In this episode of The Family Business Podcast, Raffaella Renai, head designer and second generation family member of the Italian jewellery brand Anna Maria Cammilli, speaks to Tharawat Magazine about what it is like to run a high-end brand.
Among other things, she discusses Florence, said to be the birthplace of the Renaissance, as a major influence in everything she and her team create. From the beautiful natural surroundings to the atmosphere of creativity that is imbued throughout the city, it all shines through in the finished work.
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Hello everyone and welcome back to the Tharawat Magazine podcast for family businesses and entrepreneurs. We’re still here at Baselworld and now we’re about to speak to a very renowned jewelry brand in Florence. The brand is called AnnaMaria Camilli and we’re sitting here with the 2nd generation and the 5th generation, she’s going to explain that in a moment, Rafaela Renai who is also the head designer of the brand at this stage. Rafaella, thank you so much for according us the interview. Let’s get started first with this slightly strange situation whereby you are a 2nd generation and a 5th generation family business, do tell us more about your background.
Okay, it’s kind of unusual but also usual for a family coming from Florence because Florence is the town of the tradition and especially for arts and crafts. Lots of historical families are going on with the business of generations step by step. In my case, me and my brother Ricardo, who is the CO of the company, are the 2nd generation of the brand AnnaMaria Camilli which is the starter of the brand but the 5th generation of the jewelry family. That means that the grandfather of my grandfather used to have a jewelry business in Florence. At that time, I can add, this person was the only one who was taking care of the clock at Palazzo Vecchio situated right beside the Uffizi Museum located in Piazza degli Uffizi in Florence. He was the one who was taking care of the time for the old Florentine families.
Wow, that’s a big responsibility, keeping time for all of Florence. That’s amazing! So how did this brand start? AnnaMaria Camilli was your mother, is that correct?
Yes, my mother was a painter and a sculptress. She met my father when she was 18 years old and my father introduced her to the jewelry business with shops. Unfortunately, my father passed away very early, when I was only five, so she was taking care, by herself, developing the brand. At the time, the name was Renai but then, step by step, she changed it to her own surname which is Camilli. So in 1982, she started with the brand in Florence with the production in the kind of style that we are always selling now. Our style is very recognizable. She was always very strictly aligned to nature so the inspiration was always nature. Let me tell you that in Florence, we have a lot of very beautiful hills and mountains and nature all around so inspiration is always near. An added value is that in Florence, we are full of art so we can breathe the art all around so its added value to be positioned in Florence. We are very lucky and she was very lucky to get inspiration by the art, by the history, and everything around her. The atmosphere was very important.
Of course, for the creative process, I imagine. So tell us a little bit more, for your mother at the time, being a female entrepreneur in what was I’m sure a very male dominated industry must not have been easy, she must have been a very remarkable woman. How did she deal with those challenges?
It was a little bit hard, of course, and a little bit unusual for the time. She was very nice, very kind, very feminine and she was very simple also, and very unique. So everybody was looking at her work with a high expression of interest. That’s why it was something different from the others.
So she knew how to be unique and distinguish herself from the beginning. So tell us more about when you and Ricardo joined the business. How did you make up your mind? Did you always know you wanted to work with your mom?
It was my world. Every time, day, night, or Christmastime, it was my life. In my mind, there is only something about this business. I started with art school and I became an architect after graduating from the University in Florence in Architecture. It was my destiny. And also my brother, who is a little more commercial-minded than I am. But less creative I like to say. It was something that was written and it was our pleasure for sure.
How was it working with the two generations side by side and you with your brother? How were the dynamics? Are you okay working together?
That’s a secret. The secret is “What do you want to do? Commercial? Okay, I will do art.” So separated a little bit but the strategy is always the same.
You’re in a very competitive industry, so when we’re here at Baselworld, we’re blown away by the number of jewelry brands there are and watch brands, how do you maintain uniqueness in an industry that is so competitive and so tight? How do you continue to go from excellence to excellence, what do you try to do in your strategy?
It’s very simple to explain because we have to focus on the uniqueness of our product. The design is unique in our case, and we are leaders in world for the finishing of the gold. So we have a shine and mount finishing in every single jewel which is unique, so the style is very recognizable. Also, we work with seven different colors of gold. So the choice is limitless.
The link to Florence as a city and the history of Florence as a city, we see this a lot that Italian brands stand out because they link to their heritage very strongly. There are strongly linked to their origins and where they’re from. Can you tell us a little more, being a designer yourself, what is the transference of this? Why is it so important to love the place where you’re from, to celebrate where you’re from in the design process? Tell us more about this.
Also to this point, it’s very simple for me to explain that if you live in a town like Florence, in an area like Tuscany, in a country like Italy, it’s easier to explain the creativity in your mind because what’s all around you helps you a lot. The beauty and the art and that everybody around you does something, maybe not very artistic but very creative. It’s in our DNA. So for a creative person, it’s easier, of course but it’s something that helps a lot. Simply walking around the town at night, you can feel the atmosphere and you can see all around all the art and expression. We belong to a town that was at the beginning of the Renaissance. The Renaissance period in Florence there was the Medici family who explained and developed the art at the time. It was a very long time ago but the very important thing was to express art as a unique and important thing in the world.
So this expression continues with your brand, actually. This is what you continue to do with your jewelry. And do you have a 3rd generation of the business who’s ready to join?
There’s my niece, my brother’s daughter, who is very attracted by the business but the world is changing a lot so maybe we will be only up in the middle of the way and our next generation will continue. It will be our happiness and my mother’s happiness. Also we can go all around the world and catch more inspiration from other countries so our generation and the future generation will be helped greatly this way. For instance, going to Japan or China will help to complete the mind and the creativity.
The current situation in the world with the world being so global; so small and so big at the same time, we’re all asking ourselves questions about the industries. What’s going to happen to industries in the future. Your family is extremely specialized in the jewelry industry so can you give us any idea of what you think the future holds for the jewelry industry? Where is it going do you think? What’s going to happen?
To me, the first important thing is to be different, to have our own style. This is a suggestion for every other brand – be unique, be very recognizable. Because the world is developing is more sensitivity and taste of the beauty of the things. To me, the difference is this one.
So you need to be excellent and go for a very, very specific market and that’s the only way you’ll survive. Is that what you’re saying?
For sure. And being a brand from Italy, we want to continue to be 100% Italian, to give a product 100% made in Italy from the idea to the end.
Why is this so important? Is it important for when you sell or is important for yourself or for the country?
It’s important because, as you know, Italy is a centre of excellence in the world. So Italian people make it better so it’s an added value.
So that’s why you insist on the entire production to remain Italian.
Of course, from the design to the end.
And the fact that you were telling me before that you’re celebrating the fact that you’re a family business and you’re celebrating fact that you’re now over thirty years old with your mother’s business, does that help? Does it help with your brand if you tell people you’re a family business? Does that have added value on top of everything?
Of course, of course. For instance, four years ago we celebrated our 30th anniversary for the brand. We had a great party in Florence with friends and customers. It was something that gave us the chance to also create jewels especially for this occasion to propose to all of our customers. So there’s a history behind you can explain to the customers and the customers love this kind of thing. For this occasion, we opened up for the customers our flagship store in the town which is very expressive of our style. So if you go into the shop, you will understand the style of the brand, the pieces all around, everything is in our style so it’s very recognizable. Our customers usually come to Florence to visit the town and to visit our store. It’s something that helps a lot.
Listeners, you heard it here. Go to Florence and go to visit AnnaMaria Camilli jewelry in Florence and visit the family and the family business and come see the beautiful jewels that they design all in Italy. Thank you very much Rafaella for a lovely interview. We really appreciate it.
Thank you vey much. It’s been very kind.