The seductive power of GianCarlo Montebello’s jewelry lies less in the object than the concept; or, better, it might be said to reside in the physicality of the object as the ‘incarnation’ of a concept, or of a certain way of regarding the body, the jewel, and its functions. His work’s relation to the great lesson of Marcel Duchamp—who thought of the breaking of his Large Glass as a ‘providential’ intervention of chance—is even once again to be discovered in the way in which he saw a kind of destiny in the theft, in 1978, of all the jewels he had previously made in collaboration with various artists. This event became the source of a radical shift in the very meaning of Montebello’s work, violently deflecting his attention from the realm of objects to that of experience: and as such it created the preconditions for the jewels which he himself was to make. Montebello’s aesthetic adventure hinges on a number of central concerns. And one of the most important is that his jewels are never forgetful of their anthropological significance, just as they are never unmindful of their ornamental and protective functions.
Another of the fundamental features of his work is found in the fact that the forms he deploys discover their history in a range that spans from tradition (which is a question, indeed, of numerous traditions) to technology. With respect to technology, the experience of his formative years, from his craftsmanly studies at the Art School at Milan’s Sforza Castle to his first professional experiences in areas related to industrial design, takes on special importance. On the basis of the principle that all the forms created by human beings are charged with dignity, industrial design has always attempted to remedy one of our time’s most dramatic problems: the separation of art and life, or the gap between artists and the rest of humanity. Jewelry by its very nature is strictly connected with life, with its daily gestures no less than with its moments of greatest symbolic significance.
The designing of jewelry indeed depends on something more that a very deep knowledge of the body and its forms, attitudes, habits and modes of behaviour: it also requires a measure of knowledge concerning the human soul.
The fundamental characteristic of Montebello’s jewels is their relativity, mobility, and variability: they underline our impermanence, as well as their own. An article of jewelry which in this regard presents itself as particularly emblematic is found in his ‘revisitation’ of the posticcio—the ‘artificial mole’ or ‘Venetian beauty mark’ that was worn at a corner of the lips in the eighteenth century—rendering it now as a kind of ‘movable tattoo.’
FICHES alto 1997 bracelet
ph. Roberto Gennari Feslikenian
Hortus Unicorni 2007 Orvieto ph. Gianfranco Pardi
SOFTNESS 'As Time Goes By' bracelet 2011
from Bradamante, ph. Dario Tettamanzi
Those who wear it can freely choose the part of the body they wish to adorn, deciding as they best see fit about how to set themselves off and stand apart (from others, yes, but also and mainly from themselves). The jewel, by definition, is a vehicle of self-transformation, and here it rediscovers its most authentic function(1).
The human body never loses its centrality: the object never overpowers it; the jewel never turns into ‘sculpture’. The fundamental theme is always found in the relationship between the object and the body. The object is there in all its ‘beauty’ for the purpose of drawing attention to certain features of the body, for the purpose of stressing the value of certain expanses of its skin (and here I am thinking especially of Montebello’s ‘X’ shaped ring).
The Ornamenti per Bradamante (‘Ornaments for Bradamante’) flow like water across the surface of the body, or like the caress of some fine fabric. The garment, moreover, is a constantly recurrent ‘figure’ in Montebello’s work, often in ways which are far more secretive than in this particular case, where what most is underlined is its protective function(2). The reference, here—and quite openly so—is the chain mail which served in chivalric times as the garments of war.
Yet the hints at other worlds and other times are far from entirely rearward-looking: that bracelet which makes its appearance among these Ornamenti per Bradamante is closed by means of a snap that’s worthy of Barbarella, the ‘astronaut heroine’ of the comic strips. Just as there are no such things as major and minor arts-categories stemming from the now remote heritage of sixteenth-century debates on the primacy of the arts—there is no substantial difference between noble and common materials. Novel treatments and juxtapositions allow the beauty of every material to ‘explode’. With neither intemperance nor undue emphasis. Man Ray’s lesson comes into view, as summed up by Montebello in a single phrase: ‘Il m’apprend la simplicité des choses’.
Montebello hasn’t limited himself to designing and realizing ornaments for the body. His work contains objects of ‘wider’ use as well (tableware, lamps, souvenirs...) inclusive of a ‘jewel for the home’. This ‘jewel for the home’ is quite clearly in the spirit, or indeed an extension, of the ‘Venetian beauty mark’. It absolves the very same function with respect to the geography of the house, rather than on the body. At the very same time, this ‘universal hook’ in the form of a golden nail (anything at all can be hung from it) is both functional and ornamental, and its primary feature is surely to be found in its absolute adaptability. Montebello’s predilection for modules is probably symptomatic of the fact that his early training very much took place in the vicinity of the world of industrial design, thus nurturing and augmenting his propensity for the invention of simple elements that can then be construed into myriad forms and functions by way of an equally simple but highly versatile ars combinatoria.

The Jewel as Cultural Model
Our contemporary cultural and social body is highly complex, and Montebello—an acute interpreter of the times in which he lives—designs his jewelry in terms of a process that pays equal attention to the notions of the garment and the talisman, to stainless steel and the diamond. He is alert to all objects and all materials and regards them with all respect. The way he deals with pearls is surely emblematic: rather than perforate them, he prefers to cage them in thin, gold weft, or to insert them directly into the hollows of the ears. His jewels open out toward a new cultural vision, both ample and profound. They appeal to the archaic no less than to technological suggestion; they draw inspiration from the northern no less than the southern regions of the world. They respect no limits, if not for those inherent in the very materials they employ. Consagra remembers Montebello in the 1970s as a person who ‘insists that his own road is the only road for creating a jewel which is worth taking care3. And that, substantially, is still the way things stand today. Montebello gives others the instruments that allow them every day to invent their own self-portrait.

Elisabetta Longari
Milan, August 1998



(1) See: Omar Calabrese in Gioielli. Moda, magia, sentimento, Mazzotta, Milan 1986, pp. 11-14.
(2) See: Claude Lévi-Strauss, ‘Lebensspender Schmuck’, in Ornamenta I Internationale Schmuckkunst (Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim), München 1989, pp. 13-16.
(3) Pietro Consagra, Vita mia, Feltrinelli, Milan 1980, p. 131.