«In 1962, my father and my uncle founded a company that produced plastic articles and accessories for the hi-fi industry. Towards the late Eighties, the gradual decline in volumes was leading the company towards closure. At that point I decided to add a new line of business, starting from scratch. In the meantime, continuing to cultivate my passion for precious stones and minerals, I went to a jewellery school in Amsterdam, where I learned how to cut diamonds, without knowing that it would soon be useful». Alfredo Ramponi’s story touches on the many facets of a pleasantly unpredictable destiny. For the owner of Ramponi based in Carbonate (Como, Italy), in fact, a chance meeting changed the course of events.
In 1988, I had a chance meeting with Marcus Hotto Schmid, a Swiss trader in the fashion jewellery business. He asked me if I was able to produce a stone that looked like crystal, with the same precious facets, but which was more versatile and affordable. I ran with the idea and, after some months, I sent him my first samples of strass that he could use on women’s shoes. He told me that he didn’t need glass components, he already had a large supplier in Germany for those. I came back by inviting him to expose the glass to the heat of a flame: unless it was real glass, it would melt. That was how – enthusiastically – he ordered a million pieces of what would become the first synthetic crystal capable of mirroring the aesthetic qualities of glass.
Did this experience immediately launch you in the world of fashion?
Our vicinity to the district of Parabiago helped us build contacts in the footwear industry. However, at least in the early years, volumes were not big enough to support our work in this industry, so we also worked as an outsourcer. The most significant experience came from the confectionary business with Ferrero. It taught us to manage our capacity and production rhythms, but also to adjust processing methods when we received requests from a large client. Continuing to produce strass, in 2005 we came up with the first studs and, the next year, synthetic crystals with “Ramponi Cut” covered by international trademark.
What technical processes do you use to finish off the products?
We study the different forms of synthetic crystals, inspired by cutting techniques used by the gemmology industry, which require a high degree of craftsmanship and manual skill. As far as raw materials are concerned, we use polymethylmetacrylate for the stones and ABS for the studs, and we jealously guard the “recipe” for the powder we use to make significant quantities of colour. A recipe we have used to develop about 60 specific shades for our “top” clients. As far as finishing is concerned, at our laser centre for cutting leather and fabrics – the second set up in Europe – we can produce some finishes deemed unimaginable up until just a few years ago. We directly handle nickel-, UV- and antioxidant-free treatments in house, while for paints and glazes we rely on an external supplier.
Our processes do not end with the production of crystals and studs: in fact we have a laboratory where, for some major haute couture clients, we make some semi-finished articles applying four-pronged studs by hand to leather and fabric.
The range includes studs with very special finishes. Do they require specific technical processes?
Once moulded, the studs are treated with transparent finish, metallic or changing colours, depending on the client’s specifications. In the version which is currently the top of the range, studs undergo a galvanising treatment and then a part of the coating is removed selectively to create reflections, contrasts or graphic patterns.
Do you use additional technology to present new ideas to creative people in the fashion industry?
These people need more than an idea: they want to see and touch something more than a simple stone. Our product is a finish that is applied to a project that has already been developed in terms of line and colour; it is a detail that gives that touch of originality and preciousness so popular with stylists. For this reason, we invest notable resources in a catalogue that the style office puts together annually, an interpretation of fashion trends. This helps us demonstrate ideas for combining stones with fabrics, offering clients a sort of “ready dressed idea”.
Do you find that the world of fashion is more reactive to changes than other industries?
Time to market and time to sale are extremely brief in this industry. But, considering that accessories complete a cycle that originates with fabric or footwear, one of the main “enemies” we have to face is frenzy, often accompanied by the tendency among operators to underestimate the technical time it takes to develop a new product.
How do you keep up?
In winter, we already have forecasts on sales for the following summer: this helps us work a year ahead of production. The style office, for its part, works as much as two years ahead. Participation is also important, in this sense, at ten international trade fairs every year.
So, there is no incubation time for new projects?
Substantially, no: everything can change over the course of six months. One of the workshops we appointed to build a mould for Bulgari worked uninterruptedly over the Christmas break so we could deliver the order by the end of December. In addition, customers want extremely personalised products: when they understand that it is not possible to beat certain time frames, they opt for alternatives already in the catalogue.
As far as I am concerned, I have learned to meet clients’ “thirst” for novelty, always having articles to show them at the first opportunity. Moreover, our work does not stop at supplying pieces, but it translates into comprehensive assistance, aimed at supporting the client during the design stage through to, as we said, application. A nice added value, especially if we consider that all products are protected by trademark.