The Contis have been a family of jewellers since 1980.
During its time as a family run jeweller’s, an interest in the traditions of Sicily led the paterfamilias, Giuseppe, known as Pippo, to approach the study of coral.
Animated by a strong sense of its history, and fascinated by its changing forms, Giuseppe Conti began a careful investigation of Sicilian coral, and particularly the unique and inimitable coral found on his own doorstep: the coral of Sciacca.
Thanks to Giuseppe’s vision and commitment, the master goldsmiths in the family workshop have learnt, and made their own, the ancient techniques of working gold and coral taken from Sicilian tradition, so becoming a unique cornerstone in the world of ancient and traditional workmanship.
The Conti Creazioni workshop is one of the very rare centres of gold and coral workmanship capable of engraving the coral bequeathed by nature centuries ago to Sicilian shores. Bringing the coral of Sciacca back to its ancient splendour, jewels of extraordinary beauty are realised.
THE HISTORY OF CORAL
According to Greek mythology, coral originated from the blood of Medusa, one of the three Gorgons, killed by Perseus. The sea nymphs stole some drops of her blood, which on contact with seawater, turned into coral. Since its mythological origins, therefore, coral has possessed features which for centuries have portrayed it as a controlling symbol of life and regeneration, and talisman against evil forces.
“He washes his hands, after the victory, in seawater drawn for him, and, so that Medusa’s head, covered with its snakes, is not bruised by the harsh sand, he makes the ground soft with leaves, and spreads out plants from below the waves, and places the head of that daughter of Phorcys on them. The fresh plants, still living inside, and absorbent, respond to the influence of the Gorgon’s head, and harden at its touch, acquiring a new rigidity in branches and fronds. And the ocean nymphs try out this wonder on more plants, and are delighted that the same thing happens at its touch, and repeat it by scattering the seeds from the plants through the waves.
Even now corals have the same nature, hardening at a touch of air, and what was alive, under the water, above water is turned to stone.”
Ovid, ‘Metamorphoses’, book IV, 740-752
Coral has exercised its own fascination over peoples throughout history. The first examples of gathering coral intended as decorative jewellery or ornaments goes back to prehistoric times. The ancient Egyptians worked it, and the Phoenicians managed to turn
it into a source of wealth in their trading activities. The Romans esteemed it as an ornament with healing and apotropaic properties, particularly in regard to protecting children. In the middle-ages, it entered the religious sphere, too: coral is linked to the sense of the Cross, and becomes a talisman against the Evil One. During the renaissance, it continues to be used as a protective talisman against demonic powers and is crafted for the production of sacred objects. In the baroque period, its use in manierist artwork develops, attaining examples of exceptional quality in Southern Italy, where it is used in the refined craftsmanship of devotional and mythologically inspired objects.
One of the strongest, and most widespread symbolic attributes of coral over the centuries has been its apotropaic values in regard to newborn babies, to the point that in many fourteenth and fifteenth century paintings, it is seen adorning the neck of the baby Jesus. According to Christian tradition the coral symbolises Christ’s blood, shed on the cross for the salvation of all mankind, so that putting it on the neck of a new born baby is tantamount to protecting it from the perfidy of the Evil One, whilst in pagan tradition, the small sharpened fronds of coral transfixed curses cast through envy.
The whole of the Mediterranean, except for a few limited areas, is potentially coraline, and indeed, in tne past supremacy in the gathering and working of coral moved from one city to another.
The only species of coral living in the Mediterranean is red coral, Corallium rubrum, which requires many specific conditions in order to grow: constant salinity in the water, low wave movement, and limited exposure to light.
Coral is a colony of minuscule white tentacular octopods, which with their secretions of calcium carbonate form a solid structure in which the colonies live and reproduce. The red colour derives essentially from the presence of manganese salts. This coloration can, in fact, have different hues (from very dark, blackish red to the extremely rare white). The Corallium rubrum lives in the Mediterranean sea in a depth range of twenty to two hundred metres. Its growth is very slow – it takes almost ten years to grow just three or four centimetres.
Coral keeps within itself the features of three of nature’s kingdoms, manifesting itself as a linking element, and an image of universal balance. Its branches lend it an affinity to the vegetable world and in particular to the symbolism of the tree, seen as an axis of the world and symbol of continuous regeneration; its marine nature recalls the significance of water, as the fountain of life and origin of the world; finally its hardness and brightness connect it to the mineral world and its colouration, red, recalls the crystalisation of blood, vehicle of life and regeneration.