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175 Years Consolidating a Unique Artistic Language

4 April, 2014

Bagués Masriera exhibition 175-year history

At the start of summer, Bagués Masriera will open its second store in Japan, in the city of Osaka.

Cut, mount, enamel. Cut, mount, enamel. Over and over again – generation after generation of outstanding craftspeople and artists brimming with imagination have been performing these three actions over the past 175 years, breathing life into pieces of avant-garde high-end jewellery with its own aesthetic take by cutting, mounting and enamelling.

This is an extremely simple way of explaining the complexity of the artistic know-how that the firm Bagués Masriera has accumulated after almost two centuries dedicated to constructing its own jewellery language. Over this time, its artistic work has taken in different stylistic periods, while enamel has been the idiosyncratic feature of its dialogue with jewellery and with the public

Now, to commemorate its 175-year history, the firm has distilled the best of its know-how into shaping a bracelet in the form of a snake and a collection that pays homage to Barcelona in a spherical world of colours. “The snake is in homage to all of the trades involved in creating a Bagués Masriera piece of jewellery, and the collection inspired by the city is the outcome of a challenge we set ourselves to do something that had never been done before with enamel. We have fashioned an enamel sphere which is empty inside, a hitherto un-heard of achievement. The result is that the parts of each jewellery piece let the light flow through and reflect it, as if it was a forty-five coloured rainbow,” explains Bagués Masriera CEO, Joan Oliveras.

Always looking abroad

2014 is a year that will have a special place in the narrative history of the Barcelona-based jeweller’s. As well as the anniversary and celebration of its 175 years of existence, the company will open its second establishment in Japan.

Through a local distributor, the firm opened a sales point in the high-end department store chain Takashimaya in Osaka. Bagués Masriera has been present in Japan for more than twenty years, where it also has a sales point in the capital in the same chain store. But the second opening in the country is further proof of the level of consolidation achieved by its globalisation strategy.

Bagués Masriera first ventured abroad in the 1990s, when the oldest jeweller’s in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe first decided to initiate a process of international expansion. It started off in Japan and then moved into the US, demanding markets that once again underline the artistic appeal and exclusive beauty of Bagués Masriera products.

Two decades later, in 2012, the company opened in China and Russia in a move which, as Oliveras explains in this interview with Barcelona és moda, further shows that foreign sales are an essential part of the firm. However, Bagués Masriera did not have to move abroad to makes sales outside of Spain. Between 25% and 30% of the turnover at its store in the Catalan capital’s Passeig de Gràcia comes from sales to international tourists.

A hundred years of beauty

The aesthetic appeal of Bagués Masriera pieces has been known for years. Indeed, the company received the gold medal, a unique prize, at the 1888 Universal Exhibition for the best presentation of its works, and a second prize for the pieces on display at the exhibition. The recognition back then was for Masriera jewellery, as Bagués did not fully take over the firm until 1985, the year when the two companies merged in a single project.

The first acknowledgement that Masriera work received, at the end of the 19th century, opened the way to decades of tributes and praise for a form of savoir-faire that was fairly unique and which the firm has briefly summarised in a temporary exhibition at the Passeig de Gràcia store in Barcelona, where it is showing some of the private pieces which Joan Oliveras and the former custodian of the Bagués Masriera collection, Pilar Vélez, set out to find from among the firm’s oldest customers and, in some cases, their descendents or families.

Seeing this vast range of Bagués Masriera work in a single space is a chance to witness with your own eyes the ongoing effort and perseverance of the firm’s artists in their quest for excellence.

The exhibition includes everything from jewellery understood as a vehicle of artistic expression, in the way the company’s famous former owner Lluís Masriera understood it, to the evolution of enamel work, which today boasts sophisticated and complex techniques that are the outcome of the knowledge accrued over decades.

“The exhibition not only showcases our history but also tells the history of society and jewellery. By bringing the pieces together we see how, in just half a century for example, there were three major changes in style – from the golden age of Modernisme (a cultural and artistic movement that began in the late 19th century) when we were the only company to apply this style to jewellery, Noucentisme (which covered the first years of the turn of the 20th century) and Art Deco, adapted to Lluís Masriera’s work between 1915 and 1930. We also see the constant search for styles and the reinvention of an artistic language that aimed to be in a permanent dialogue with art,” Oliveras says, standing in front of the display cabinets. “We wanted to also show how in post-war periods the artistic value took second place to pieces in which the stones and materials prevailed,” he adds. As a witness to and heir of his family’s work and its mastery of jewellery, he is passionate about relaying each of the steps and periods in the company’s history. When we finish, we ask what his wish for the next 175 years would be. “To continue to create beauty,” he says, firmly.

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