In Florence, Ponte Vecchio Jewelers Long for Tourists’ Return

FLORENCE, Italy — “Ponte Vecchio lives on Americans,” stated Fadi Ayshoh, retail director of the Gold Art boutique, as he optimistically positioned a five-carat diamond, priced at 160,000 euros, within the window. “This is going to sit here until the Americans come back. Then it will sell in a heartbeat.”

Hope has been rising in current days among the many jewellery shopkeepers on this medieval bridge, ever since Italy dropped quarantine necessities for vacationers from the European Union, the United Kingdom and Israel, and opened its doorways to a handful of flights for Covid-tested passengers from the United States and different international locations.

“This summer, we won’t have the numbers we had in 2019, but we’ll have good-quality people,” Mr. Ayshoh stated. “People who really love Italy.”

Florence’s Renaissance previous is most vividly evident on the Ponte Vecchio. Its cobblestone thoroughfare is lined with 48 pocket-size jewellery storefronts and a jumble of gravity-defying work areas propped up past the bridge’s girders.

Built in 1345 on the narrowest crossing of the Arno River, Ponte Vecchio initially was a road market of butchers and fishmongers, however after the Medici’s Vasari hall was constructed so the household may traverse the bridge in consolation, a 1593 decree by Ferdinando I de’ Medici changed these foul-smelling operations with goldsmiths and jewellery sellers. To this present day, the outlets are reserved completely for jewelers, though a lot of the artisans who collaborate with them have relocated simply past the bridge’s high-cost industrial strip.

Like a lot of the remainder of the town, the bridge’s companies had been each nurtured and battered by tourism — after which all however starved by its sudden, pandemic-induced absence.

Before the unfold of the coronavirus, Gold Art was grossing 10 million euros (about $12.15 million) a yr. Now, Gold Art’s three Ponte Vecchio areas can go weeks with out a single transaction, but every website nonetheless should pay €15,000 to €25,000 in hire each month.

Its greatest sellers had no model names: Crafted by artisans within the neighborhood, the Florentine gold items, with their delicate noticed work and shimmering engraved surfaces, may hint their fabrication strategies to Renaissance strategies developed alongside this very bridge.

“Our customers bought them like candy,” Mr. Ayshoh stated, “because you can’t get this Florentine workmanship anywhere else in the world.”

The metropolis goldsmiths have lengthy been celebrated as virtuosos of engraving, fretwork, niello inlay, Damascene inlay, repoussé and different extremely specialised strategies. And plenty of the Renaissance’s creative titans arose from their ranks, together with Donatello, Brunelleschi and Ghiberti.

In 2019, motels and trip leases had 11 million guests, and among the metropolis’s 367,000 residents marched within the streets to protest the onslaught. By 2020, the guests’ abrupt disappearance left the town middle all however empty and the municipal funds with a shortfall of €160 million, 25 p.c of its complete.

“A metropolis like Florence was invaded —  luckily! — by tourism,” stated Roberto Vaggi, the second-generation proprietor of S. Vaggi, his household’s vintage jewellery and silver enterprise on the nook of Ponte Vecchio. “How else could a city of this size support a bridge full of luxury products like these?”

These days, two S. Vaggi workers have relocated from the gross sales flooring to an upstairs workplace to deal with electronic mail and cellphone requests from longtime shoppers — the way in which enterprise right here is finished now. Like virtually all of Ponte Vecchio’s companies, S. Vaggi has no on-line store.

Among Mr. Vaggi’s antiques are honeycomb-cut gold pendants with diamonds, repoussé silver tureens and the micro-mosaics that had been the unique Grand Tour journey souvenirs. Doubtless, some returning vacationers will probably be wanting for such gadgets, however others could have totally different tastes.

Cassetti, a family-run set of 4 shops on Ponte Vecchio, began as silversmiths in 1926. Today, its home windows are devoted to multinational behemoths like Rolex, Vacheron Constantin and Cartier — manufacturers “that customers can buy in any city in the world,” the proprietor Filippo Cassetti admitted. Yet he additionally boasted of introducing status-symbol watch gross sales on Ponte Vecchio, insisting that “luxury offerings like mine raise the caliber of tourism, just like a five-star hotel.”

When the area’s newest lockdown ended on April 17, solely the posh watches at Cassetti attracted a gentle stream of shoppers. The remainder of Ponte Vecchio was desolate, missing the same old shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of selfie-shooting guests.

Most of the diminutive outlets didn’t open in any respect, nonetheless closed up by madielle, the distinctive shutters of heavy wooden and iron fleur-de-lis hinges which have protected them via the centuries.

“We used to see hundreds of people a day in our shops,” lamented Giuditta Biscioni, president of the Association Ponte Vecchio, which represents the bridge’s companies. “Now we’re all alone.” She stated she didn’t have annual earnings figures, however estimated that member companies had seen earnings fall by 80 p.c within the final yr.

And the artisan group working with them are much more susceptible, she stated, including, “When we’re closed, they’re on their knees.”

While the federal government permitted family-run and unbiased workshops to remain open all through the lockdowns, most had little to do — and artisans had been eligible for only some small stimulus funds. Store house owners obtained some authorities compensation for closing, though it was solely about three p.c of misplaced earnings. Employees obtained partially funded furloughs, however there have been complaints about excessive delays in funds.

“We’re eating up the earnings from the past now,” stated Daniela Messeri, holding a lacy gold bracelet at Nerdi Orafi, her household’s atelier since 1948. “We’re just preparing things for the day when tourists might reappear.”

Nerdi, whose handcrafted jewels replicate basic Florentine artistry, is considered one of 20 workshops within the Casa dell’Orafo, a monastery simply north of Ponte Vecchio that 4 centuries in the past was transformed to studios for engravers, stone setters and goldsmiths.

The Casa dell’Orafo’s artisans nonetheless serve Ponte Vecchio’s outlets, however Nerdi itself flourished in the course of the journey growth, when well-informed vacationers purchased straight from the workshop. “All of us in the center of Florence live off of tourists,” Ms. Messeri stated, as her goldsmith engraved a gold ring with dainty blossoms at Nerdi’s bench. “But some of us still try to carry on the old traditions.”

At Fratelli Piccini, a boutique relationship from 1903, the fourth-generation proprietor, Elisa Piccini, employs one of many few goldsmiths nonetheless on Ponte Vecchio. “There should have been regulations to help artisans before,” she stated with a sigh.

Her goldsmith of 21 years, Carlotta Gambineri, soldered a removable pendant with garnet beads for a pink tourmaline collar — one of many many customized designs she has created. “Some traditions merit support,” Ms. Piccini stated.

As does the town itself, she added, gazing out the boutique’s image window on the Uffizi museum looming above the river.

“The city of Florence is like a museum,” Ms. Piccini stated. “And a museum requires a ticket for entry and a fixed capacity.”

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