He may have been inspired by a picture in a museum or a book. The painting depicted a Renaissance nobleman with a proud, aristocratic bearing, a certain Ser Jacopone. The name ‘Jacopone’ was too serious, and it was better to shorten it to Jacopo – “Ser Jacopo: that’s what we’ll call our company”. This was back in 1981 or 1982 and at 38 Giancarlo Guidi was at a major turning point in his life.
Born in Pesaro (central Italy) at the end of the war, Guidi cultivated two great passions: pipes, which he had discovered at 16, and all forms of creative expression. He studied at the Ferruccio Mengaroni Art Institute, pursuing in particular training in Applied Arts, which was the pride of his city’s artistic tradition. He then acquired further skills in majolica and glazes, a centuries-old craft tradition in Pesaro. However, he soon realised that his greatest creativity lay in pipes, which he loved to smoke while relaxing.
In 1970, when he was 26, he worked for two pipe manufacturers in the Marches. One that had been founded in 1968 in Recanati by Igino Moretti arising from the ashes of a company that dated back to the 1800s; the other a company that had also been established in the 19th century in Castelfidardo, but had then transferred to Loreto after 1945, with the intriguing brand name “Non canta la raganella” (“the tree frog doesn’t sing”). He spent some further time in the north of Italy near Varese, the other important centre for pipe makers. He also set up his own workshop with a few tools and simple, second-hand equipment – band saw, disc sander, and belt sander – with which he practiced making pipes.
However, this was not a good period for pipes, as production was still based on traditional, obsolete standards and companies were wary of the innovations that arrived from Denmark. Although eager for refreshing ideas, Guidi had encountered few during his work experience. Nevertheless, he had become sufficiently proficient in the skills involved and believed that industrial manufacture of the same traditional shapes prevented any enhancement of the infinite varieties of whimsical grain patterns to be found in briar.
There were others in Pesaro who thought the same. Dissatisfied with what the market offered, and seeking innovation, several wealthy, resourceful pipe smokers began to consider a new type of quality Italian manufacture that would provide them and others with more exciting pipes. They sought a specialist, and found Giancarlo Guidi. The result of this project was the Mastro de Paja company, established in 1971.
Entering as a partner and director of production, Guidi wasted no time and in 1972 the first new pipes left the workshop. Although he was initially an almost unknown, talented but inexperienced pipe maker, in a few years he managed to become highly skilled, through trial and error, eventually becoming an internationally recognised master. This was not only thanks to his creativity and technical expertise, but also to the fact that he was brilliant at finding new, promising, talented craftsmen. The company’s quality of production was extremely high, and even inspired the “Scuola di Pesaro”, Pesaro School of pipe making. The most skilled craftsmen left to set up their own businesses, leading to more diverse products. Subsequently, after ten years the partners began to have different points of view concerning the future management of the company, and when he was 40 Guidi decided to go his own way.
In 1981 he left Mastro de Paja, and had to start anew with his few, simple tools with which he had begun his pipe making career. However, this time he was highly experienced and internationally renowned, and was also assisted in this new adventure by Bruto Sordini who had been with him since 1974. It was at that time that Guidi thought up the name Ser Jacopo, or Ser Jacopo dalla Gemma, which is the complete brand name for the company that was established in 1983. Sordini subsequently left the company in 1988 to launch his own independent brand. In this period Guidi wasted no time and soon his pipes enjoyed immense popularity. His inventions and intuitions that had been developed while at Mastro de Paja were developed and perfected, thanks to his never-ending source of creativity. He succeeded in recreating an aura of artisanal aristocracy that very few pipe makers are able to accomplish. Other expert craftsmen who spent some time with Guidi then went on to the now renowned Pesaro School. However, at a certain point Giancarlo Guidi had to stop.
When faced with certain diseases reactions can be very different. In this case Guidi threw all his remaining energy into ensuring that the future management of the company would continue smoothly after his death. Since he passed away in August 2012, Ser Jacopo dalla Gemma has continued to produce fine pipes, guided by Maurizio Fraternale, formerly supplier and then Guidi’s partner. The pipes “invented” by Giancarlo and continued by Maurizio never cease to amaze and are instantly recognisable. But what is Ser Jacopo’s secret
In order to understand Guidi’s work and legacy, his training as an artist needs to be taken into account, which means paying close attention to history, classical forms, connections between various artistic expressions that all combine to make up the features of his work. Another point is his artistic and technical mastery when working with different materials. Briar was the wood he preferred to use, insisting on the best Extra Extra quality briar plateau wood blocks, inventing exclusive treatments for curing and aging, adapting the shape to the grain and doing everything he could to highlight it in the best way possible. Then there were the gems, precious metals, horn, bone, and exotic wood used to add countless exquisite mounts, all different and perfect that provide a unique style to classical shapes, which are all, needless to say, handmade.
Any self-respecting pipe maker expresses his artistry in the creation of special series, and Ser Jacopo is no exception, offering an astonishing range of original products:
From the older series we can mention Renaissance, 1984, which was designed exclusively for the American market and is an excellent reinterpretation of ultra-classical shapes; Calabash was first produced in 1996, whose special goose neck shape meant having to use a special drill to bore a hole in the shank; La Pipaccia, 1996, which was inspired by the pipes that seamen from diverse provenances smoked in the port of Pesaro; Domina, introduced in 1996, which each year has a new, perfectly crafted shape; Compta, introduced in 1997, perfect classical models that Giancarlo Guidi said were the most difficult to produce.
Distinctive and famous, the Picta series is a collection of pipes inspired by paintings by famous artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, René Magritte, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miró. The Calumet series offers four different models in very limited numbers that recreate the shape and traditions of the Native American pipes. There are two different models in the Luciano series that interpret the Kalabash style. Millennium owes its name to the year 2000 and as its name suggests you will have to wait 1,000 years to see another masterpiece.
Iucunda has been treated with a top secret oil formula, which provides a particularly smooth, sweet smoke. Delecta, Pulchra, Flatus, Imago, Melolontha, Cymatium are all names that describe the special mounts. For example, Cymatium recalls the shape of a capital. The Leonardo da Vinci pipes provide a cool smoke, based on a pipe designed by the great artist and technician. Albus et Niger are distinctive owing to the contrast between the dark bowl and white methacrylate stem with a double sterling silver mount. The Historica series reinterprets an old design by Guidi in a modern style.
The Gem series has a limited production and is still the ultimate perfection in pipes in terms of craftsmanship and high-grade quality briar. What makes these pipes so refined is the precious gem set in the stem enclosed by an 18-karat gold band. The type of gem (emerald, garnet, sapphire, ruby and diamond, the latter the king of this series) indicates the quality grade.
Ser Jacopo pipes are generally produced in three finishes (rusticated, sandblast, smooth) and various colours. Apart from the Gem series that have date codes, the other pipe series are difficult to date. The only helpful indication is that prior to 1997 the mouthpiece featured a red coral dot, sometimes enclosed in a silver band. In more recent productions the red coral dot has been substituted by a silver letter “J”, the exception being the Gem series which is identified by a precious gem enclosed in a gold band, and the entry level La Fuma series which features a red dot, but no longer made of coral.
Ser Jacopo pipes are all inscribed with the following: Fatta a mano (Handmade) and the motto Per aspera ad astra (Success comes through hard work). The larger pipes are stamped Maxima, or even Maxima Maxima for the extremely large pipes.
Special thanks to Mr. Maurizio Fraternale for his precious contribution
Milan, October 2016