Though the days of imposing karat-based jewelry are far from over – flawless diamonds remain both an investment and a pleasure – women nowadays have an increasing choice with less precious stuff, where jewelry is more about fun and comfort. Not to mention safer to wear. Semiprecious, real stones mounted in gold and silver-plated metal is the exciting business of Francesca Romana, who, distanced from synthetic, plastic and nickel, creates a quality marriage of fake and real. The inspiration comes from what we find, the raw material is the first step, said Francesca Romana, referring in an interview with Kathimerini English Edition to the multicolored gems which are the basis of her designs. The Rio de Janeiro-based designer was in town to inaugurate the stylish boutique, situated on Kolonaki’s Skoufa Street, where customers were already getting acquainted with the colorful semiprecious stones even before the store’s official opening which took place on Wednesday evening. Attracted by shapes and colors, they seemed eager to touch and try on necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings made from a rich variety of stones, ranging from the very familiar purple amethysts to less familiar ones, such as light blue or orange agate, amazonites or even coral root. Accessible, both due to design and sensible pricing, the Francesca Romana haute costume jewelry pieces are classic but at the same time contemporary; these are pieces which embrace the body, in a colorful Southern-hemispheric way. There are no angles in the Romana collections, while the pieces also stay away from terms such as ethnic. At the same time, the collections develop in other ways. A magnetic clasp, for instance, which the designer is using nowadays for necklaces, is particularly handy. I believe in a designer’s evolution, and so next collection will be renewed, while keeping the essence, because I’m always the same. I can be influenced by other things, says Romana. The opportunity Born in Naples, Romana left her native Italy and headed to Brazil in 1986. Already a designer with her own atelier in Rome, her new home provided her with all the right opportunities for her to grow; just a month after she established herself in Sao Paulo, a leading jewelry store chain placed an order for 2,000 pieces. Being 30 years old in a place like Brazil meant that you could do anything you wanted, said the designer. Yet beyond the business opportunities, Brazil became Romana’s principal source of inspiration, given the country’s vast natural resources of stones, from citrines, rhodolites, frosted or smoky quartz to fresh-water pearls, coconut discs and wood, nature provided the designer with her creative basis. Looking for gems is a constant quest and the designer travels extensively to find new materials in various other countries, such as India and China. And while new mines may offer familiar stones with new colors and shades, or even new stones such as basalt, there are, on the other hand, stones which are not always available. Blue onyx, found in Argentina, for instance, has been out of circulation for the last five years. In the company headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, Romana is the sole designer of two annual collections – where she likes to make the first piece by herself – while her husband Fabrizio Giannine, a gemologist, carries out technological research and deals with business activities. Each of the 40,000 pieces produced every year by skilled staff carry the Francesca Romana seal and are antiallergic. Forty percent of these are exported outside Brazil. Besides five stores in Brazil, there are exclusive Francesca Romana outlets in Naples, Madrid, Lisbon, Brussels, Buenos Aires and one recently opened in Bal Harbor, Florida, while in New York the collection is available at Saks Fifth Avenue. With the semiprecious jewelry market a healthy and lucrative one, these days Romana believes that its future is equally bright, as women will always like to put on something that makes them shine. This is true even during these difficult times for international markets, especially in the area of luxury items. On September 11, our New York representative was on the fourth floor of the Twin Towers, said Romana. She escaped. Five days later she called to place an order. I couldn’t believe it! She simply explained that the American government told them to go on buying; she told me the people in New York needed something to give them a little bit of happiness; they wanted to buy something colorful. People are fundamentally distressed about what they hear in the news, but in lieu of other alternatives they don’t know where to turn and I think my film is another place where people can find a different point of view and follow their own intuition that they weren’t crazy, that things were really happening which weren’t widely reported, says Gianvito.