E A RTHLY DELIGHTS Bulgari’s new high jewellery collection takes its architectured curves from the majestic gardens of Italy. Natasha Kraal strolls through these magnificent creations of emeralds and sapphires up in the hills of Tuscany.
In the summer, Florence becomes a glorious version of itself. The eternal sunshine casts a liquid glow on the Arno river, crowned by the golden Ponte Vecchio; glistens on Brunelleschi’s terracotta-tiled dome on the Cathedral; and brings a phosphorus gleam to the ancient marble statues of Hercules, Perseus, and those Medici Lions at Loggia dei Lanzi. That golden patina imbues a blithe, lost-in-time spirit to the Renaissance city of art, history, and architecture, making every walk down a cobblestone lane a romantic stroll. “On earth there is no heaven but there are pieces of it,” said philosopher Jules Renard, where Florence in the sun is pure paradise. Lush greens turn an enchanting shade of emerald in the morning light, where the Renaissance gardens of Florence take centrestage this summer. These magnificent sanctuaries date back to the Medici family that ruled Florence in the 15th and 16th Century, who commissioned architects, painters, and sculptors to transform these gardens of palaces and villas into grand artworks of nature. Crafted with the same passion as the painted masterpieces of that time, these large-scale spaces of geometric hedgerows and flowerbeds, fountains and grottos, are grand artworks in themselves. Bulgari brings this poetic plant culture to over 100 pieces of one-of-a-kind high jewellery for its new ‘Italian Gardens’ collection.
Sitting in the opulent breakfast room of the Four Seasons Firenze, formerly the historical Palazzo della Gherardesca, overlooking the breathtaking 11-acre gardens of the resort that not only showcases remarkable trees from the Taxus Baccata, the longest living evergreen plant, to the Thuja tree of life but also contemporary art sculptures, statues, fountains, and a small Ionic temple, Jean-Christophe Babin talks about his latest métier with such literary passion. “It’s always different,” shares the CEO of the Italian luxury jeweller, ice clinking in his Perrier. “Each year, we try to bring alive new ideas in jewellery and express the Bulgari style, which means a lot of bold and colourful combinations. The excitement of the brand, the inspiration, the uniqueness is very much related to our Roman origins, and to our Italian surroundings.
“This year we started with our colourful DNA and daringness,” he continues intently. “But instead of taking inspiration from monuments or internal decorations, we’ve gone to the Rinascimento period, a time of total revolution in arts and architecture in Italy. This is probably the firstever Bulgari jewellery collection inspired by Mother Nature, reshaped and rethought by the greatest artists of the 16th century.”
This highly idiosyncratic and expressively detailed tour de force of a high jewellery collection begins, as it always does, with fantastical stones. “Jewels in the garden” as creative director Lucia Silvestri calls them. “I feel like a gardener because I search the seeds – the buying of the gems – and follow their process as they grow into incredible jewellery.”
The stones are as important as the design; crafting, of course, is the finest. Cue four fancy-cut emeralds from Zambia – 143.1 carats of intensity, cut from a 400-carat raw stone – and extraordinary sapphires ranging from a single 125.35 carat from Sri Lanka to a set of seven equal stones totaling some 190 carats, sourced the world over to make ‘Blue Iridescence’.
This sapphire-and-spinel masterpiece is Silvestri’s “happy necklace” – as she christens her favourite piece from every new collection – inspired by the festoons found in the caves of the Domus Aurea, the portico villa built by the Emperor Nero in first century ancient Rome, and restored by maestros such as Raphael in the 16th century. “This is not only a happy necklace, it’s also very precious and rare,” she says, toying with an Allegra pendant around her neck. “We started to collect the sapphires three years ago, from everywhere, and when we had seven gems, it was time to make a necklace. The first thought was to make a classical necklace in blue and white but Mr. Bulgari decided to do something crazy with pink spinels and rose gold that with blue makes it feminine, contemporary, and really in Bulgari style. It’s a magic piece.”
This natural flamboyance, fashioned for the villa lifestyle and garden balls, expands into startlingly diverse pieces of jewellery that take their lines and forms from the rigorously sculptured grounds and profusely flowering rustic settings of some of the 72 listed Grandi Giardini Italiani, including
‘ Secret Garden’ in amethyst, rubelite, citrine, and aquamarines