Game Of Stones

Fa­mous women, pre­cious gems, and the Eter Eter­nal City – the Bul­gari story is full of colour.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Contents - By Sasha Slater.

“Look out there,” says Gi­ampaolo Della Croce. “Look at the rounded bridges of the Tiber, the dome of St Peter’s. Look at all the curved cheeks of the putti in the churches. It’s sen­sual, it’s three-di­men­sional, it’s fem­i­nine.” These el­e­ments, for Bul­gari’s di­rec­tor of high jew­ellery, de­fine the uniquely Ro­man qual­ity of the brand’s colourful stones and di­a­mond ser­pent bracelets.

Della Croce (whose favourite gem is the spinel, for its warm, clear red) is un­der the spell of the jewels. “The fas­ci­na­tion for stones lies in our souls,” he says. “Who can fail to be be­guiled by the sparkle, the rar­ity, the hard­ness?” He spends his life tempt­ing pa­tri­cian Ro­mans, sheikhas be­hind high palace walls, and Sil­i­con Val­ley hot­shots with his glit­ter­ing hoards of vivid jewels.

Be­cause Bul­gari has made its mark with colour, us­ing yel­low and pink gold, rather than plat­inum, com­bin­ing the hot or­ange of a citrine and the pur­ple of an amethyst, sea-green tour­ma­lines and poppy-red gar­nets. It has cre­ated neck­laces that, in the words of Amanda Triossi, the jew­ellery his­to­rian and cu­ra­tor of the Bul­gari Her­itage Collection, are “el­e­gant and strong with a cer­tain solem­nity”. There’s a pa­pal grandeur to some pieces, and Bul­gari makes rich use of the past, copy­ing the base of an Ionic col­umn for a sil­ver clock, or set­ting an­cient coins into neck­laces. It is Della Croce’s job to scat­ter Bul­gari’s stones across the necks of the world’s most en­vied women; and it is Triossi’s to gather the collection back to­gether for the ar­chive. An­other Ro­man (she han­kers af­ter bril­liant blue ben­i­toite), she is a hunter whose ter­ri­tory is the great pri­vate jewel boxes of the world. When El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor died, Triossi bought back the emer­ald and di­a­mond neck­lace, ring, and brooch that Richard Bur­ton had given the star. These will find their way into the V&A’s ‘The Glam­our of Ital­ian Fash­ion 1945-2014’ ex­hi­bi­tion. For, as Triossi says, it was Amer­i­can film stars of the 1950s and 1960s who cre­ated Ital­ian style and al­low al­lowed Bul­gari to boom, along with Pucci, Valentino, and the Sorel Sorelle Fon­tana. Hol­ly­wood came to film at Cinecittà, and went shop shop­ping on the Span­ish Steps. “I in­tro­duced Liz to beer; she in­tro­duced in me to Bul­gari,” said Bur­ton, and I think we can all agree which was the more worth­while ac­quain­tance.

Triossi and I sit at a ta­ble scat­tered with mil­lions of pounds’ worth of sap­phire ear­rings, lapis brooches, di­a­mond watches, and sil­ver­ware dat­ing from the firm’s be­gin­nings. The change in de­sign from the for­mal­ity of the Fifties to the free­dom f of the Seven­ties is star­tling. “Fash­ion is a back­drop for jew­ellery,” jew ex­plains Triossi. “When the line of a dress changes, that dic­tates a change in jew­ellery. So in the 1970s, with a loose neck­line, neckl our neck­laces be­came long pen­dants. With the 1980s and

the power suit, the look changes and you get tight col­lars of di­a­monds and enam­els.” Stars who fa­mously wore Bul­gari jewels ranged from Sophia Loren to Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, Princess So­raya to Ni­cole Kid­man. Diana Vree­land, BAZAAR’s leg­endary fash­ion edi­tor, had an enam­elled gold ser­pent with sap­phire eyes that she wore coiled around her waist or her throat, depend­ing on her mood. “Don’t for­get the ser­pent,” she said. “The ser­pent should be on ev­ery fin­ger. We can­not see enough of them.”

Triossi may be an ex­pert on the his­tory of the firm, but Ni­cola Bul­gari, de­scen­dant of the Greek sil­ver­smith Sotirios Voul­garis who started the fam­ily busi­ness in 1884, has lived it. His fa­ther Gior­gio went to Paris in 1908 and came back with the am­bi­tion to turn the sil­ver bou­tique into a great jew­ellery house. Ni­cola, now Bul­gari’s vicechair­man, worked be­hind the shop counter in the 1960s and re­mem­bers Tay­lor’s vis­its. “She was quite a char­ac­ter. I was too

“The fas­ci­na­tion for stones lies in our souls.” – Gi­ampaolo Della Croce

young to be in­volved but I saw the ex­cite­ment. Rome was much more glam­orous then. But the world changes, and money changes, and dif­fer­ent people wear our jew­ellery in dif­fer­ent ways.”

Ni­cola was part of the rein­ven­tion of Bul­gari in the 1970s, when it started mak­ing jewels that, as he says, could be worn “ev­ery hour of the day. You could wear them with jeans. It was jew­ellery for an af­flu­ent au­di­ence, but one that wanted less for­mal­ity”. On the back of this, Bul­gari ex­panded fast; the fam­ily sold to LVMH in 2011, in a €4.3 bil­lion (RM18.8 bil­lion) deal that gives them a 3.5 per­cent stake in the con­glom­er­ate. But Ni­cola (who favours the sap­phire, for its in­fi­nite va­ri­ety of colours) and his brother Paolo still em­body the firm.

When I meet him, Ni­cola is sit­ting at a ta­ble gleam­ing with gold carafes and sil­ver trays. Like Sotirios, he is pas­sion­ate about sil­ver. It was he who had the idea of us­ing an­cient money in mod­ern jewels. We lean over the ta­ble, play­ing with his collection of coins. “Look at this one,” he cries. “It’s like a paint­ing. So beau­ti­ful!” There’s a decadrachm from Agri­gento, one of only nine in the world. An­other coin fea­tures a pouchy, de­bauched Nero: “A cor­rupt face, to say the least,” says Ni­cola, “but an in­ter­est­ing one.” His pas­sion is pal­pa­ble. While Ni­cola adores the sil­ver, Paolo, the com­pany’s chair­man, is the ex­pert on stones. In the fine-jew­ellery work­shop out­side Rome, one ar­ti­san speaks in awed tones of pre­sent­ing each heart­break­ingly beau­ti­ful piece to his boss. “He shuts his eyes,” he whis­pers. “He doesn’t look at the jewel; he feels it, he lis­tens to it. It’s years of ex­pe­ri­ence, but re­ally it’s in his DNA.” So per­fect is each piece that the un­der­side of a neck­lace is as painstak­ingly crafted as the front, and ev­ery ring is tested to make sure it won’t lad­der a ny­lon stock­ing. For, as Ni­cola says: “We sell hap­pi­ness here. This busi­ness con­nects with suc­cess and hap­pi­ness. It gives a lot of plea­sure and a lot of smiles.” ‘The Glam­our of Ital­ian Fash­ion 19452014’ is at the V&A in Lon­don un­til July 27.

Sophia Loren wear­ing Bul­gari jew­ellery

A gold and enamel ring from 1965

An emer­ald and di­a­mond neck­lace given by Richard Bur­ton as a wed­ding gift to El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor in 1964

El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor wear­ing Bul­gari jewels in 1966

The firm’s store­front on Via Condotti, Rome, in the 1920s

An emer­ald and di­a­mond brooch from 1969

Diana Vree­land wear­ing her Bul­gari Ser­penti neck­lace in 1980

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