With the global workplace being increasingly dominated by Stem and finance jobs, there is much less chance for students to pursue more unusual career paths these days.
But after talking to Lapo Vettori, a third generation luthier (someone who makes or repairs string instruments) from Florence, in Italy, you wouldn’t think there was any problem pursuing an ancient craft in the modern world.
The 34-year-old was in Hong Kong to speak at the Business of Design Week held last December. Vettori was born to a family of violin makers. This environment made Vettori feel that it was only natural to become one himself.
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“For me, it was the natural path of progression; growing up in the workshop, always surrounded by musicians and craft, allowed me to appreciate the beauty and the romance of this art form.”
The Vettori family uses old wood from the 1700s to build their violins, but that’s not the only thing that’s “old” about the craft. Vettori says violin makers generally don’t pursue new things or technology.
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“I see our craft firmly bound to its traditions. The great [violin] makers from the past did not have access to technology and were still able to create beautiful instruments. In fact, in our workshop, we still use the tools that our grandfather built in the 1930s.”
The focus on tradition has its positives: Vettori notes that because the design of the violin hasn’t changed in hundreds of years, older examples of the instrument can be used for inspiration and for improvement. “It is very fascinating to think that great makers from the past were able to create such incredible instruments. We are continually learning from their work and it gives us motivation to improve and do better.”
However, the violin industry does have its downsides as well, most notably the fact that violins, if maintained well, last for many lifetimes. There isn’t a newer model, or a yearly update to the shape or function of the instrument itself, so once a client buys a violin, that’s pretty much it. Many violin-makers have found it hard to survive in this type of market.
That’s why Vettori and his family members have to travel all over the world to find new markets for their instruments. “You have to be globally connected and travel as much as you can to promote your work. Understanding different cultures and being able to form international relationships is key,” Vettori says.
He added that his sister is studying Chinese to improve their relationships with certain clients.
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He stressed that even though a client may buy a violin just once in their lifetime, the makers should provide support for the entire life of the instrument.
While making long-lasting products means makers can’t make much of a profit, creating such high-quality, sustainable instruments is something they should rightly be proud of.
“My work is very different from that of modern design. Nonetheless I would encourage aspiring designers to look back at what has been done because it’s not bad to get inspiration from the past. Designs from the past have often been done in a way to ensure longevity and functionality.”
The life of a violin maker might not be what it was in the heyday of classical music, but for those who are interested, Vettori recommends they consider apprenticeship.
“The first step would be to find a good violin-making school. The second step, the most important one, would be to find a good workshop [where you] can work as an apprentice.”
In a world full of synthetic products, it is somewhat encouraging that there is still a place for goods that are made with love and care, a welcome human touch in this era of robotic production.