Contemporary Gold Jewellery Inspired by Medieval Literature

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Alighieri A/W18

Rosh Mahtani, founder of Alighieri, tells AnOther how the passages of Dante’s The Divine Comedy translate into her jewellery brand

  1. Who is it? Alighieri is a UK-based brand creating contemporary gold jewellery influenced by Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century poem the The Divine Comedy
  2. Why do I want it? Mahtani describes each piece as a “modern heirloom”; a personal object which can be worn and kept forever
  3. Where can I find it? Online at Matches, Net-a-Porter, Farfetch and the Alighieri website, and in-store at Selfridges, Fenwicks and Joseph

Who is it? Alighieri, a UK-based jewellery brand founded by Rosh Mahtani, officially launched five years ago in 2014. Arguably, though, it had been in the making for aeons. “When I graduated from Oxford University with a degree in French and Italian, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do,” says Mahtani. “I was really interested in writing and photography and I couldn’t stop reading Dante’s The Divine Comedy, as that’s what I studied in my final year for my dissertation.”

This narrative medieval text, penned by Italian poet Dante Alighieri in the 14th century, became the founder’s source of comfort during her post-graduate malaise – and the inspiration for a new life venture. “I travelled to Australia chasing after a boy and returned heartbroken, as you do, and I kept reading the text to get me through it. I’ve always loved jewellery, so I started by making one piece of jewellery for each of the chapters in the The Divine Comedy – and the rest is history.”

So how does one translate a piece of text into an object? Everything that is sold by Alighieri is made by hand in Mahtani’s London studio using wax moulds, before being cast in bronze and plated in 24-carat gold. Whether a pair of statement earrings, a weighty cuff bracelet or a delicate necklace, each relates to Dante’s journey through hell, purgatory, paradise and heaven. “Sometimes I read a specific poem and I’ll create shapes around that. Or often, I’ll be foraging in antique markets and I’ll find objects that remind me of parts of the text, too,” Mahtani explains.

Indeed, the brand’s signature lion medallion was conceived in this exact manner. “This piece marks the moment when Dante is in the dark wood and he meets a lion that is described as ‘so terrifying that even the air around him is trembling with fear’,” says Mahtani. “So, Dante turns on his heels feeling defeated. But Virgil, his guide, who is leading him through the inferno, appears telling him to have courage.” While it may seem abstract to those who haven’t studied the text in depth, Mahtani assures that Dante’s story is one that can be universally understood. “The medallion was made from an old Venetian coin embossed with a lion’s head I found on my travels. It was made as a piece to remind ourselves to be courageous – and people really do relate to this.”

Why do I want it? And therein lies Alighieri’s appeal. Each design comes with a postcard providing context for the meaning behind it and possesses the charm of an ancient relic, all the while maintaining a contemporary aesthetic. “I wanted the jewellery to manifest as modern heirlooms – objects that can be worn and kept forever,” says Mahtani. “For me, I can’t think of creating a piece of jewellery that isn’t personal. You wear it so close to your skin that it almost becomes an extension of yourself. I think that in an anthropological way it’s fascinating that this has translated across cultures since the beginning of time – as humans, we’ve always had this kind of intimate relationship to these objects.”

Additionally, considering the intended longevity of the jewellery that Mahtani creates, the price points remain very reasonable – a small necklace will set you back £195 and a pair of medium-sized pearl earrings £350. “I wanted to make jewellery that is semi-affordable and that I could wear myself and five years ago when I created the brand that mid-price point didn’t really exist,” the founder remembers. “We have grown at juggernaut speed,” she continues. “Alighieri now has 45 global retailers and our e-commerce is doubling monthly. But no matter what the future holds, I want to keep the core identity of the brand – and that is creating a community through objects and stories.”

Where can I find it? Online at Matches, Net-a-PorterFarfetch and the Alighieri website, and in-store at Selfridges (London), Fenwicks and Joseph (Westbourne Grove).