Zani Gugelmann knows how to instill a sense of magic, wonder, and beauty into the everyday. We felt an instant repport with Zani the moment she greeted us into her enviable Tribeca loft. She had playfully veiled her trays of precious jewels and within minutes we had eyes closed, palms open as she introduced us to her collection piece by piece—challenging us to explore the functionality of each style one-by-one and the secrets they hold within.
With her Alma collection, Zani, who’s been experimenting with jewelry for years, has brought her SANTO by Zani jewelry brand back to life in soulful, heirloom-worthy pieces that possess heart and soul.
Beautifully constructed SANTO by Zani treasures are truly a blend of past, present, and future. Though inspired by the historic workmanship of Victorian orb necklaces, the delicate engineering of pivots and hinges is aided by the use of the latest techniques in 3D CAD jewelry design.
One can’t help be be in awe of Zani’s shapeshifting objects and the secrets they hold within. These are heirloom pieces for the ages. The toughest part? Selecting just one to kick off your collection!
Tell us about your life. How did you come to desire a career in jewelry?
From a young age, I found myself happiest expressing myself through art. I began experimenting with different mediums such as printmaking, figure drawing and photography. It was not until I started making jewelry that I truly found my passion. I find jewelry design to be challenging, like solving a puzzle. You have this image in your mind of the end product, but in order to get there you have to go through an intricate process of creating it.
How have the places you’ve lived impacted you? We love your global POV.
I have been more impacted by the countries I have visited versus places I have lived. Fortunately, I have been able to have see parts of the world that have greatly inspired and moved me. The Northern state of Rajasthan, India and in particular, the ornate palaces and forts there are unforgettable. The painstaking detail is beautiful and simultaneously uncanny.
I tend to gravitate towards places that have historical significance—I love architecture in particular, especially cathedrals and mosques whose designs embody elaborate beauty and ingenious ideas. The Alhambra in Granada, Spain houses my favorite brilliant colors, geometric patterns, and intricate surfaces with lavish decorations.
Why did you name the line “Santo?”
Santo translates to “Saint” in Spanish. When I think of the word saint I think of protection and good fortune. In short, I like my pieces to evoke happiness.
I was not brought up in a in a religious household, however I always found myself relying on saints for strength and direction (or sometimes when searching for a parking spot). The deep principles of saints are always inspiring: hard work, honesty, morality, quality, patience, and love.
Your line is intricate and full of heirlooms-in-the-making. How did you land on your unique designs?
I was originally inspired by masonic orbs from the Victorian Era. Each and every piece of my collection requires extreme precision, both in 3D modeling and hand crafting. Each piece is assembled with hinges, links, and clasps allowing for movement and complete transformation. The jewelry can be worn two ways—open or closed, personal or exposed to the world.
Elements of curiosity, excitement, and the notion of a child-like surprise have inspired and driven me to make this collection. These pieces can also be seen as links connecting loved ones together with personalized touches, such as hand engravings. My hope is that these pieces are passed down for generations to come, and never cease to evoke amazement.
Many designs are inspired by Victoriana. What intrigues you about the Victorian era?
I am inspired by the level of genuine creativity, inventive design, and workmanship that went into the pieces during the Victorian era. During this period, transformative jewelry and the accompanying mechanisms were developed, and are still used today…at least by me! The notion of secret messages was also very popular. For example, a poison ring that could be used to store a personal keepsake or acrostic jewelry. Double meaning and intimate sentiments are consistent themes in my creations—there is always more than what meets the eye. Each wearer has a distinctive relationship with their piece, echoing back to Victorian times.
What pieces do you never take off?
I have to admit I don’t have a favorite piece. I wear my pieces closed so it all depends on what I want to hold close to my heart, or show and expose to people. Sometime I feeling like wearing color (enamel) other times I like wearing my pieces that have personal inscriptions inside making me very sentimental.
You mention being obsessed with stones. Which are you most drawn to and why?
The beauty of the perfect white diamond. There is something about stone that moves me. Nature can create such alluring beauty.
I have always loved sapphires because for me, in this case, it’s not about the perfection of the gems, but more about all the vibrant color spectrum. Literally all the colors of the rainbow and everything in between.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
Patience. It is the most important lesson to learn in life. Whether it be creating a new piece or daily interactions in life, the art of patience will always make a difference in how one approaches challenges along the way.
Photography by Emerald Carroll for The Stone Set