In the back streets of Florence, housed in a 15th Century Palazzo, an extraordinary jeweler makes works of art
The Oltrarno area of Florence, on the river’s left bank across the Ponte Vecchio, has been home to master artisans since the time of the Medici. If one day you find yourself walking these ancient streets, past Renaissance palazzos with hidden gardens of honeysuckle awaft in the air, on Via San Niccolò you’ll hear the siren call of wind chimes that lead to a little shop and a magic door. If you step inside, you will behold wonders.
Here, housed in the 15th century Palazzo Nasi-Quartesi, is Alessandro Dari’s world-renowned jewelry shop. In this treasure box, part The Lord of the Rings and part rock star lair, you’ll find the maestro himself. Florentine master of arts, goldsmith and sculptor for the last thirty years, Dari is tall and fit, a long distance runner, with shoulder length brown hair. He wears an artisan’s apron, and on one forefinger is an exquisitely huge silver ring: his parents’ faces entwined with tiny figures of his brother and himself—an intricate relief sculpture that calls to mind the famed bronze “Gates of Paradise” at the Baptistry of Florence.
An artisan of the highest caliber, Dari’s jewelry and sculptures are found in museums, and among the many prizes he’s received are the Perseo Prize (best Florentine artist) and the prestigious Artist of the Vatican. Yes, the pope owns some of his pieces. Dari’s alchemical art–- the word “jewelry” seems limited for such magical talismans– is sought after by collectors from around the world. And indeed, you might bump into rock stars from The Red Hot Chile Peppers to Metallica, not to mention other celebrities, who shop here when in Florence.
Trained as a chemist, Dari pursues a lifelong interest in alchemy, music, and the spirit world. The jewelry he creates ranges from souvenir-priced charms of silver and enamel, to paired wedding rings with names like Alchemic Moon, Angel Wings, or Uroboro (the snake as symbol of eternity). There are fantastical pieces of gold sculptural jewelry, amulets embedded with precious stones—with names like Alchemic Fruit of Death, The Castle of Souls Dancing, Angels in Love. All are visions of Dari’s intangible dream world and desire to infuse metals with a mystical spirit of life. These are gifts from Dari’s hands and heart—and will inspire you to believe that nothing is more important than art, beauty, and love.
As customers streamed by, and with no two chairs together in the shop, Dari and I sat on the floor, while he talked about jewelry and his belief that now more than ever, we need beauty to elevate the spirit. Like Lady Galadriel’s star-glass phial in The Lord of the Rings, Alessandro Dari’s alchemical talismans will always be a “light to you in dark places.”
Your main sources of inspiration?
Nature and history. Nature is fundamental to the accomplishment of any form and shape. History, especially ancient, is basic in understanding who we really are now.
Which historical periods are you especially interested in?
The Etruscan, Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance, as well as traditions from Medieval Alchemy.
How do you design your jewelry pieces?
I see the piece totally complete in my mind. Then I start to create it.
Any favorite activities or hobbies?
I play the guitar. And I’m particularly interested in classical music. I meditate. I run for an hour and a half or more every day. I meditate while I’m running. And when I run, time doesn’t exist.
Describe your interest in alchemy and esoteric doctrines?
For years I studied the works of alchemists and Renaissance figures like Marsilio Ficino, who translated into Latin the works of Hermes Trismegistus. I am deeply influenced by Paracelsus.
Why are many of your jewelry pieces large?
Small pieces don’t have energy. They don’t have the dynamic interaction of the forms. When you work in material, it comes back in spirit. Every artist searches for life in forms.
What music do you listen to in your workshop?
Bach cantatas and Villa-Lobos.
Can you describe your Perceptive Dynamism theory?
Perceptive Dynamism describes the interaction between the different forms within a piece. It’s not necessarily something that literally moves, but the idea of motion—the idea of life embodied in a physical object. I hate static things. This idea has a lot to do with the unfinished works of Michelangelo, which also have a dynamic movement.
Do you continue to experiment with metals?
Yes, I’m always carrying out new experiments. I invented a glue-like liquid. It’s a secret that will never be revealed.
Describe your technique?
Everything is handmade. I use different techniques, some dating back to 2500 years ago when the Etruscans used chalk to make molds where liquid metal was poured.
Your favorite places to travel?
I don’t like to travel.
Postscript: Alessandro was the overall winner of the prestigious 2019 Artistar Jewels international jewelry competition, which featured over 500 artists worldwide. The award-winning piece was Volo d’Amore.