Jewelry Designer Finds Inspiration in Micromosaics
Being fascinated by small things is a helpful inclination for a jewelry designer.
At least that has been the case for Guy Bedarida, the creative director of the Italian fine jewelry brand Marina B. He has spent the last three decades collecting micromosaics, images created from tiny pieces of glass.
“I’ve always been amazed at little things — illuminated manuscripts, dollhouses and micromosaics,” Mr. Bedarida said in a phone interview from Bali, where he recently sold his former home. He now divides his time between Bangkok and New York — where Marina B is headquartered — and travels often to Milan, where its pieces are produced, and to Paris, where he has a pied-à-terre.
Mr. Bedarida said he was introduced to micromosaics as a young teenager in Rome, when his father, Paul, a French diplomat, started buying 19th-century parures in antiques stores for his mother, Gabriela. These sets of jewelry, intended to be worn together, often featured tiny images of birds, scarabs and scenes of the Roman Empire made of pâte de verre, or glass paste.
In a way, the jewelry was an extension of what Mr. Bedarida called the family’s “educational” vacations, which included visits to archaeological sites. On these trips, he and his family often viewed antique mosaics, he said, especially in Piazza Armerina on the island of Sicily, and Leptis Magna, a UNESCO World Heritage site in modern-day Libya.
“At about 9 years old,” Mr. Bedarida said, “I remember seeing mosaics of women from the Roman Empire wearing bikinis. The beauty of perfection, representing the ancient Roman landscapes with meticulous and vibrant colors, stayed with me when I discovered the micromosaics.”
Although the term micromosaic wasn’t widely used until the 1970s, when the prominent British-born collector Sir Arthur Gilbert popularized it, the art form was the result of the public’s taste for antiquities in the late 18th century.
According to Anna Coliva, a former director of the Borghese Gallery in Rome, the 1709 discovery of the ancient city of Herculaneum, buried under Vesuvius’ ash — along with the 1770s renovation of the Villa Borghese in Rome — captured public interest and created demand for the tiny tableaus. “It’s a very important step to becoming a ‘style,’ as it can be applied to ornaments such as furniture and furnishings, but also jewelry,” she wrote in an email.
The mosaics are made from fragments called tesserae, typically cut from glass or enamel. To achieve the desired dimensions, 18th-century artisans developed a technique to pull slender threads from malleable heated glass and then cut them into minute shards. Soon after, the Italian craftsmen realized that they could create souvenirs to sell to the wealthy Europeans and Americans taking what was then called the Grand Tour, through Florence, Rome, Venice and other cultural hubs.
Mr. Bedarida said he bought his first micromosaic, depicting ancient Roman ruins in Venice, in the early 1980s at Attilio Codognato, a jeweler on the Piazza San Marco, and he still patronizes the company. “When they get pieces, they call me,” he said. But, he noted, the micromosaics “are getting really rare and extremely expensive.”
When he started, he said, the prices ranged from 500 euros to 6,000 euros ($502 to $6,023); they now have crept up to €12,000 and even €30,000.
Mr. Bedarida’s collection now totals more than 30 pieces, 10 of which came to him after his mother’s death in 2020, and some of which have the same theme — the Colosseum, for example, is a favorite. While his micromosaics appear on necklaces, earrings, brooches, bracelets, rings, cuff links and paper weights, Mr. Bedarida said that pieces created using the technique had also been used to decorate small boxes and furniture, and that they might even be framed as wall hangings.
And what does he still hope to acquire? Mr. Bedarida said he would seize the chance to buy a piece from a company called Castellani, founded in 1814 in Rome by Fortunato Pio Castellani, considered by many to be the most famous maker of micromosaic jewelry. The business closed its doors in 1930, when Pio’s grandson Alfredo died.
Mr. Bedarida noted that his collection was far from finished. “Ask someone collecting for 30 or 40 years, and they will say it’s never complete,” he said.
In addition to Codognato in Venice, Mr. Bedarida’s favorite dealers include the auction house Hôtel Drouot in Paris; Quattrocolo, a jeweler in Rome; Sotheby’s; and Christie’s. In New York, he favors the Roman vintage jeweler Eleuteri, where he has found pieces designed by Marina Bulgari, the founder of Marina B, to add to the company’s archives. “They have great antique signed pieces,” he said. “They are the most well-known, really the best.”
Wagner Eleuteri, who now runs the business with his father, said Mr. Bedarida became a client in 2016, when he bought a micromosaic depicting a landscape of ancient Rome that included the Colosseum. “Guy is especially passionate about these, especially as jewelry,” Mr. Eleuteri wrote in a message.
Mr. Bedarida said his most recent acquisition was a pair of cuff links depicting the lion of St. Mark, the symbol of Venice.
Passing things to the next generation — in Mr. Bedarida’s case, to his nieces and nephews — has been his family’s tradition. His grandfather’s collection of Venetian glass and his father’s 18th- and 19th-century paintings of Mount Vesuvius have stayed in the family’s home in Tuscany, where his mother’s collection of 60 different cypress trees dot the scenery.
But Mr. Bedarida said he was not sure what he would do with his collection of micromosaics. He said he had considered donating it to museums such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), which holds part of the Gilbert Collection, a group of objets d’art donated by Sir Arthur Gilbert; the Palazzo Bonaparte or the Napoleonic Museum, both in Rome; or even the Vatican Museums. “On the other hand, it stirred my emotions seeing my mother wear them, because they come alive as jewelry,” he said.
Coincidentally, Mr. Bedarida has been considering what to do with another collection, too: the Indonesian tribal art and masks that he began accumulating when he moved to Bali in 1999 to work for, then to co-own, the jewelry brand John Hardy.
“I don’t want to get rid of the Indonesian collection, but it’s not tiny and fits in a safe like the micromosaics,” he said. “It’s cubic meters’ worth of beautiful things.”