Founders of Italian jewellery brand Fope on the revolutionary technologies driving the company’s philosophy

President Umberto Cazzola and his wife, CMO Marilisa, talk about transforming their family business into a global brand through innovation.

Umberto and Marilisa were in Malaysia for the first time in February for the grand opening of the new Fope store at Seibu, at The Exchange TRX (Photo: SooPhye)

Just an hour’s drive from the canals of Venice lies the historic city of Vicenza, Italy. Celebrated for its opulent 16th century Palladian architecture, this picturesque destination boasts a glittering legacy as the country’s most productive jewellery-making district, whispering tales of centuries-old craftsmanship and refined artistry.

Drawing from the city’s rich heritage and jewellery savoir-faire, Umberto Cazzola opened a goldsmith’s workshop with about 20 employees in 1929. He relied on his innovative and pioneering approach to propel his enterprise forward. “It’s a long story,” says the 77-year-old namesake of his grandfather who now manages the Fope (pronounced foh-pay) jewellery company as the third-generation successor and president. Together with his sister Ines and wife Marilisa, 75, he is responsible for transforming the company into a global brand of excellence and innovation in the field of jewellery design.

Umberto and Marilisa were in Malaysia for the first time in February, coinciding with the grand opening of the new Fope store at Seibu, at The Exchange TRX in Kuala Lumpur. This landmark event served as a significant milestone in the brand’s expansion to the Malaysian market.


Expect Italian elegance and everyday luxury at its flagship store at Seibu, The Exchange TRX (Photo: Fope)

Brand history

“Long story short, my grandfather’s company started making wristbands for watches. In 1948, my father helped him organise the first Fiera dell’Oro, or Gold Trade Fair, in Vicenza. The hero product was the extensible watch strap they had invented,” says Umberto.

Two years later, during the postwar boom years, the workshop underwent a transformation into a modern factory under the guidance of his father, Odino. He spearheaded investments in new technologies that led to revolutionary solutions. “He looked to the US market to create practical wristbands for men to wear while working. By the 1950s, the company had become the largest European producer of metal elastic wristbands,” he recounts with great pride.

In 1960, the company shifted its focus to exporting gold watch straps to leading Swiss haute horlogerie brands. This marked the beginning of its international journey as it changed its name to Fabbrica Oreficeria Preziosi per l’Esportazione or Factory Jewellery Precious Export (Fope).

“In 1970, my sister and I took over the company’s operation,” says Umberto, and that gave rise to the growth of the family business. We developed new production techniques and diversified into manufacturing watch cases, gradually phasing out wristbands for watches.”

The following decade, the product range expanded while quality standards continued to rise. During this time, a new type of gold mesh chain was invented. Behind its intricate structure lies Umberto’s technical genius, as he succeeded in creating a soft and supple necklace unlike any before. One thing is certain, innovation plays a big role in Fope’s design lexicon.


The mesh of the Flex’it design is made flexible by a patented system of tiny 18-carat gold springs (Photo: Fope)

Production line

In the Vicenza factory, where all Fope jewellery is designed and manufactured, technicians are flanked by master goldsmiths, who work with automated machinery and robotics to optimise time and resources, and to achieve the highest possible quality. “Among the most important innovations introduced by Fope is the unmistakable Novecento mesh, a soft gold weave launched in 1980, created by ingeniously crimping together intricate gold components without the need for welding. It became a solid foundation of the brand. The style has evolved, for sure, but the structure remains recognisable in all the brand’s collections — Solo, Vendôme, Prima, Panorama and Eka,” says Umberto.

Another major design milestone took place in 2007, when the Flex’it technology was invented. “Flex’it is a patented invention that revisits and updates a proprietary idea from the 1950s. It consists of a system of tiny 18-carat gold springs (about 150 to 200) that are inserted between the links of the gold weave, making the jewellery comfortable and easy to wear. This truly revolutionised the industry,” he says.

“The introduction of Novecento mesh and Flex’it upped our production philosophy and processes. This required expanding both our factory staff and space. Our R&D department, located within the factory, is a source of pride as we prioritise hiring the most skilled individuals. Another significant milestone occurred at the end of 2019, when we unveiled a new floor at our headquarters. This area now houses our marketing and sales departments, executive offices, as well as modern conference and meeting rooms to accommodate our global retailers and customers.”

Chief marketing officer (CMO) Marilisa nods in agreement and pipes in: “We have a very distinctive style that resonates globally. Renowned for its flexibility, our iconic Novecento mesh has been a big success. People love the versatility it offers. And now with our flexible necklace, we’re the only brand in the world offering this innovative style of wearing it.

“What sets us apart is our consistent design since 1985, with subtle contemporary updates. Take our D click diamond and clasp. While we’ve maintained the same mesh since its invention, last year, we innovated with a new clasp that allows for front wearing and it creates a beautiful drape around the neck. Plus, with options for different stones and the ability to add on another piece to extend its length, it’s incredibly versatile.”


Fope's latest bicolour Flex'it necklaces are secured with the groundbreaking D-Click clasp (Photo: Fope)

Global expansion

Marilisa joined the company in 1970, before she got married to Umberto. “It feels like a lifetime ago,” she laughs. “I witnessed the company’s evolution first-hand, from producing parts for esteemed brands like Longines to where we stand today. It’s been a long journey, but a rewarding one filled with challenges. Each obstacle we’ve faced has only fuelled our determination to push forward and innovate.”

In 2000, Fope underwent a remarkable expansion journey from its new headquarters in Vicenza. The company’s departure from traditional distribution methods marked a pivotal moment as it transitioned to direct business relationships with carefully selected jewellers worldwide. This strategic shift allowed the brand to extend its reach beyond Italy’s borders and tap into the global market.

In 2014, it successfully became a certified member of the Responsible Jewellery Council, affirming its commitment to ethical practices. Concurrently, the establishment of Fope Services Dmcc Dubai further solidified its presence in the Gulf countries and Southeast Asia, demonstrating its dedication to serving customers in key international markets.

The opening of Fope’s first boutique in Venice’s iconic San Marco Square a year later signalled a significant step in the brand’s expansion strategy. This move not only positioned the company in a prime tourist destination but also underscored its dedication to offering a luxurious retail experience to its clientele.

Listing on the Alternative Investment Market of the Italian Stock Exchange in 2016 marked a significant financial milestone for Fope, providing the company with increased visibility and access to capital for further growth initiatives. Subsequent years saw the establishment of subsidiary companies in strategic regions such as the US and the UK, further strengthening the group’s global presence.

In 2020, Fope expanded its Vicenza headquarters and launched a flagship store in Kuala Lumpur in collaboration with Suen Jewellers. “We have been working with our Malaysian partner Suen since 2011 and we opened our first Asian shop-in-shop in Bangsar in the thick of the pandemic. All the planning and discussions were carried out on Zoom calls. Today, we are really proud of the opening of our flagship store in Malaysia at Seibu at the wonderful The Exchange TRX. For us, it is really the place to be. Malaysians love Fope and Fope loves them too!” Marilisa gushes.


Marilisa: Today, we are really proud of the opening of our flagship store in Malaysia at Seibu at the wonderful The Exchange TRX (Photo: SooPhye)

Despite the challenges posed by the global pandemic, Fope rebounded with resilience the following year, buoyed by the successful launch of new collections, the introduction of its first men’s line and its showroom in Dubai.

“When I started with Fope, I was very young and I didn’t fully understand the power of this brand. But year by year, we’ve seen it grow and it just feels great. In the 1970s, there were only a few of us and we did everything from logistics to administration and marketing. As a CMO, I manage all things related to marketing and communications. My priority now is our e-commerce platform, to provide clients with the best customer experience,” she muses as she throws glances at her husband of 52 years.


Future outlook

The Fope team is eagerly anticipating the grand opening of its Milan store in June. Marilisa says the location is ideal for press days and events, given the city’s reputation as the epicentre of design and fashion. “It provides us with a fantastic opportunity to connect with special clients who may be travelling from Dubai or the US. Additionally, we have established beautiful shops in Venice, London and Ginza.”

Looking ahead, the Cazzolas are considering opening a new store in Dubai and are determined to expand aggressively in the US market. “Entering new markets is always challenging. Currently, we’re focusing on expanding in New Zealand and Australia, where we have a strong partnership and distributor’s network in place,” she says.

Marilisa believes in moving with the times and embracing new ways of brand building, from digital to e-commerce and accepting the “new normal” during the pandemic. “Before Covid-19 hit, we used to gather all our sales forces from around the world at Vicenza to present our new products and take orders from retailers. During the outbreak, we built a TV studio and did live presentations of our latest collections with one of our team members as model. We broadcast over 400 hours of live presentations to all our retailers worldwide.”

During the opening of the boutique at Seibu, guests were treated to Jennifer Lopez’s latest music video Can’t Get Enough featuring Latto. In it, JLo steps out onto the street and drops her coat, revealing a red bra and nude corset. The 54-year-old smoulders and sparkles in 18-carat gold and diamond jewellery worth almost RM2 million from Fope, including an Eka Mia Luce full diamond pavé necklace.


The Eka Mia Luce collection co-stars in Jennifer Lopez’s new music video 'Can’t Get Enough' (Photo: Fope)

For just one day during the boutique launch, the necklace made an appearance for all guests to ooh and ahh over. It is Marilisa’s favourite piece of Fope jewellery. “Not only that, it’s a true testament to how our brand’s innovation and creativity perfectly align with the iconic style of leading figures in entertainment and fashion.”

We also spoke to Suen Lee, founder of Suen, about Fope and she had nothing but praise for it. “Throughout my decades in this industry, I’ve yet to encounter products as groundbreaking as those crafted by Fope. Their closely guarded factory, shrouded in secrecy to outsiders, serves as a testament to their innovation as they meticulously engineer their own machinery for production.

“Each piece of Fope jewellery exudes unparalleled individuality while unmistakably bearing the brand’s signature style. Our clients have consistently shared stories of receiving compliments on their Fope pieces while travelling abroad, whether on luxury cruises or simply strolling through nearby malls.”

She recounted how a dear friend from Hong Kong, with extensive experience collaborating with Italian brands, recommended Fope as an ideal match for her clientele. Despite the initial challenges in gaining traction in Malaysia, their persistence eventually yielded success.

“I find it remarkable how each piece embodies its own unique character. The Flex’it technology bracelets, in particular, offer a seamless experience with their effortless slip-on design, eliminating concerns about catching on anything or clasps coming loose. As for the Flex’it technology necklaces, their springy nature ensures they maintain their shape and effortlessly complement any neckline they grace.”

Lee’s bond with the Cazzolas is rooted in a decade-long partnership built on mutual trust and respect even though their day-to-day interactions may not involve direct communication. “As we embark on a growth journey together with Fope, it has been most satisfying how they have embraced us as an integral part of their family. Through our exclusive representation of the brand in Malaysia, our relationship has flourished, fostering a deep understanding and appreciation for each other’s contributions to our shared success.”


This article first appeared on Apr 1, 2024 in The Edge Malaysia.

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