MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

Ossola di Ossola Luigi e Aldo & c. sas

Historical Profile

Gino Ossola, from craftsman to shopkeeper

The founder of this goldsmith's and jeweller's shop was Giovanni Ossola, called Gino, born in Varese in 1891 to Luigi and Maria Minonzio.

Information about Gino's education and professional training is scarce, as are details about the start of his early business. From the testimony of his two children, the current owners of the business, one can date the start of the Ossola family entrepreneurial adventure to the years immediately following the end of World War I.

In those same years, Gino was married to Rosa Martignoni, mother of his firstborn, Franco (1921-1949).

Around 1919, Gino took over the goldsmith's business of the Santini family: the fact that for a few years the name of the previous owners remained on the business registration, "Ossola già Santini", leads one to suppose that Gino took over an already established business, with its own customer base.


In the early years, Gino alternated periods of self-employment with working with colleagues. In 1924, when he established a sole proprietor business in his own name, this was declared successive to the activity of "Faoro e Ossola"; in 1930 he closed the sole proprietor business to establish a company with a certain Giorgi under the name "Ossola e Giorgi", but two years later he opened a new business bearing only his own name. The transfer of work premises from the area of Piazza della Motta, on the periphery at the time, to the major artery of Corso Roma dates to the 1920s, perhaps coinciding with the establishment of his first sole proprietor business, and marks the passage from a purely artisan business to the retail trade. The Ossola residence was also moved, to an apartment above the shop; both were rentals. The scarce information about this period of activity does not permit much discussion, save for that which was passed down in the testimonies of his heirs.

On the basis of these testimonies, we can reconstruct how Gino, who started out professionally as an artisan goldsmith, enlarged the focus of his activity during the 1930s, extending it to the sale of optical and photographic instruments.

What emerges is the profile of a man capable of pairing his own skill as a craftsman with commercial intuition.

The happy entrepreneurial biography of the founder is however marked by personal tragedy: he became a widower in the early 1930s. Gino remarried in 1936, his second wife being Angela Civelli (1911-2010), a native of Barasso, where her parents ran a mill that still exists today. Before marrying, Angela worked as an administrative secretary in a private clinic and later supported Gino in the running of the shop.

In the years during which the Ossola family became complete with the birth of sons Luigi (1938) and Aldo (1945), Gino's oldest son, Franco, was on the brink of initiating a glorious however brief athletic career.

Franco in fact began playing football in the Varese area around the end of the 1930s and in 1939 moved to Turin, where he became one of the stalwarts of the historic claret-red team involved in the tragic Superga air disaster in May 1949.

During the years in which Franco's fame grew, his father's shop became a meeting point for the city's sports enthusiasts.

A few months before Franco's death, another tragedy struck the Ossola family: returning from Milan on the motorway, Gino and his wife were the victims of a car accident, in which he lost his life.

Angela was saved, although she remained in a coma for a few days, and then found herself facing the difficult choice of continuing the shop activity by herself, in the name of and for the younger children, who in 1949 were respectively 11 and 4 years old.

Angela Civelli Ossola: the duty of the entrepreneur

After the death of Gino and his son Franco, the two branches of the family, although they maintained solid and continuous relationships, separated their business activity. In Varese, Angela continued running the shop, where she was later joined by her children, whereas Franco's heirs (the widow Piera Bernardi and children Franchino and Daniela) set up in Turin and abandoned all interest in the jeweller's industry. The fame acquired by the shop in the early 1930s and the favourable economic situation after the war helped the widow to lift up the fortunes of the company, which grew and established itself as one of the most prominent businesses in the city.

Angela proved herself to be a woman of great resolve and excellent entrepreneurial skills, directly taking over the management of the shop. With Gino's death also came the loss of some of the technical and artisan expertise of the shop and after a few years Angela decided to end the sale of photographic equipment and start that of a few prestigious Swiss watch brands

An element of continuity with the previous management and a considerable source of support was the presence of a long-standing and affectionate employee, Emilio Bertani, who arrived in Varese every morning from the upper Valganna. Another employee, Antonietta Tosetti, was hired by Angela in the early 1950s, and quickly became a trusted partner and friend, in and outside the shop. The good progress of the business also made it possible for the widow to acquire, over the course of the 1960s, the adjacent property, where she moved both the shop and the family residence, and where the company premises still are today.

In 1959, when Luigi came of age, it was decided to transform the company from a sole proprietor business into an unregistered company, with the name "Eredi di Ossola Gino": Angela kept a minority share and her two sons entered the business. In 1966, Aldo also came of age and for him as well, his mother's tutelage ended.

Her children's help in the management of the shop, although aided by the family home and shop sharing the same location, was limited to occasional assistance, since Luigi and Aldo also pursued careers as athletes, which absorbed most of their time. Luigi, after a brief period as a basketball player, played football at a high level in the Varese area, in Rome and in Mantua, concluding his athletic career in the early 1970s.

The younger brother, Aldo, dedicated himself instead to professional basketball until 1980, becoming one of the most emblematic players of the often victorious Pallacanestro Varese.

Following the advice of their ill-fated older brother, Luigi and Aldo were pushed by their mother to complete their educations before immersing themselves in athletic careers: both earned accountancy diplomas at the historic Istituto tecnico Daverio in Varese, and later that of optics and optometry.

Their commercial and technical training made it possible for the two brothers to take over the shop with full knowledge of what this entailed.

As for the family, the 1970s saw the arrival of its third generation: from Luigi's marriage to Loredana Vojak – daughter of a famous football player of the 1930s – were born Giovanni, Francesca and Ilaria; to Aldo and Maria Bai were born Emanuele and Paola.

During the 1970s, Luigi's support meant that his mother, by then a grandmother, could plan the succession and gradually retire from activity. Moreover, thanks to the expertise acquired while studying, it became possible to give new drive to the activity of optical services and sales. In 1982, after Aldo's entry into the business, Angela's role passed from that of "active partner" to "inactive partner". The fact that her residence was above the shop until her death in 2010 meant that she remained a reassuring presence for both her children and her long-standing clientele. Meanwhile, with the city's toponymic change, in 1980 the address Corso Roma 19 became Corso Aldo Moro 19.

Brothers Luigi and Aldo Ossola, from sport to business

During the 1980s, the retail sale of jewels underwent a development that the Ossola brothers quickly took advantage of.

Demand for so-called "gold by weight" – necklaces, medals, rings stamped with serial numbers – reduced dramatically whereas the market for artisan and designer jewellery was fast becoming a market presence.

The cost of material reduced in relation to the increase in economic weight of designing and creating objects.

The Ossola brothers dedicated a corner of the shop to a display of major designer pieces (first of all the Milanese Misani), then gradually increasing the presence of these items and so their share of the company's sales.

Over the years, agreements were made with major Italian (Pasquale Bruni, Crivelli and Vhernier, all from Valenza Po), as well as foreign jewellers.

Currently, the sale of objects in stamped gold is continued only for the shops most faithful customers. The capacity to make strategic decisions about the future of the company also derives from the fact that in this phase Aldo began to attend trade fairs and exhibitions in Italy and abroad, through which he was able to keep current about tastes and trends in the industry of jewellery and luxury timepieces. The main differences in handling these two types of merchandise derives from the degree of independence the retailer has in selecting stock. Whereas for jewellery there are long-standing ties of loyalty between primarily Italian suppliers, the timepieces come for the most part from Switzerland and the manufacturers have a say in the promotion of specific collections and items.

The operational structure of the shop remained exclusively limited to the counter: besides the two brothers, the number of employees never exceeded two, and most of the after-sales work was entrusted to third parties.

In 1989, the unregistered company "Eredi di Ossola Gino" became a general partnership and the name changed to "Ossola di Ossola Luigi e Aldo". Angela Civelli passed her shares to her sons and withdrew from the company.

During the 1990s, the children of the owners entered the work world and Emanuele's interest in continuing the family business emerged right away. Aldo's oldest son, after earning his diploma in accountancy in Varese, attended the European Institute of Design in Milan, pursuing a course in jewellery design and manufacture. After working in Milan for a few designers and specialised businesses, he was hired to work in the family shop in 2000. Emanuele, true to the family DNA, played amateur basketball and for a few years father and son played together in the First Division. During his early years in the shop, Emanuele had the opportunity to get to know his grandmother Angela much better and learn from her experience.

In 2004, the general partnership became a limited partnership with the entry of Luigi and Aldo's wives, Loredana and Maria, in the business as limited partners. In recent years, the optical part of the business, which requires increasing space and technological investment, has shifted to a secondary position behind the jewellery and timepiece side of the company, where more strictly commercial factors predominate. In making this choice they have certainly also influenced the division of skills between Luigi and Aldo and the decision to focus on Emanuele's training in preparation for handing him the reins of the family business.