The Buccellati Lobster Is the Surreal Icon We Need Right Now

In 1926, the writer Tullio Gramantieri described the shimmering confections by Italian jeweler Mario Buccellati as the “delicious unnecessary delicacies which make up the precious kit for modern existence.” He was speaking about the breadth of the designer’s work—which ranged from chunky cocktail rings with gobstopper-size jewels to delicate, diamond-encrusted pendants—but gazing at the lustrous bounty of sterling silver sea creatures (mussels, lobsters, swordfish, and coral-eyed crabs) on display at “Prince of Goldsmiths—Rediscovering the Classics,” a retrospective exhibition of the hundred-year-old brand’s exquisite wares at Venice’s Oficine 80 (open through June 18), those words seemed particularly resonant. I could manage without the jewels, but the lobster centerpiece, in that moment, I simply could not live without.

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A general view of the Buccellati “The Prince Of Goldsmiths” exhibition in Venice.

Stefania M. D’Alessandro/Getty Images

It was the first public day of the exhibition and a small crowd had gathered among the mollusks. “Fabulous!” exclaimed Dan Thaley, the writer, consultant, and art director behind the new fair Matter and Shape, of the spread. The display was not short on showstoppers: One blue-enameled, diamond-encrusted powder case from 1968 turned plenty of heads, as did a 1920s “lace” bracelet woven from silver, gold, and diamonds. But the shellfish were what seemed to resonate with design people.

“Crustacean centerpieces forever,” the AD100 designer Billy Cotton DM’d me on Instagram, joking about his willingness to bankrupt himself for the Buccellati shellfish. (Earlier this year, one of said centerpieces sold for $21,590 at Sotheby’s.) Later, by email, he explained further: “I first saw them on Madison Avenue, and I gasped. I couldn’t believe such a thing existed. Needless to say, a silver crustacean centerpiece elevates the everyday.”

In the 1950s, Buccellati, historically a jeweler, began forging silver shell-shaped dishes designed by founder Mario. In the decades that followed, the Marina Collection, an open series that has been added to over time, was introduced to encapsulate this typology. One of a kind creations like the large centerpieces, many of them designed by Mario’s son, Gianmaria, were made for private clients. “We’ve always tried to reproduce sea life in a realistic way using a variety of techniques such as chiseling, hammering, and burnishing,” explains creative director Andrea Buccellati who reports that the collection is still a bestseller. In 1970, The New York Times wrote about a surrealism-inflected dinner party at the home of Luca Buccellati, who was running the business in New York at the time. In it, Luca explained simply, “These are some of the most beautiful shapes on earth. Beautiful and exciting. Much more exciting than pure geometrical designs.”

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