By now, nearly eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve surely heard stories about people being stuck far from home, separated from loved ones. Jewelry designer Marco Panconesi was one of those impacted. The newly appointed design director at Swarovski and consultant at Fendi left Paris just after Fashion Week in March for what should have been a four-day trip to Marrakesh. “When the showroom ended I went on a holiday as I usually do, for a few days to just switch off. Luckily, I brought a lot of stuff with me to design and sketch,” he says. “My intention was not to touch my phone, not see anything, and just be inspired for four days and four nights—and then it happened that I was there for three months.”
Once the French borders closed in mid-March, Panconesi found a place to stay that belonged to a friend-of-a-friend and began trying to figure out how to return home to Paris with his boyfriend. (Neither he nor his partner are French citizens, which complicated the matter.) It took them nearly three months to find a way back, on a ferry boat from Tangiers to Gibraltar, organized by the British Embassy. The strain of being far from home is real—but you might never know it from the serene, abstract photos the designer was sharing on Instagram during his extended stay in Morocco. Chalk it up to the fact that Panconesi found something of importance: a new outlook on his eponymous jewelry collection.
Panconesi's family models his latest collection
A native Florentine, Panconesi launched the brand last year, steeped in Tuscan tradition and his own family heritage. The combination of art and science is at the fore of his work; earrings morph from hoops to ear cuffs or unlock into a cascade of colorful orbs. His pieces, while modern in their lightness, would have looked quite at home at the Museo Galileo, each item a sort of cross between astrolabe and adornment. Rihanna and Tilda Swinton are customers and Paloma Elsesser wore his pieces to the 2019 Met Gala.
On the outskirts of Marrakesh, Panconesi found a new strain of inspiration: nature. “What I got to experience there was so close to nature,” he says. “We had the chance to go to this beautiful forest that was in the desert, 45 minutes away, where the landscape and the color…” he trails off, pausing in much the same way that the eye alights on a detail: a cactus flower amid the charred desert landscape.
The Panconesi women wearing Panconesi jewelryPhoto: Courtesy of Panconesi
The experience influenced not just his use of color—auburns, emeralds, bronzes, and golds—but the very way he designs his jewelry. Previously, the wearer was the one to transform Panconesi’s jewelry, flicking a ring outwards to expand a stack of sparkling bands into a halo or looping a pearl charm into a slot on the back of an earring to create a hoop. Now, his jewelry has its transformations built in. “This time the movement is coming from the piece itself,” he says.
With his factories in Italy Panconesi designed a coil mechanism that allows gemstones and crystals to “tremble,” infusing a kinetic movement directly into the jewelry. The pièce de resistance is a collar necklace adorned with a moody rainbow of gems that curves around the throat and collarbone like a creeping vine. “What I took with me [from spending time in Marrakesh] was this sense of nature and this sense of listening, looking at the pieces and the transformative ways you can look at flowers, at the passing of time, at the mechanisms you can invent from that,” he says.
An ear cuff covers the entire ear in gemstonesPhoto: Courtesy of Panconesi
The fusion of science and beauty so integral to his work hasn’t dissipated—spliced together stones call to mind Leonardo Da Vinci’s Platonic Solids, only more freeform and wild. It’s an apt response to a time spent away from the bustle of the fashion world in Paris and Milan. “I’m a workaholic, and I had no work. My clients stopped. Everybody was at home,” the designer says. “I think I sketched like 30 collections when I was in Morocco.”
Panconesi’s own family stars in the film that accompanies this collection launch, smiling and hugging in Tuscany. While away, his sister wrote him a text message: “Away from the places I’ve lived in the past, symbolically closer to the one I belong to.” It’s a message that rings true for so many this year: Finding new, beautiful ways to be together, apart.
A sketch from Marco Panconesi's journal, done in MarrakeshPhoto: Courtesy of Panconesi