carolina bucci audemars piguet
Photo: Marc Ducrest

This was created by Harper’s BAZAAR for Audemars Piguet

As the first woman to oversee her family’s jewellery dynasty, Carolina Bucci knows a thing or two about breaking glass ceilings. The Italian designer is the fourth generation of jewellers after her great-grandfather opened a workshop in Florence in 1885, specialising in pocket-watch repairs.

After studying jewellery design in New York, Carolina returned to the family business to create her own eponymous brand. Under the newly-created label, Carolina Bucci, she launched the Lucky bracelet, which appeared on the wrist of none other than Carrie Bradshaw, propelling the designer to worldwide fame.

Today, Carolina is known for fine jewellery that is both playful and sophisticated as well as her collaboration with Swiss watch brand Audemars Piguet. Here, she reveals how her journey began.

Developing a passion for jewellery

Growing up in Italy and surrounded by jewellers, I received beautiful jewellery as presents, but I always wanted to transform the pieces into something different, more unique. My father, indulging me, would say, “Make a sketch and present what you’d like to do.” The process would go back and forth until my vision was picture perfect. Then I would sit with a jeweller until I created what I wanted. It was the most natural training and I learnt to persevere in turning a vision into a reality.

carolina bucci audemars piguet

Working with family

My father has been building the business since he was 18. He’s now 82. He maintained our family’s Florentine workshops and grew the business internationally. Meanwhile, I was studying fine arts and jewellery design at FIT in New York.

When I returned to Florence after my studies, I wanted to prove myself so I worked alongside local goldsmiths and encouraged them to push the boundaries of their traditional practices. We used a centuries-old Florentine textile loom to weave gold and silk threads and I launched my first collection, Woven, in 2001.

carolina bucci audemars piguet
Photo: Marc Ducrest

I’m now creative director of the business. Despite being the first woman to run it within such a male-dominated industry, I haven’t faced gender inequality — I believe that a good idea is a good idea, no matter who it comes from. My father continues to be my biggest mentor and critic. Working with your family means complete trust and that’s something you cannot buy.

Finding success

Things really took off for my designs in 2002 when the Lucky bracelet appeared on the wrist of Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex And The City. Demand went through the roof! That was the moment I realised my ideas could have a commercial future. I worked hard on creating the Florentine Finish, which is achieved by beating gold with a diamond-tipped tool leaving small dents in the surface that sparkle. It’s now become my trademark.

Discovering the Royal Oak watch

As a jeweller, my husband has a tough job buying me gifts. On my 35th birthday, he was struggling to find a watch I liked. The watches available for women were predictable with diamonds and pink straps. One day, I spotted a lady in New York wearing a beautiful watch — in a slightly stalker way, I followed her up five floors of Bergdorf Goodman. Finally, I got close enough to see it was by Audemars Piguet, the luxury Swiss watch brand.

It was their Royal Oak, a man’s watch from the late ’70s that was no longer in production. Luckily, my husband found me a pre-loved version and I instantly stopped wearing any other watch. The Royal Oak compliments my jewellery and my wardrobe perfectly so it naturally became part of my everyday style.

Building a collaboration

I started posting images of my beloved Royal Oak on Instagram, which led to François-Henry [Bennahmias, CEO of Audemars Piguet] contacting me for a meeting. It was 2013 and I was invited to Le Brassus where I learnt more about their world, then I invited him to Florence to learn about my business. It was like dating! We clicked.

After several conversations, François bluntly asked why I was wearing a man’s watch. So, in a similarly frank way, I told him that the women’s watches don’t do it for me. He set me a challenge to design something better and I instantly accepted.

carolina bucci audemars piguet
Photo: Marc Ducrest

Reimagining the Royal Oak

My passion was to design a watch for women by a woman. I deliberately wanted to move away from the usual approach to just make a man’s watch smaller. First, I used the signature Florentine technique from my jewellery to add a shimmering surface to Audemars Piguet’s classic watch design. It took seven attempts to perfect. We launched the first iteration to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first ladies’ Royal Oak and it was hugely popular.

carolina bucci audemars piguet

For the second adaptation, I wanted to create the watch in yellow gold, my favourite metal. I also wanted to create a highly reflective, perfectly smooth mirror dial in contrast to the rough finish of the bracelet. It’s a logistical nightmare, so, initially, I was told it wouldn’t be possible. But I’m stubborn! I’ve learnt from working in my family business that there’s always a way.

The finishing touches

The result is incredible. Even the watch boxes are works of art. I now wear my Royal Oak iteration for everything from work to weekends. There are only 300 pieces available so each one feels special. I hope that it will reflect the unique lifestyle of the woman who wears it, all reflected in the beautiful mirror dial.

carolina bucci audemars piguet
Photo: Audemars Piguet

A new home

As well as the launch of the Royal Oak Frosted Gold Carolina Bucci Limited Edition watch, I’ve just opened a new store for the Carolina Bucci brand at 22 Motcomb Street in London. It’s at the opposite end of the street from where our previous boutique was for over 10 years. It’s three times the size and has different areas, from a VIP client Living Room as well as my Mood Room. I’m excited for people to visit and enter my world for the first time. It’s something I hope my great-grandfather would be proud of.

Discover the Royal Oak Frosted Gold Carolina Bucci limited edition here