NEW YORK—The formation of a diamond, geology tells us, is the result of the happy coincidence of unique circumstances such as when carbon meets heat.
In case of New York-based jewelry designer Paolo Costagli, the elements that conspired to make the man are his Florentine upbringing and a love of gems instilled in him during long walks across the Ponte Vecchio where Florentine jewelers display their creations.
“I have always somehow known that jewels and gemstones were my calling. Growing up in Florence, my mother would take me to Ponte Vecchio, and we would play a game where she would point to different gemstones and I would have to tell her what they were.”
I imagined Costagli to be a rather guarded and shy person for lack of any personal photos on his website, but quite the opposite is true. He has a genuinely happy smile, the kind that shows generosity of spirit and real joie de vivre.
Granted, it’s hard not to be happy as we are sitting in Costagli’s Fifth Avenue showroom surrounded by trays of velvet-lined boxes brimming with scintillating jewels—all Costagli’s creations. I remark on the peridot-green pants that he is wearing, similar to the stones on display.
Colors and Shapes
Peridot, he says, is one of his favorite gems, a happy stone with reflections of yellow. As for his outfit, he says the green pants paired with the dark blazer and scarf are the perfect balance between “conservative” and “creative” which puts his clientele at ease. Green pants aside, such a smile is a rarity and would outshine almost any outfit.
He tells of growing up surrounded by art and architecture, elements that instilled in him a sense of proportion and balance that he uses intuitively. More directly, his signature Brillante collection is inspired by the tiling in the Doge’s Palace in Venice.
“Most of my designs are reinterpretations of architectural and natural beauties found in Italy, specifically Florence and Venice,” he says.
Costagli also directly attributes his love of color to childhood experiences like visiting the Garden of the Iris in Florence each year in May where he would be “overwhelmed by the most striking color combinations.”
Much of Costagli’s designs are unusually sculptural. The Brillante collection capitalizes on the geometry of the cube to catch the light and change the color of the gold so that the same material looks multicolored.
The “Very PC” earrings are also three-dimensional and have a voluptuous quality with reverse set gemstones that can be fully appreciated when you hold them and twirl them.
There is a refined application of modern aesthetics that sits firmly on age-old principles of structure and geometry that makes Costagli’s jewelery so appealing and well-suited to contemporary tastes.
If Costagli experienced hardship, it is only hinted at through the fact that, despite his mother’s love of fine jewelry, his family did not groom him to be a jeweler. His love of colored gemstones saw him leaving Florence for further study at the Gemological Institute of America followed by months of digging in the Colombian emerald mines of Muzo and Coscuez. In 1995, after a stint as chief buyer for a major emerald exporting company, he came to New York and began working on his own jewelry collection.
“New York City gave me the opportunity to make something out of nothing, starting with only a dream. I came by myself and without the support of my family who pushed me to become a fourth generation doctor or lawyer, so of course it was difficult in every way you could imagine,” says Costagli.
I first met him in Bergdorf Goodman where he often goes because he likes talking with customers. He recounts that the process of being showcased in the acclaimed department store was a humbling experience. The store’s executive team reviewed his work for almost two years before he was notified that the collection would be accepted on a three-month trial basis.
“There is no place in the world like Bergdorf’s and we still feel excited to be a part of this iconic department store, which after eight years feels like family,” says Costagli.
The most visceral and immediate thrill comes from holding a rare gem and contemplating its potential to adorn. This is where Costagli cannot contain his enthusiasm and places in my hand a very rare Golconda diamond, from the famed Indian mine that used to uncover the rarest flawless diamonds.
Its sparkle is intense and mesmerizing. From a jeweler’s perspective, it is the beginning of a creative process with many possibilities. From the creative process a grand design will materialize to do justice to the centerpiece.
When I ask him what was the most unusual or rare gemstone that he has worked with, Costagli mentions the 4.00 carat pink sapphire in his current collection, “something that is nearly impossible to find.”
“My passion is for all materials rare and unusual. My favorite materials are those with special character that evoke an emotional feeling from the lady who wears the jewel.”