HAPPY STONES

FOUNDED BY A GREEK IM­MI­GRANT, BUL­GARI IS THE MOST RO­MAN OF JEW­ELLERS, INSCRIBING THE ETER­NAL CITY INTO ITS DE­SIGNS. A LAND­MARK EX­HI­BI­TION OF ITS HER­ITAGE PIECES IS NOW ON ITS WAY TO MEL­BOURNE.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY JONATHAN LOB­BAN

With a city so an­cient and grand, Ro­mans have no need for ex­ag­ger­a­tion. So when the Rome-based Bul­gari says it is bring­ing to Mel­bourne this month “prob­a­bly what is one of our most mem­o­rable se­lec­tion of jew­els ... the very best and most im­por­tant of our col­lec­tion”, you had bet­ter be­lieve it. Five years in de­vel­op­ment, the free Bul­gari ex­hi­bi­tion Ital­ian Jew­els: Bul­gari Style, opens at the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria on Septem­ber 30. Con­tain­ing 100 high jew­ellery pieces handmade in Rome be­tween the 1950s and 1970s, it is the most sig­nif­i­cant col­lec­tion ever brought to Aus­tralia in the 132-year-old com­pany’s his­tory.

Part of the tightly edited se­lec­tion of multi-mil­lion­dol­lar jew­els are one-of-a-kind pieces formerly owned by Grace Kelly, Anita Ek­berg and El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor, in­clud­ing the op­u­lent, 37-cm long emer­ald, di­a­mond and plat­inum neck­lace given to Tay­lor by Richard Bur­ton in 1964 as a wed­ding gift. (“The only word Liz knows in Ital­ian is ‘Bul­gari’,” Bur­ton once jibed.)

It’s not just four decades of Bul­gari style and crafts­man­ship be­ing ex­hib­ited at NGV, but more than 2000 years of Ro­man his­tory, thanks to the way the jew­eller has in­fused the city’s cul­ture and land­marks into its de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing.

It’s a scorch­ing sum­mer’s day in Rome when we meet Bul­gari’s brand and her­itage cu­ra­tor, Lu­cia Boscaini, in the Do­mus, a small pri­vate gallery ded­i­cated to the com­pany’s Her­itage Col­lec­tion above the Via Con­dotti flag­ship store. She is dressed el­e­gantly in a white silk blouse and floral pants, ac­ces­sorised with Bul­gari yel­low gold rings, bracelets and a 1980s-era Bul­gari Tubo­gas choker. “I feel very com­fort­able wear­ing this to­day,” she says. “That’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween ... I don’t want to say mas­ter­piece be­cause I don’t want to over­sell any­thing, but it’s some­thing that’s re­ally beautiful.”

Boscaini has spent the morn­ing at a nearby mu­seum pe­rus­ing a rare col­lec­tion of Lom­bard jew­els dat­ing back to the 3rd cen­tury AD. “An­tique jew­ellery es­pe­cially is re­ally in­ter­est­ing to un­der­stand for its so­cial as­pect,” she says. “Of course, jew­ellery is very much about crafts­man­ship and the gem­stone. But there is also a cul­tural and so­cial as­pect that is so im­por­tant. In some coun­tries – Italy es­pe­cially – jew­ellery is linked to the per­sonal his­tory of each fam­ily and they tend to be trans­mit­ted from one gen­er­a­tion to an­other. It means that there is far more be­yond the in­ner val­ues of stones, gold and crafts­man­ship. It’s some­thing emo­tional.”

Part of Boscaini’s re­mit is to scour the world look­ing for Bul­gari pieces owned by pri­vate col­lec­tors and to pur­chase them on be­half of the com­pany to in­crease and en­rich its Her­itage Col­lec­tion. “Bul­gari doesn’t sell any of its her­itage jew­els, we only buy them,” she says. “For us it’s a strict pol­icy. We take care of them from a strate­gic point of view so we can show to the world the evo­lu­tion of the brand and how our roots are ac­tu­ally sus­tain­ing cre­ativ­ity, now and in the fu­ture.”

In De­cem­ber 2011 Boscaini was Bul­gari’s bid­der at the Christie’s auc­tion of El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor’s jew­ellery col­lec­tion, a smor­gas­bord of pre­cious stone pieces that gave cre­dence to the no­tion that, while di­a­monds are a girl’s best friend, they’re also her lover and soul­mate. Bul­gari paid 30 mil­lion for seven pieces, of which two, Bur­ton’s wed­ding neck­lace and match­ing “Trem­blant” brooch, are en route to Aus­tralia for the ex­hi­bi­tion.

Tay­lor’s love of Bul­gari jew­els is al­most as fa­mous as her af­fair with Bur­ton, dubbed Le Scan­dale. The two came to­gether like a su­pernova in Rome on the set of Cleopa­tra. Pro­duc­tion of the now no­to­ri­ous epic had been moved from Eng­land to Italy be­cause, says for­mer Fox stu­dios head, Peter Le­vathes, “we thought El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor would show up more”. The ac­tress cer­tainly showed up to Bul­gari’s Via Con­dotti store. The chaotic scenes of pa­parazzi and on­look­ers jostling to catch a glimpse of Tay­lor out­side Bul­gari are some of the more iconic images of la dolce vita. The diva’s Trem­blant Bul­gari brooch, a floral com­po­si­tion of emer­alds, di­a­monds and plat­inum, was de­signed to catch the light – pre­sum­ably from the flash of pho­tog­ra­phers – and was the gen­e­sis of Bur­ton’s neck­lace de­sign, in­tended to be paired with it. “Un­de­ni­ably, one of the big­gest ad­van­tages to work­ing on Cleopa­tra in Rome was Bul­gari’s nice lit­tle shop,” wrote Tay­lor in her mem­oirs. “I used to visit Gianni Bul­gari in the af­ter­noons and we’d sit in what he called the ‘money room’ and swap sto­ries.”

“You can’t imag­ine in terms of in­vest­ment how im­por­tant this [auc­tion] was,” Boscaini ad­mits. “It was quite a com­pli­cated sit­u­a­tion. It was very stress­ful, ac­tu­ally. I was work­ing on my PC with an Ex­cel sheet, my col­league was talk­ing with the auc­tion house, and the third [col­league] was the mo­ti­vat­ing one, say­ing ‘OK, OK ... be strong’”. Bid­ding from se­cret rooms be­hind the mir­rors at Christie’s, Boscaini re­vised on the run the bud­get and max­i­mum Bul­gari would pay for each lot. “The lot se­quence is fixed, so first you have to bid and if you miss out you say, “OK, well, it’s lost for­ever.” Bul­gari missed out on three lots to pri­vate bid­ders, some of whom re­main anony­mous. “We do try to get in con­tact with them,” Boscaini says. “Even if we

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