Ornella Bijoux - an all-female success story made of talent, courage, competence and beauty - has dominated the scene of costume jewellery for 70 years. Maria Vittoria Albani Scala reveals how, together with her mother Piera Albani, she has managed to establish an atelier of world renown, creating costume jewellery for the big names of fashion, from Céline and Swarovski to Borbonese and Dolce & Gabbana.

How did you start your business?

My mother Piera Albani founded Ornella Bijoux in Milan in 1944. Due to the restrictions in the use of gold and alcohol during the Second World War, many perfume and jewellery factories faced a severe crisis. In order to overcome this difficult moment, the cosmetic factory Gi.Vi.Emme (which belonged to the Visconti di Modrone family of Milan) joined forces with Calderoni jewellery to create a costume jewellery brand produced by the jeweller and distributed by the cosmetic factory.

At the end of the war, Dino Villani, Gi.Vi.Emme’s art director, suggested to his secretary Piera Albani, my mother, who was widowed and had two children to support, to take over the samples of company’s costume jewellery. This was an opportunity for her to become a businesswoman and change her life completely. I immediately started working with her, just as my daughter Simona Scala now works with me.

What was your training? What influenced your choice?

I did not receive any specific training, apart from attending the studio of sculptor Antonio Arosio, who was a friend of the family, where I learned to appreciate art and beauty. Choosing this profession was a necessity: at 15 I left school and started working with my mother, to help her in her new adventure in the world of costume jewellery.

Your creations have dominated the scene of fashion and costume jewellery in the second half of the 20th century. Can you identify a specific trait that represents the styles developed in each decade?

During the 1970s we experimented with ceramics, previously considered a poor material: thanks to a specific galvanic finishing process that we developed, ceramics has become an important element in my creations.

Apart from that particular period, our costume jewellery has always been inspired simply by our love of nature. Flowers, animals, fruit still characterise our creations.

Your archive is famous among experts. How many pieces do you treasure?

In over 70 years we have collected an archive of drawings, sketches and samples that currently counts more than 25,000 references.

You designed collections for Swarovski, Dolce&Gabbana, Borbonese, Céline. Can you tell us an anecdote that you remember with pleasure?

Making costume jewellery for famous designers has always been very inspiring. However, the most gratifying experience occurred with a Japanese client, in the 1980s: he sent us a photo of the princess of Japan wearing one of our necklaces, delicately created with little enamelled flowers.

Who are your clients?

In the past, our biggest clients were major department stores in the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan. The market has since evolved, and our clients are very different: jewellery shops, fashion and specialty stores always looking for unique, rare and exclusive products.

Do you think that the younger generations could be interested in following in your footsteps?

There are many young students who apply to make an apprenticeship in our workshop, where we still produce everything by hand. This job requires great patience and dexterity, so if you don’t have a true passion, it is difficult to follow this path.