Barbarulo in its modern incarnation is closely associated with menswear. It is best known for cufflinks, and its Italian site is actually called Gemellidapolso.it - the Italian for cufflinks.
In that guise it has made links for many famous people, most recently Michael Caine in the film Youth, Geoffrey Rush in The Best Offer and to accompany the Attolini tailoring in The Great Beauty.
But historically, Barbarulo men have taken the company in different directions:
- It was founded by Raffaele Barbarulo in 1894, who was a goldsmith and sold his own work
- His son, Amedeo, was a trader in precious stones
- His son, another Raffaele, moved the shop to Capri and sold vintage jewellery
- And the current owner, Cristiano (pictured top), moved back to Naples in 2012 to concentrate on manufacturing again.
In recent years, Cristiano has also been trying to move production back into the shop itself, which was what got us interested in the first place.
Today about half of the production is done in Caserta, outside Naples, in a lab owned by Barbarulo and and half is done in the shop.
In the shop the precious metals are cut down, polished, and have the stones inlaid. Enamel work and stone cutting are done outside.
Interestingly, very few men wear cufflinks in Naples. More do in the north of Italy, although even then it’s fewer than England.
But cufflinks are considered a very particular gift – something precious that it’s possible to give a man, and probably only rarely worn.
Cristiano would like to encourage people to wear them every day, and it is this reason he gives for having designs or stones on only one side of the cuff – as they are easier to put on that way.
I would always prefer something on both sides, and as with the simple links I designed, they can still be easy to take on and off. But it is not what most people are used to.
I rather liked the lapel chains that Cristiano started offering last year (above) – which clients can customise, picking the lapel stone, the chain, and the pendant.
There are gold buttons, cabochon stones and silver figures; attached to gold, silver or stone-bead chains; and with sections of coral or similar decorations on the other end.
A lapel chain is not the subtlest of jewellery, and I certainly wouldn’t endorse wearing one regularly. But on a special occasion it can be nice; I have a pink-gold version from The Armoury that I occasionally wear.
Elsewhere, Cristiano has plenty of ‘fun’ cufflinks, as is always going to be popular with a certain customer. There are propellers, winches and aphorisms.
But the majority are quite simple and refined – amber or lapis lazuli, onyx or mother-of-pearl, all inlaid in silver or gold.
“The real Neapolitan style in jewellery is for small, subtle pieces,” says Cristiano. “Nothing showy, not really. This is what we have always done and what we try to produce today.”
The design Barbarulo is best known for is the coral design pictured below, mounted on gold with a single diamond.
Cristiano keeps a selection of his father’s antique pieces on display in the shop, for inspiration (example above).
There is also the certificate of marriage for his great-grandfather, the founder. And on four walls of the front room are four shots of different shops in the past – in 1920, 1940, 1950 and 1980 incarnations.
Cristiano’s personal collection includes a lot of vintage buttons (below), which he collects on trips around Italy and elsewhere, to consider turning into cufflink designs.
The Gemellidapolso.it website doesn’t sell internationally, but a new site, Barbarulo1894.com, will launch later this year and offer a small number of pieces.
There is also a selection on No Man Walks Alone.
Meanwhile, if you’re ever in Naples then the store is worth a visit – in a little sunken arcade just off Piazza Amedeo. You can see the antiques, the full range, and some work being done on location.
- Cufflinks from €120 in silver, €650 in 9k gold. With precious stone and 18k gold, around €1400 and up
- Lapel chains anywhere from €90 for silver, €140 for gold. More with coral or precious stones
Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man