Text by Kee | Photos courtesy of Bea Bongiasca
Bea Bongiasca

If you’re a millennial and a somebody, you’re probably wearing Bea Bongiasca. Her signature combinations of organic shapes, colourful enamel, and top-quality gems answer the call for a new generation of jewellery that looks and feels like a fun time, every time.

To describe Bea Bongiasca’s work to someone who has little to no idea about her designs, any words would probably do her a disservice. But we’re going to try: Think squiggly light trails, Sailor Moon, crayon drawings, Powerpuff Girls, animal balloons, and flower power. Now, blend them all together and you’ve got a gist of what Bongiasca’s been up to since graduating with honours in jewellery design at London’s Central Saint Martins in 2013. But it took several years of dusting herself off before the 32-year-old found her place at the top of the totem pole, culminating in the opening of her flagship store in Milan in 2019 and then expanding into the diamond jewellery biz in 2021. Not bad for a designer who started out just working her magic on silver. Her designs pop up on your social media feed every other day via cameos on celebrities’ posts – and no, she isn’t forking out large sums of money in exchange for endorsements. Keen eyes will notice them stacked on the fingers of Dua Lipa, on the neckline of Blackpink’s Lisa, on the ears of Camila Cabello, just to name a few. And we bet if you name a current A-lister, she’s probably got a Bea Bongiasca design in the rotation. But why does Bongiasca’s designs resonate with the millennial demographic, an age group that big-time jewellers often struggle to connect with? Well, they just do because she doesn’t design for the stuffy in mind. Take her You're So Vine! collection inspired by the idea of trailing plants. She has cleverly expanded the use of twirling enamelled precious metal – she explains that the gold is contaminated with colour – making them look like it is wrapping a finger or crawling up the side of an ear. And depending on your budget, some are even embellished with diamonds or semi-precious stones. Elsewhere, the Flower Funk collection takes us back to the peak of disco culture with enamelled floral patterns that also recall Anna Sui and Murakami. This year, she also debuted popular initial necklaces that feature cursive alphabets – think Walt Disney-level of cursive – in a mixture of enamelled colours. Bongiasca’s natural progression towards more upmarket builds started around the end of 2020 when she was tapped by the De Beers Group to propose a version of an engagement ring. The result was an eye-opener: a white enamelled Vine fused with two yellow gold bands (the Vine is also detachable) accompanied by a gorgeous solitaire. This experience was the litmus test she needed to see how gold and diamonds can be fun too, and perhaps, even look kawaii. We spoke with the ever-candid Milan-based designer earlier this year about her backstory, colourful designs, and navigating the realities of being a business owner during the pandemic.

MANIFESTO: You’re one of the most sought-after young jewellers right now. Tell us how it all began.

BEA BONGIASCA: I realised I was good at jewellery design pretty early on when I was still in high school. I used to go to a shop that sold doll houses and miniatures. So I used to buy these toys and make them into jewellery. In Japan, they sell small fake food in mystery boxes – I used to buy those too – and I would use a sewing needle and put holes in them so I could make them into earrings which I then tried to sell. That was kind of my start in a way. Later on, I had a foundation year at Central Saint Martins and I did a bit of everything. But jewellery was what I liked the most.

M: There were some struggles early on in your career as a young designer.

BB: Yeah, coherence is really important as well as having a clear direction. Early on, I didn’t have these two things. I just had my creativity and I was everywhere but now I’m fine – and older. (Laughs)

M: What would you say was the most important turning point in your career?

BB: When I finished my third collection and was starting on my fourth, I thought let’s make these two collections connect in a way that they talk to each other. From there, I started using more enamel. I have used enamelling right from the start in my graduation collection but it was one of those things that buyers would comment that the enamelling made it look like fashion jewellery while other things I’m doing – I was working with silver – looked like fine jewellery. It was confusing to them. They were trying to box me in either fashion or fine jewellery. I was frustrated as I wasn’t trying to be either. I was wondering why can’t there be a third box. On hindsight, I wouldn’t have changed what I did. Especially during the pandemic, my jewellery isn’t crazily priced and it is still accessible to many. I didn’t want to use 18K gold in the beginning and chose 9K gold instead as realistically it costs half the price. Why do I have to make someone pay double just so I can say it is 18K gold? Now, I’m making fine jewellery and I’m using 18K gold but that’s because it comes with diamonds too. But my point is that I didn’t have to prove my designs early on with 18K gold.

M: Working with the De Beers Group on their Ten/Ten project a couple of years ago helped you enter the fine jewellery space and now that you’re working with precious stones, has that changed the way you approach design?

BB: I feel you need to earn your way to working with finer materials if you want to be credible. Anyone can wake up tomorrow and start making jewellery with 18K gold and diamonds but where is the authenticity? If you work your way up to using these materials, people are able to respect your process. It’s not the truth that you can just launch your own designs and everyone will get it. It takes time to be understood. Sometimes people need to see it repeatedly to like it. It’s a lot like fashion if you think about it. For instance, you wouldn’t be wearing a Balenciaga Crocs in the beginning but you have seen it a hundred times by now and you start thinking, “Well, it’s not that bad!” Or maybe it still is. Some of the rings that we sell the most now, they have been around forever in my collection. Even with my friends, they didn’t really want some of my rings in the beginning. And after three or four years, they finally want one.

M: Perhaps after they saw Dua Lipa wearing them. How have all these celebrity endorsements helped your business and journey as a jewellery designer?

BB: I think the impact is not immediate. You don’t know why a customer is into your work and then you find out later that they saw a picture of a celebrity wearing it from maybe a year ago.

M: Who was the first big name that wore your design?

BB: The first one that left me speechless was probably Julia Roberts. She was on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, I think.

M: With all the travel curbs in the last couple of years and seeing new places being a huge source of inspiration to many, how do you gather new ideas?

BB: I really don’t know. Television and Google Maps? (Laughs) On a serious note, I have been reading up on colour theory, how colours came to be and how they got their names. That’s what I’ve been doing mainly.

M: What is your usual day like as a jeweller and business owner?

BB: The company is more structured now which is a good thing. At one point, I didn’t have time to sit down and design. Now, I have more time. We have a team of 10 people, from production to wholesale to social media.

M: After graduation, you started the business right away. Was it a steep learning curve as a new business owner?

BB: I had no idea what was going on at first. You know there are some start-ups that experience an unrealistic situation of being popular right away? I’m glad it didn’t happen to me. (Laughs) It would have been impossible to manage. I had time to learn.

M: A big plus for any brand is being able to open a store which you finally did in 2019.

BB: It was rather unfortunate because we opened it at the end of 2019 and it was right before the pandemic. That said, I was very lucky as there were many favourable conditions that allowed me to open my store.

M: Wasn’t it a dream to have your own store though?

BB: Yeah it was. But those dreams seemed nicer when they were dreams. (Laughs) When I finally had to take care of the store, it was hard. That’s because we are always in the office and when we had the store, we had to manage that too. It was a bad situation during the start of the pandemic because the restrictions kept changing week after week. I couldn’t even get a shop assistant because I didn’t know if we were going to close it for two months so I had to be there. My mom would sometimes call me and ask “Why is the shop closed?” I would then go, “Ugh! The shop!” It was a nightmare. But now, we are blessed to have found a good person to run it and the shop is doing amazing.

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