stefano assures me that Gismondi is destined to become one of the great jewelry maisons on the world stage.
“It’s been a rapid transformation from just a jewelry store to this leap forward in quality, in size, in organization,” says Massimo, a square of focaccia in hand. And yet, “the lifeblood that the whole business is founded on comes from there, from the store, from having very close contact with customers. We wanted absolutely to keep this model of the neighborhood shop and expand its scale.” A client might come in and spend half a million dollars—a not uncommon price tag among Gismondi’s most spectacular creations—or just $2,000 for one of the smaller items or a custom setting. “They’re not just buying a beautiful piece of jewelry,” Massimo says. “They’re buying service and dedicated attention, and I couldn’t bear to lose that aspect; it’s what’s most satisfying to me, and it’s what clients today are looking for, especially clients tired of the big brand experience.”
If today Italy is eminent in design, art, cuisine, and fashion, all this creativity is the fruit of our 2000 years of history
Massimo changes into an all white outfit and we drive an hour down the coast from Genoa to Portofino and the Gismondi boutique there. A picture postcard town that was once a fishing village, Portofino’s cluster of bright pastel row houses along the shore are today buffeted by the tony shops of Louis Vuitton, Dior, Ferragamo and other heavy hitters in the luxury universe, with a harbor filled with yachts and sailboat cruisers. People-watching here is a designer duds parade, and when we arrive, one local has pulled out binoculars to take in the visitors’ show from her stairway landing—the kind of visitors that patronize a high jewelry boutique like Gismondi.
New construction is prohibited in Portofino, which is part of a natural park reserve stretching from Rapallo to Camogli on either side of it. The waters are turquoise and pristine, the restaurants are old-timey, and the Gismondi boutique occupies one of the small port-side storehouses where fishermen once stashed their nets and equipment, with the rough natural rock of the walls showing through. Suspended on the walls are floating glass cases, the illuminated treasure chests where Gismondi’s jewels gleam and beguile, with wide-eyed passersby drawn like moths to the diamonds casting prisms of light in all directions.
Plucking the Genesi earrings from their vitrine, Massimo places them in my hand — large nautilus swirls drawn with a line of small round diamonds, bespangled with larger pear shaped diamonds that swell in size with the swoosh of the curve: a shape derived from Fibonacci’s formula describing nature’s golden ratio rate of growth, and by a family visit to Genoa’s natural history museum.
Family life inspires many of his designs. After Stefania has pressed a flute of bubbly into my hand for aperitivo, Massimo pulls out his most complicated piece yet: the Vita necklace composed of a ribbon of diamonds that circles the neck before gently embracing a 56 carat tanzanite which seems to hover—free of prongs or a supportive basket setting—, between a twirl of diamonds, an innovation that took six months to perfect. Surprisingly light in my hands thanks to Gismondi’s meticulously minimized metal gemstone settings, I try it on, and even with my basic linen button-down, the collar splayed to expose the swath of diamonds cascading down from my neck, I feel suddenly like Elizabeth Taylor.
The Vita necklace honors Matteo and the couple’s desire to support their son while granting him complete freedom in life (at 16, he’s already moved away to study in Florence), as they explain to me with moist eyes. Massimo, quite unusually both the business’s CEO and Creative Director, tells me that Gismondi clients “are buying this as well: not just a beautiful jewel, but also its meaning — a piece of my heart.” People spend a fortune on artworks, he points out, “because they’ve found something of enormous emotional resonance to them. The same is true with jewelry.”
The cultural metaphor guides his choice of natural diamonds as well. He feels that current energy production is not green enough to justify the quantity needed for lab-created diamonds, but also remains devoted to responsibly sourced, Kimberley Process-certified natural diamonds because the lab version “is the antithesis of luxury. Just as with art, if you buy a Van Gogh, if you can buy an authentic one, you don’t want to buy a mere copy.”
Gismondi’s creations are fabricated in Valenza, Italy’s capital of high jewelry craftsmanship, where Bulgari, Cartier, Gucci, Van Cleef & Arpels, and other top brands produce their jewels. And while some have experimented with lower-cost production in countries to the east, Gismondi recently purchased an artisan factory in Valenza from LVMH, guaranteeing its access to skilled makers and fulfilling its “social responsibility,” as Massimo calls it, to support the Italian know-how and culture that nourished his vision. “If today Italy is eminent in design, art, cuisine, and fashion, all this creativity is the fruit of our 2000 years of history,” he says.
Matteo joins us at the shop (same green eyes as Stefania; same white linen shirt as Massimo), and it’s time for dinner. As we share a plate of fried squid, Stefania tells tales of heroic last-minute feats of customization and rushed in-person deliveries to some of their celebrity fans: Beyoncé, Cardi B, Salma Hayek, Venus Williams, Alicia Keys, Gwyneth Paltrow and many more who often require jewelry to be specially configured for their complicated event outfits. While some of the larger maisons pay huge sums to such stars so they’ll wear their jewels, Stefania says instead of sponsoring them with cash, Gismondi’s mission is “to make them happy. The big brands won’t remake a piece for them. But whatever they want, we can do it.” Stefania and Massimo beam in unison. “Then they understand there’s a family behind this brand— there’s value.”
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