I come to Florence every year in search of magic. There is so much of it in every direction I look— the centuries of art, the creations of the Medici, the architecture, the sounds of the bell towers, the smell of coffee, truffles and the taste of finocchiona, the excited buongiorno echoing from all sides in the morning. But the real magic for me is the one you run into behind the green shutters and wood-carved doors, in shops, homes and studios where you find people full of stories and lives as rich as the frescoes outside. One such door for me was piazza Santo Spirito 12, which leads you through an unassuming residential corridor to a hidden green courtyard and into the magical workshop of Giuliano Ricchi and Gianni Bricci, artisans of metal.  

The two entered the industry as teenagers, at age 14 and 15. Gianni couldn’t go to school after World War II so he started as an apprentice at a jewelry maker’s shop. Giuliano instead was always in the metal works. They share two floors, which serve as their work area, design space, product warehouse, sales floor and customer service department. The two have worked together for over 50 years making pins, bracelets, hearts, boxes, jewelry, key chains, ornaments and more for the likes of Neiman Marcus, Saks and Bloomingdales, and boutique shops in Paris, Rome, Milan and New York.  

 

Every visitor gets a personal tour of the space and Giuliano’s demonstration of how the molding, melting and polishing works. The first floor room belongs to Gianni where using a fire torch, rough stones and an old sink, he slices stripes of metal and with surgical precision turns them into beautiful picture frames, candle holders, bottle holders or mirror boxes. The basement is where the heavy press machines, aged over 100 years are kept. To the question “What happens when the machines break?”, Gianni just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, they get fixed.” Giuliano’s wife, Maria, greets you when you enter and sends you off with a beautifully wrapped package.

 

I showed up with a long list of questions the day I went to interview Giuliano and Gianni. At the end I didn’t ask a single one. It was enough to sit and watch their art and lifetime unfold in front of me, as a surreal and even therapeutic experience. I think about all the days I walked through the New York department stores where Giuliano and Gianni’s bracelets, boxes and candle holders waited to be bought by lunch breakers seeking retail relief from the stressful work day, or glitzy couples coming out of shiny cars and onto the red carpet, or old ladies who lunch at Bergdorf, or maybe the privileged tourists excited to put their credit cards to use. 


I can’t help but think that all the money in the world doesn’t buy the fulfillment of creating beauty for 50 years without a sense of superiority or a drop of vanity. 

 

Giuliano and Gianni have never been to New York, nor to any of the other places their creations have made it. Their door is open to whoever walks through it, same as their dedication to making something beautiful for whoever their client is. And so it will remain, until the shop stays open.  

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