Jewelry designer and artist Monica Castiglioni, the daughter of the Italian industrial designer Achille Castiglioni, received her first sketchbook from the Swiss graphic designer Max Huber, who noticed her artistic talent at a young age. Being surrounded by artists and designers her entire life had a great impact on her—for example, it was the Italian sculptor and painter Kengiro Azuma who suggested she transition to creating three-dimensional artifacts inspired by her two-dimensional sketches. Following her formal artistic studies, she was trained by sculptor Davide de Paoli, who taught her the metalworking skills now at the heart of her creative practice.
“Initially, I created pieces of jewelry by sawing metal sheets, so the shapes were more graphic, more closely related to my initial drawings on paper,” says Castiglioni. “Then, when I learned lost wax casting, I could finally work in 3D and give a softer touch to the metal volumes I was creating.”
Working primarily in bronze, her favorite metal, Castiglioni is inspired by the material’s ever-changing colors. Bronze is highly sensitive to oxidation, the resulting light to dark gradient film on the surface of her designs emphasizes their dramatic volumes. The benefits of bronze don’t stop at its beauty: it also lends purported health benefits to wearers thanks to its high copper content. The metal is also a great conductor of heat, and may leave a thin (and harmless) layer of green patina on the skin as a response to the body—a visceral embodiment of the health or mood of the wearer. “My bronze jewelry becomes unique to the wearer, since it reacts differently with the pH value of one’s skin, and this is what is truly beautiful for me,” Castiglioni says. As a medium for sculpture, the relatively light weight of bronze also makes it suitable for Castiglioni to create her large-scale pieces.
Castiglioni currently designs in her studios in both Milan and Brooklyn. Taking advantage of nearby foundries like the Modern Art Foundry in New York City and Fonderia Battaglia in Italy, she can create pieces locally in both areas. Despite her constant travels, she strives to develop her pieces continuously, allowing the creative process to extend from one location to another.
Her unique design process centers on a practice of experimentation and improvisation. “I never think too much before I start creating a piece,” she says. “I never make an initial sketch or design. I simply sit at my desk, take wax pieces of various shapes and start shaping them in total freedom, without knowing what the final result will be. When I create one piece, I immediately continue to develop it into another, so I create endless shapes and my work never stops. What is paramount for me is the modularity of my pieces: the possibility to mix and combine all my rings. There are endless combinations and anyone can make one’s own personal composition. This adds on to the playful feeling that my pieces have, and allows me to make them all unique.”
When she’s in New York, Castiglioni remarks, “I often spend time at The Met when I am around and wish to ‘visit’ a different country. I particularly love African cultures, for example. Usually, with my friends we say: ‘Well, come on, let’s go to Egypt today!’ Which means we take the subway and go see it at The Met.”
Shop Castiglioni’s unique designs at our Rock Paper Silk store, located at The Met Fifth Avenue.