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Jewelry Designer Interview + Italy Travel Tips : Maddalena Bearzi

8.26.2021

There's such synchronicity in the world that I met a truly amazing lady. It's an honor to share her story and showcase her designs. From protecting the ocean to crafting standout distinctive jewelry, we love the work of Italian-born LA-based jewelry designer and marine biologist Maddalena Bearzi. In this journey of life, it's truly a gift to have two passions and be able to do them at the same time.  Maddalena's journey is a story of commitment and inspiration to do what one loves. Did I mention she is also a photographer? 

We are inspired by your work as a marine biologist while designing jewelry. As co-founder of the Ocean Conservation Society in Marina Del Rey, could you describe your mission and work in research and preservation of marine life? 

I co-founded the Ocean Conservation Society with my husband Charlie back in 1998. The purpose of our nonprofit organization is to conduct long-term marine mammal research and educational projects for the protection of the oceans and marine wildlife.  We study dolphins, whales, and other species in the wild and use our scientific data to bring about policy changes, raise public awareness, and try to protect these animals for future generations to appreciate.

We are the only organization conducting long-term, year-round investigations on marine mammals off Los Angeles, California, and we focus on field studies that have a measurable conservation impact. Over the last 25 years, we’ve written books based on our field research on wild animals and published over 30 papers in scientific journals.

We also love to share what we’ve learned about the marine life we study and the need to protect them via a variety of media and initiatives. Since 1998, we’ve conducted numerous educational, capacity-building, and outreach programs and campaigns, earning a Certificate of Commendations by the City of Los Angeles, plus many other awards for the quality of our research and conservation work.

Our educational programs are always built on a foundation of science – we not only raise public awareness of marine environmental issues but also stimulate active social engagement in them. To learn more about what I do at Ocean Conservation Society and all our current research and campaigns, one can check www.oceanconservation.org.

 

How did you get started with your jewelry collection and what is your training?

Since childhood, I have been fascinated with animals, and nature in general. I followed my dreams and became a marine biologist and a conservation advocate for whales and dolphins. I’ve always felt the need, however, to express my passion for nature in other ways. My creativity found expression first in drawings, and later on, in writing and photography. My sketches, articles, photos, and books have always been connected to natural themes.

Later on, this profound respect for the wilderness - and my endless curiosity - also brought me to the world of jewelry-making. First, I joined sustainable and unique textiles with different elements such as reclaimed metals and stones found during my travels. Then, these textile-based pieces led me to focus on one-off, metal jewelry that I handcrafted. I've used silver, bronze, gold, and brass, at times with touches of precious or semi-precious stones.

In the end, every single piece of jewelry that I make is connected to nature and my life as a biologist; and each piece has its name and its own, nature-inspired story.

Regarding my training, I briefly studied metalsmithing at the University of California, Los Angeles. Afterward, I learned different techniques from a couple of well-recognized master silversmiths. Everything else, I learned by myself; I read books and technical manuals about jewelry-making, experimented with a variety of metals, and made many mistakes. One lesson that I have learned while making jewelry is that, on occasion, accidents can produce distinctive designs. Metal tends to come alive when you “play with fire”; at times, the results can be unexpected… and stunning.

 

We see how the beauty of the ocean informs your work. What is your inspiration and creative process in crafting your beautiful jewelry from choosing materials to design?

Usually, I see something in the wild, both on land or out at sea, and I go back to my jewelry workshop with the desire to start a new piece inspired by what I’ve observed in nature. It can be an animal partially hiding in the sand, a dolphin diving under the surface of the ocean, a leaf, a pebble, a plant with an odd shape. Other times, I dream about a jewelry piece resembling a natural form; I wake up and immediately draw my idea on a piece of paper (yes, paper & pencil are always next to my bed!).  For me, nature is an endless source of inspiration. There are also occasions when the material itself speaks to me.

I start working with a raw ingot of silver and, all of the sudden, some organic-looking form comes to life…I enjoy using different types of metals to create my jewelry pieces, and I often mix silver, bronze, copper, and gold to create distinctive textures and color tones. I also have a strong commitment to ethical and environmentally-friendly practices; I always try to use methods and materials that avoid depleting the Earth’s resources.

 

 Natural Beauty in Umbria

What are your current projects as a marine biologist and jewelry designer?

As a marine biologist, I am currently working on several field research projects. One example involves the study of skin diseases and physical deformities in dolphins and the implication for human health. My past studies show that bottlenose dolphins off Southern California (those same dolphins one can see from shore off Los Angeles) suffer skin lesions and physical deformities. Mine was the first investigation of this kind on the West Coast of the United States. The presence of these epidermal diseases is related to environmental factors like sea temperature and salinity, but also man-made pollutants in our waters. This is of concern because it has also potential implications for our health (we do eat some of the same fish!)

All our current research projects – and campaigns - are explained on the Ocean Conservation Society website

As a jewelry designer, I am ready to start a new limited-edition collection. I launch a couple of new collections every year and each collection has a particular theme, always inspired by the natural world. In addition, I always make one-of-a-kind pieces that are also for sale on my shop.

 

 Shop Jewelry Collection

We are in awe by your work in different areas. How do you balance this and on your downtime, what are your other hobbies and interests?

To be honest, I have no idea how I balance my work. Perhaps, it’s because I love what I do; basically, my hobbies are also my jobs. I spend time making jewelry and running my eponymous jewelry business but also studying dolphins and whales out on the ocean as President of Ocean Conservation Society. I also enjoy writing, both articles and books; my latest book, Dolphin Confidential: Confessions of a Field Biologist (University of Chicago Press) narrates my life spent in the company of dolphins, whales, and all sorts of animals. 

I spend most of my free time with my husband - traveling, eating good food or listening to music, and walking my great dane/lab mutt Genghis.

 

 Wandering in Sissel Edelbo Dress

Fun facts about you, any secret talents or irks and quirks?

My accent. After living 25 years in the States, I still have a strong Italian accent. I can’t get rid of it.

 

We love Italy! Where is your hometown and how would you describe this region?

I was born in Verona, in Northern Italy, but I lived in many different cities due to the itinerant nature of my dad’s job. My parents live in the countryside of Umbria for many years now, so this region became my new “hometown” every time I go back to my country. Umbria is not as well-known as Tuscany, but it’s a remarkable region with many hidden secrets. It’s Italy’s green heart, because of its forests and rolling hills, and it’s filled with many idyllic medieval hill towns.

 

 

What are some of your fave spots in the area? 

I love to have lunch in the small medieval town of Panicale, take a walk in Citta’ della Pieve (the home of Perugino, Umbria’s renowned Renaissance Artist), or see a concert in the lively Orvieto. Solomeo is another favorite spot that I visited during my last trip to Italy. This specific hamlet has been completely restored by Italian designer Brunello Cucinelli over the past 30 years. He has refurbished the town’s 14th-century castle - now a school to preserve the traditions and crafts of the village, the Church of St. Bartholomew, and built a nearby winery and a theater. Here, it’s also where his eponymous company is located. Solomeo is just 10 minutes car ride from my parents’ home so it’s easy for me to reach.

In this picture, I am walking just behind the Church, wearing my own “marea” necklace in silver and bronze, and a Lemuria dress.

 

Mangia! I know it must be tough to choose, but what is your fave regional dish or desserts? Local tip on eateries and restaurants?

Yes, food… truly hard to choose, especially in Umbria! But I have to say that my parents’ garden produces are incredible, so I can eat well without going too far.

I love “trattorie” more than expensive restaurants and the local handmade pasta, called “pici” (either all’aglione or with truffles), is one of my favorite dishes. Black truffles are everywhere in Umbrian cuisine.

In Citta’ della Pieve: Trattoria Bruno Coppetta; in Panicale: Masolino for dinner or the Osteria Gallo nel Pozzo for lunch (you can eat outside in the main Piazza in Spring, Summer and Fall).

 

 Local Umbrian Market I Primo at restaurant Citta della Pieve I Tomatoes from Maddalena's parents garden

 

 Village of Collebaldo in Umbria


 Grazie mille Maddalena for this inspiring and heartfelt interivew! It's been a gift to know you and share your designs and story. Thank you so much for the travel tips for our fave destination Italia. Hope to return someday soon!

Shop Maddalena Bearzi jewelry collection.

Marine images from ©maddalenabearzi/oceanconservationsociety

Travel and jewelry images by ©maddalenabearzijewelry

 

 

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