Reviving the Lost Art of Micro-Mosaic Jewels
An Italian family brings back 18th-century royal heritage
“We invest a lot of time, energy, and money into research and design. Innovative design is the star of our sky.”
Forty years ago, a sheikh from the Saudi royal family approached Maurizio Placuzzi to find the most luxurious products to decorate his palace.
Placuzzi thought of the beautiful mosaics adorning the ancient Byzantine churches in his hometown, Ravenna, in Italy. Mosaics are often described as “eternal paintings” since even ancient ones can look like they were just made yesterday.
Placuzzi found charming little mosaic souvenirs from the streets of Ravenna to show the sheikh. The latter fell in love with them and wanted to cover his house in mosaics.
However, to his surprise, Placuzzi couldn’t find any workshop to produce them on an industrial scale. The art of mosaics had almost died out in Ravenna because the pieces were so difficult and slow to create.
That’s because the artisan would have to work on-site and apply the tesserae—the small blocks of stone or glass—directly to the wall with glue or cement. Placuzzi had to innovate if he wanted to fulfill the sheikh’s request.
He thus developed a new way to make mosaics, the double indirect method, and established SICIS, an atelier where artisans could handcraft the mosaic in small blocks—metre by metre.
Once crafted, the mosaics would be assembled like a puzzle in the client’s home, significantly speeding up the process.
“From nothing, my father built a business out of his passion, which is now part of my family’s DNA,” says Gioia Placuzzi, Maurizio’s daughter and creative director of SICIS’s jewellery branch.
Since adorning the sheikh’s home with mosaics, SICIS has decorated the world’s finest hotels, yachts, estates, and public establishments. The company’s success has also fueled bolder innovation, including reviving the long-lost art of micro-mosaics.
“There’s no limit to the size of a tessera. It can be big on a wall or as small as you can imagine on jewellery,” Gioia says.
Micro-mosaics are created using an ancient technique in which various colours of Venetian glass are melted and drawn out into long thin rods about one millimetre thick, each with its own perfectly unique hue.
Once cooled, the glass rods are cut into hundreds of tiny pieces a few millimetres long. The pieces are then delicately placed, piece by piece, to form charming pictures on jewellery or inside a frame.
In the 20th century, however, the micro-mosaic technique was mostly lost and forgotten. Placuzzi decided to revive it and make micro-mosaic jewellery in the tradition of the ornate gems that nobles and royals once wore.
It took five years of trial and error for SICIS to develop its own signature micro-mosaic technique based on the original 18th-century methodology.
Persevering paid off as the company’s innovative craftsmanship became embraced worldwide, later leading to partnerships with the Vatican and luxury brands Fendi and Harry Winston.
The power of colour
To exude a nearly infinite spectrum of brilliant shades for its creations, SICIS developed the malmischiati technique, which blends various colours in the tesserae to create breathtaking and unique jewellery pieces.
This technique is evident in the company’s Quetzal collection.
During a trip to the Amazon rainforest, Gioia was stunned by the majestic quetzal bird with its vivid, radiating red, aquamarine, and blue feathers.
“I fell in love with its beauty,” Gioia says. Right away, she began sketching a new collection. “Just imagine the birds flying. I wanted to recreate the same lightness, the same soul of the bird.”
She wanted the plumage in the jewellery to match perfectly the shape and colours of the Amazonian bird. She also added titanium to gold, which gave the charming bird an iridescence, mirroring its joyful, sparkling spirit.
“We’re different from other jewellery makers; they start with the precious stones and design around them.”
“We do the opposite: we first decide the colour and shape of the micro-mosaic and what we want to express using these colours. Then we decide which precious stones will best complement it,” Gioia says.
Her focus on shape and colour is perfectly showcased in SICIS’s other collection, Koi. As the lifelike fish curls into a ring or curves down to the centre of the necklace, its sparkling silver, white, and deep orange colours inspire the viewer with beauty and passion.
To honour the holidays, SICIS is releasing a special edition butterfly collection featuring the Christmas colours. As a symbol of transformation, the butterfly also reflects the ethos of the Placuzzi family.
“We invest a lot of time, energy, and money into research and design. Innovative design is the star of our sky,” Gioia says.
“Our clients are not just buying jewellery; they’re buying a piece of art—something impossible to recreate.”