Wilier Triestina and the Copper Jewels
Friday, 05 August 2016

Wilier Triestina and the Copper Jewels

by Laurence Fryer Taylor
In 1906, aside the banks of the Brenta river in Bassano del Grappa, Italy, Pietro Dal Molin opened a small workshop to manufacture bicycles. He was captivated by the growth of cycling culture in the early 20th Century, where a fascination with modern technology captured the minds of young people and Italian Futurism began its ascent to popularity. Dal Molin had purchased the relatively unknown English brand Wilier, which would become the name that his artisanal bicycles would adorn. The frames were be crafted by hand and built using only the finest components; it wasn’t long before Pietro’s skill for producing exquisite bicycles made his products infinitely desirable amongst the residents of Bassano del Grappa.

An industrial factory soon followed this local success, and despite being perilously close to the military frontlines of World War One, production continued. The determination and clarity of Pietro’s vision was passed on to his son, Mario, who continued to manufacture fine bicycles as he took control and saw the company through the difficult years of World War Two. The late 1940s, however, brought great prosperity to cycling in Italy. It was by far the most common form of transport and the legendary racing duels between Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali were on the lips of Italians everywhere. Amongst this simmering atmosphere, Mario Dal Molin saw an opportunity to create legends; they would be known as Gioiello Ramata and the Bassano cycling team.

Wilier Triestina from 1977

Gioiello Ramato is the Italian for copper jewel, a phrase that was coined alongside inception of the Bassano cycling team, who would ride Dal Molin’s fleet of handcrafted, steel bicycles under the new title of Wilier-Triestina.
Each bicycle – ridden by such greats of Fiorenzo Magni, Giordano Cottur and Alfredo Martini – was handcrafted in the shadow of Monte Grappa, with 'superlight steel pipes, Campagnolo gears and a patented Wilier galvanic treatment’. Of course, the combination of Northern Italian steel and Campagnolo components is enough to garner the complete attention of any classic cycling enthusiast, but when these elements were put together with the exquisite Gioiello Ramato paintwork, the bicycles of Dal Molin and his band of artisans became a thing of legend. Dal Molin’s painting department was managed by Bruno Villari during this period, who was inspired by the message the Wilier-Triestina cycling team wanted to promote – a patriotic and proud union between Italy and Trieste (a city that existed only as a free independent state following the Second World War). Villari did not want the traditional, widely used colours of Italian frame-builders to appear on team bicycles with such an emotive purpose. Instead, he experimented with colour as if he were painting the interior of a Duomo. It became his obsession of every waking moment to create a striking finish, one that would capture the hearts and minds of those who would flock to see Magni win the Giro d’Italia in 1948. 

Wilier Triestina from 1984

The result was Cromovelato, a method of bicycle painting that Villari discovered when observing the galvanization process. He realized how Wilier-Triestina could use electrolysis to enwrap a frame in a chromed, copper finish, before coating it in a translucent layer of protective lacquer to maintain a glistening-bronze frame. The result was awe-inspiring. When Dal Molin saw the first completed article, he asked for the bicycle to be built immediately from the finest components so it could be displayed in the factory for his workforce to behold. Villari, however, like any great artist was still not satisfied. He wanted to refine this paintwork even further. He asked a skilled apprentice – Remo Sessi – to fastidiously apply a series of painted golden threads to each frame, as if he were sewing fine silk. The sensitive hand-work of Sessi on these models propelled him through the ranks of the company, and he regularly would apply his craft to only the best bicycles Wilier-Triestina produced, from luxurious town bicycles to thoroughbred racers. 

Wilier Triestina from 1987

The 1950s were a difficult period for cycling production in Italy, and saw the collapse Wilier-Triestina. With their loss, the mystique of the Gioiello Ramata was gone for two decades. The Gastaldello brothers, however, purchased the franchise in 1969 and began manufacturing bicycles with the same enthusiasm as the Dal Molin family before them. Examples such as the Wilier-Triestina Ramata of the 1970s proved that the works of Villari and Sessi were still revered by those involved, and recalled the golden era of the late 40s, where copper jewels would float up the mountains of the Dolomites and inspire generations of cyclists to come. To this day, only the finest examples of bicycle design that appear from Wilier-Triestina’s factory – such as the Superleggera Ramato – are garnished with the Cromovelato finish. Riding one of these masterpieces is an experience to cherish, and much like the work of the painter Jacopo Bassano, finding someone wishing to part with such a piece of history is a rare occurrence.

All featured bicycles have been refurbished and photographed by
Steel Vintage Bikes