History of a House: Bulgari
At the foot of the famed Spanish Steps in Rome, on the ancient street Via dei Condotti, rests the flagship location of the iconic maison Bulgari. Known for its bold use of colored gemstones and opulent Greek and Roman motifs, Bulgari has become a cornerstone in the luxury industry through its 130 year legacy.
An Italy-based brand with Greek roots, the first Bulgari location opened in Rome in 1884 after silversmith Sotirio Bulgari relocated from Paramythia, Greece. Sotirio’s designs married elements from Byzantine and Islamic traditions with floral and allegorical motifs. He was often inspired by his Roman surroundings and their rich history, as well as the Grecian aesthetics with which he grew up.
Phonetically pronounced BULL-gur-ee, the maison integrated the Latin “V” epigraphy as an homage to the Ancient Roman past that inspired so many of its creations. The stylized “Bvlgari” was presented above the flagship store for the first time in 1934, and is now found globally within the brand’s logo.
The maison’s rise to renown began in the 1920s when it established itself as a master of colored gemstones and breathed life into the then out-of-fashion cabochon cut, which went on to become a Bulgari trademark. Its evolved designs deviated from the traditional, diamond-based Parisian school of jewelry and by the 1950s the brand was being represented by internationally celebrated personalities like Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor.
For its 130th anniversary in 2014, Bulgari unveiled the Heritage Collection, an exhibition showcasing some of its most iconic designs. The exhibit is located within the Via dei Condotti flagship store and includes over 600 jewels, watches and accessories. Most notable perhaps is a collection of Bulgari pieces owned by the late Elizabeth Taylor; some of which the actress insisted wearing while filming box-office hits like The V.I.P.s, Boom! and Ash Wednesday.
“One of the biggest advantages of working on Cleopatra in Rome was Bulgari’s nice little shop. I used to visit Gianni Bulgari in the afternoons and we swapped stories,” Taylor once said in her novel, “My Love Affair with Jewelry.”
Recognizable Bulgari collections transcend category; from the traditional to the modern and unconventional. A testament to its ingenuity is the Serpenti collection, introduced in the 1940s. The evergreen concept is inspired after the serpent (an emblem of wisdom, rebirth and vitality), and has explored different materials and forms over time, from the realistic to geometrically abstract.
In the 1960s the maison reached to the past for more than inspiration, but material as well. Still in production, the Monete collection includes mounted antique coins surrounded by diamonds and gemstones. Each piece in the Monete collection is engraved with the type of coin, its date and the name of the emperor in power at the time.
The maison made moves into the art of horology in the 1970s when the BVLGARI BVLGARI collection was unveiled. The timepieces were inspired by Ancient Roman coins and featured an engraved bezel sporting the BVLGARI BVLGARI logo. In recent years Bulgari has stimulated the watch industry with its Octo collections—originally introduced as one of the world’s thinnest mechanical movements.
In the 1980s, the Parentesi collection was Bulgari’s answer to the workingwoman’s needs. Its bold aesthetic was suitable for everyday-wear and was able to transform into eveningwear with its interlocking modules. The concept catapulted the collection into the 2000s as one of the most extensively copied designs in modern history. The motif was inspired by the Rome’s travertine pavement with junctions linking stone blocks.
SUCCESS AT AUCTION
Bulgari jewelry and timepieces have found success in the auction market, in part due to their iconic status as well as an excellence in craftsmanship and material manipulation.
Recently, a modern interpretation of the Parentesi design found a favorable outcome at Freeman’s. The 18 karat gold and diamond ring featured an openwork design accented by geometric pave-set diamond sections and boasted an estimated 1.15 carat diamond weight. It sold for $1,875.
More traditional Bulgari pieces, like this white gold and diamond ring, have also passed through Freeman’s gates. The ring was gorged from 18 karat white gold and was set with an estimated 1.20 carats of round, brilliant-cut diamonds. It sold for $3,375.
A pair of yellow diamond and platinum earrings showcased Bulgari’s talent for coupling traditional design with unconventional gem setting at Freeman’s earlier this year. The pair featured bezel-set, marquise-cut yellow diamonds totaling 2.10 carats in an 18 karat gold and platinum mount. Calibré-cut straight baguette-cut diamonds, with an estimated 1.00 carat of remaining diamond weight, trailed from the bottom of the yellow diamonds. The pair sold for $11,875.
Of a similar aesthetic and in the same sale, was a diamond ring with a horizontally placed marquise-cut diamond. The stone weighed approximately 3.00 carats and was flanked by calibré-cut straight baguettes, within a satin-finished platinum mount. This piece sold for $8,125.
At its core, Bulgari has been powered by innovation and admiration for the past, allowing the maison to occupy a status of timelessness. From impressive pieces of haute joaillerie to traditional inter-locking designs built for the workingwoman, Bulgari has remained at the forefront of innovation in jewelry making for well over a century.
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