Pino Spitaleri, 36, was born in Belgium, and has been around stones and diamonds ever since he was a child. His family were originally from Sicily where his grandfather was a miner, and the family immigrated to Belgium for mining work. The passion for jewellery was awoken early: when he was just 14, Spitaleri joined IATA Namur, the Jewellery Academy of Belgium where he did four years of apprenticeship before moving to Antwerp to learn about diamond setting. At 20, he moved to Luxembourg and opened his first company, developing a technique that is today known as micro-setting.
“This technique was basically focussed on setting stones in a piece of high-end jewellery, but to a very high level,” Spitaleri says. “It’s a mix of engraving techniques, diamond setting similar to that for watches, and I put everything together and developed a technique.” The technique uses microscopes and air pulse engraving machines, and the results won Spitaleri a lot of clients very quickly, including many from large brands. Within a year, he was producing pieces for Graff, who he retained as a client for six years on a freelance basis. In 2006 he received an Award from the Grand Duc Henri of Luxembourg, for the Jeweller of the Year, which is when he introduced for the first time the micro-setting innovation.
One day he emailed Raymond Graff to wish him a happy new year, to which Graff responded by asking what Spitaleri was up to, and what were his plans for 2010. He said: “I am thinking of moving abroad to start a new company.” A meeting ensued, during which Graff offered him a job, and “put a contract in front of me and I signed it”. Spitaleri would be there for four years.
Highlights of the job included setting the Pink Graff, which was the largest diamond in the world at the time, as well as bringing a modernising influence to the setting techniques
in use at what was a “highly traditional” production outfit. Within a few years, Spitaleri was running a team, and his work had made a name for him and several firms including a major international jewellery company approached him. Realising there was great potential in his specialisation, he decided to set up L’Atelier De Pino Spitaleri in 2014.
He began with a single rented bench in Hatton Garden, but within three months was working 18-hour days and had too much work to manage on his own, so he invited his brother-in-law, Az, to join him from Graff as an apprentice. They took a small workshop in Greville Street, but the workload kept ballooning, and so further premises were required. Over a couple of years, what is today a whole building on Greville Street containing 27 full time employees from all disciplines of jewellery production except casting, came into being. The firm works with five large international brands, and they develop their own lines and designs too . They sell through 300 shops in the UK, and Spitaleri is proud to say that his firm does not outsource any of the major skill sets of design, setting, and finishing.
About my firm with Pino Spitaleri
The firm has grown quickly, what do you think it is the company had that people were looking for? The niche that we have got here is that we can be trusted, that’s a very important word. When a jeweller comes here, he drops the piece off and we give him a deadline of three weeks. So if we tell him the item will be ready for the 16th of May, the piece will be finished. We remove a lot of headaches. When a designer or brand comes and asks to do an item, we just do everything from start to finish and this is something that doesn’t really exist in Hatton Garden. Obviously, it doesn’t really exist in the UK. I think our niche is more that the brand that wants to achieve a very high quality of work and also make sure there are no issues during the process.
Where you able to attract attention to this company because of your previous experience?
I think it’s partly my experience, it’s also the premises. They look great and when people come inside [and see our setup] they feel confident to give us a shot, give us one piece to try.
What is the split between the volume of jewellery you design here vs. commission work? It’s 50/50. So for about 50% we have an item that we produce that is for cocktail rings and engagement rings. We sell this through another company that has exclusivity of distribution.
ON THE SHOP FLOOR: Jared Colleer
What was your journey to end up working at Spitaleri?
I studied for a year at Holts Jewellery Academy where I learned about the basics of every role in the trade, and then after that I went to David Law, who was the opposite, and I did two years of mounting with him, learning at the bench, and how to do everything by hand. After that I came to Pino and I was going to do the same thing here, I was going to be a mounter, but there were not any benches available at first so I moved onto CAD and ended up on the computer where we had the Rhino programme. This is a basic form of the programme I use now and we just went from there – I just stayed on the computer and CAD side of things.
When you start designing a piece from scratch where do you start in the artistic process?
I need the stones before anything, the stones and the finger size so I start from there. I start with the stones and then start to adjust it depending on the finger size and how high or how low the stones are going to sit, the space between them depending on what setting they are going to be using – basically all my knowledge from the bench I try and transfer over to when I’m on the computer.
Do you find having worked at the bench before is helpful?
100%. The other guys I work with who do not have any bench work, company in the trade, and they are very much everywhere in the UK. We have developed a lot of products with them, they sourced a lot of the stones, such as sapphires and rubies. We designed and built the pieces completely for them and they sell the product across the country for us. So this is 50% of the business, it’s around 150 pieces a month, and the other 150 we produce are for the trade which are for brands and shops.
Is this for independent retailers?
We work with international brands, we don’t work with private clients, and we only work with jewels. We have three types of companies that come here; the first is international brands, the second is private jewellers – designers that have got a website and do meetings in hotels and nice pubs – and they come with one piece to make with us. The other type of company are new startups as well, for example we have stylists, fashion photographers that are very well known in the industry, and they come and they say they’ve got ideas and want to develop products because they know a lot of people and start to do new branding.
When international brands are placing orders with you, is that so you’re producing jewellery for them on a white label basis?
Absolutely. We develop products for them, we called them patents?. So let’s say a single stone ring, we are probably going to do around 500 a year which is part of our contract with the firm, delivering around 50 items a month. you can see straight away, it’s about knowing how to put it together on the bench, and it helps massively when putting it together on the CAD as you know how things are meant to look, and the little dos and don’ts.
Are you looking in consumer magazines taking inspiration for what you like?
We use magazines but Instagram mainly, just scrolling through Instagram looking at the big companies and how they do things.
Do you have a personal style that you would describe?
So I normally get given the design of the piece and what it looks like, and then I make it work, as sometimes you get a design that looks good as a design, but it does not work in the real world. So then I adapt it to make it work.
So are you collaborating directly with the client?
Yes I get a drawing which is what the client wants and then I come back with this is what you can achieve as close to what you have given us here.
What informs those judgments?
Strength, stone sizes, scale – everything is done to scale – you might get a drawing that looks amazing because they have a really big centrestone in the picture and it all looks really nice, but then actually [it ends up being] a half a carat centre, and realistically it’s not going to look like it does in the picture, so you have to adapt it to make it work.
How long does it take generally?
A really hard piece may take all day, but obviously once I have built the piece I then have to think of how the guys at the bench are going to put it together. They do not put it together all in one piece so I have to deconstruct and take it all apart, get it ready for castings and orientate the piece so it can 3D-print correctly, and how I am going to cut the supports off so I can get it to the casters, then get it back so it is not all wonky and bent. So that can take another day taking it apart. For a really big piece it could take up to two or three days.
Are the departments talking to each other for advice all the time?
Yes you have to otherwise it just does not work. If you have to go between people and they are outside the company it is just a big mess. As we all work together everybody works slightly differently, everybody has their own preferences of how they want it set up.
In a high pressure month how many designs are you churning out?
Around 60, two or three a day on average.
What was the most challenging piece you have worked on and why?
There was a diamond ring with a split chain and a spiral, where we had to fake the angle to make it look right, it was a headache to design.
Compared to other environments you have been in how would you describe how the departments are all in one building here?
Its a game-changer, all the big companies are all in-house, that is how it works. It does not really work trying to send bits and bobs all over the place. When it is all together it is a process, a big process, if one bit is wrong then the whole piece needs to be replaced. The main issue is we have in our workshop is sometimes the client will design something and technically it is impossible to make.
How long did it take to teach yourself the software?
I am still learning it. It is so in depth you can make whatever you want on it, but it depends on what you need. I am still learning now, it took around 18 months to be able to properly know but it all depends on different things. I can make anything, but then I have to know how much metal the guys are going to take off, how much metal they need for setting downstairs after it is all finished. It is more of a trial and error at first then you know how much they need. It is a big learning process.
Can you take a look at previous 3D design file to base new designs on?
You can go back and have a look at it and see how you made it and then you can keep doing that and replicate it.
Do you want to stay in the design side of things from now on?
Definitely, I appreciate bench work but I do not want to do that again I much prefer what I do now.