Talking Time with Ming Liu: Carolina Bucci

Our first female guest on Talking Time is the fourth generation jeweller whose frosted gold finish ushered in a sparkling new chapter for the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak.
By Ming Liu

A love of jewellery naturally courses through the veins of Carolina Bucci. Her great grandfather may have founded the business in Florence, Italy in 1885, but Bucci is quick to admit that she fell in love with jewellery in a more old fashioned way, “from my mother, as I imagine any little girl does,” she says.

As a child, the family safe was in Bucci’s bedroom, hidden behind a painting, and Bucci has vivid memories of her mother coming in before a night out. “I’d be tucked up in bed ready to sleep, and my mother would come in – dressed, smelling beautiful, all made up. Jewellery was the last thing she added,” recalls Bucci.

(Photo: Carolina Bucci)

“I’d sit in my bed in my nightgown, and I just remember all these rolls coming out as my mother opened the safe – there were rings, jewels, everything. My eyes got bigger and bigger as I told her which pieces to wear. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to do that.’”

Seeing life through a jewellery lens was exactly how Bucci approached her collaboration with Audemars Piguet. In 2016, Bucci ushered in a new chapter for the Royal Oak, her bejewelled frosted gold finish revolutionising one of the most iconic watches on the planet – yet at the same time looking as if it had been there from day one. (Indeed Madame Genta, wife of the late Gérald Genta and designer of the Royal Oak, gave Bucci’s design the seal of approval before it debuted – a career highlight that Bucci recalls “was even a bigger endorsement than anything else.”). Bucci knew her Florentine finish would work beautifully on the Royal Oak, she recalls, but that’s not to say the journey to the final product was easy. 

Carolina Bucci and Audemars Piguet's first collaboration in 2016 saw the release of two Frosted Gold Royal Oaks in pink and white gold in both 37mm and 33mm, celebrating 40 years of Royal Oak for women. (Photo: Audemars Piguet)

“The challenge was to get that perfect balance of satisfying and convincing the Swiss watchmakers that it would function as a watch should – that it wouldn’t, say, ruin a shirt or get scratched,” Bucci recalls. “But at the same time it had to satisfy the aesthetics that were important to me, which is to function like a piece of jewellery that sparkles and captures a woman’s attention – well, anyone’s attention, really.”

 Carolina Bucci and Audemars Piguet's second collaboration in 2018: a 300-piece limited edition 37mm Royal Oak in yellow gold, paired with a mirrored dial for the first time in AP's history. (Photo: Carolina Bucci)

Today, new Royal Oak novelties in her Florentine frosted gold finish are launched every year, and Bucci has even created a line of chic, versatile jewellery inspired by a watch balance spring, called KISS – as in, Keep It Super Simple. Fashioned from a single sinuous coil of 18k gold, a selection of pieces are stocked exclusively in AP Houses around the world, the collection echoing Bucci’s signature that fine jewellery should be fun and wearable without compromising tradition and craftsmanship. And, as always, infused with emotion – just like the many family jewels that a young Bucci helped her mother choose, all those magical evenings as a child. 

“Then and still now, I always saw jewellery like pictures: as if looking through a photo album,” says Bucci. “Every piece reminds me of something.”
From time to memory, past to the future, it was a joy to speak with Bucci in London, where she lives – and most of all, have her as our very first female guest on Talking Time. 

The Carolina Bucci K.I.S.S. Collection, inspired by the inner workings of a watch. (Photo: Carolina Bucci)

What does watchmaking in the 21st century mean to you?

It’s a lot of things: adornment, status, mechanics. But these are obviously the facts. For me, it’s always design. I like to imagine a watch as a piece of jewellery but with a function. That’s how I approached my relationship with Audemars Piguet. AP takes care of telling the time, while my job, the way I see it, is to make things that women want. 

You’re a fourth generation jeweller, but also a businesswoman. What advice would you give to someone starting out?

It’s pretty basic: you need to start, and you need to make mistakes. There’s no other way. I think young people have a fear of failing but I never had that – it’s what stops people from doing anything, because anything new is a chance. 

I’ve learnt more from my mistakes than from my successes. And planning is good, but if we’ve learnt anything from Covid, you can plan all you want, but…

The K.I.S.S. Collection (Photo: Carolina Bucci)

What do you love most about your job?

That every day is different and that I have the opportunity daily to create. If every day had to be the same, I’d really struggle.

What’s the most challenging thing about your job?

In a world that’s dominated by social media, sometimes I feel as if I have nothing to say – whether design wise or just something significant. Today we’re made to feel as if that’s a bad thing; there’s an expectation that you’re always spurting something. But I've learnt to lean into that, which always leads to something better. 

What does time mean to you?

A reminder to get things done. I check the time on my phone, but mainly I use it to set alarms. Everybody who knows and spends time with me knows that my alarm goes off every two seconds. Otherwise, I’ll miss things. 

What do you think will be the biggest change post-pandemic in the jewellery industry?

This is more a hope than a change, but a wish that people will look for true design and quality. I hope they will return to some kind of refinement – with a willingness to buy, perhaps less often, but buy with a little bit more conviction. In the pandemic, I discovered that people found deep comfort in buying something real and with true value.

The K.I.S.S. Collection (Photo: Carolina Bucci)

What’s on your wishlist right now?

A summer of travel, which is planned and which will hopefully happen. I’m going to our house in upstate New York, which we haven’t been to for two years. And at the end of summer we’ve rented a house in Puglia. For many years I’ve wanted to spend time there. So my wishlist is a lot of travel. I might not come back…. 

Who is your style icon?

I don’t really have one consistent style icon – it kind of changes, but not by intention. Recently Lee Radziwill has been featuring a lot on my moodboards. She always looked like she could make any outfit work, for any occasion. She was relaxed and confident in any setting, which for me is the foundation of great style.

What do you collect?

I have an obsession with paperweights. I’ve been collecting them forever and have all kinds - Murano glass, marble, brass – but during Covid I really upped my collection. It started with a clay necklace that my son made for me as a gift, many, many years ago in his nursery school. It was deteriorating, which was very sad and emotional. So I had a Perspex paperweight made with the necklace inside. It’s broken, but it’s in there forever. 

During Covid I had probably 40 paperweights made, of all sorts of things: a special token we were given at a temple in Japan, flowers from my 40th birthday. To me, they are a way to preserve a moment or memory, much like how jewellery does. 

The design idea I wish I’d come up with is...

The Royal Oak! And the equally iconic Ray-Ban Wayfarer. It’s just cool, classic and simple. Designing something simple is a lot harder than designing something complicated - I feel very strongly about that.

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Frosted Gold Selfwinding in collaboration with Carolina Bucci. Limited to 300 pieces (ref. 15454BA), worn by @lunglungthun.

If I wasn’t a jeweller I’d be...

A ceramicist. I used to paint pottery in my spare time – it was my form of destressing before I created my Forte beads collection. There’s something magical and therapeutic about working with clay. When I was living in New York I had a kiln in my apartment and I used to dream of having a small store with a kiln at the back, which I never did because I moved to London. 

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Frosted Gold Selfwinding in collaboration with Carolina Bucci on @lunglungthun.


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