SPARKS OF GE­NIUS Bul­gari’s cre­ative di­rec­tor turns her pas­sion for gem­stones into ex­quis­ite jewellery. By Ly­dia Slater.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - The Jewels -

At first glance, Lu­cia Sil­vestri’s of­fice re­minds me of an old-fash­ioned con­fec­tioner’s. Gob­stop­per­size amethysts, mouth-wa­ter­ing South Sea pearls, grass-green emer­alds, man­darin gar­nets, and heaps of smooth, pink cabo­chon sap­phires like boiled sweets are laid out on the white ta­ble. Bul­gari’s cre­ative di­rec­tor has been in­dulging in her favourite ac­tiv­ity: play­ing with gems. She loves the feel of them and their in­ter­nal en­ergy. “When I’m feel­ing ner­vous, I just do this,” she says, clasp­ing the huge amethyst that dan­gles from her neck­lace. “It makes me strong.”

Pe­tite, blonde, and el­e­gant in the in­tensely fem­i­nine way of Ital­ian women, Sil­vestri has draped her­self with costly, brightly coloured jewellery. In one ear­lobe gleams a di­a­mond stud, in the other an emer­ald. The same max­i­mal­ist yet in­sou­ciant ap­proach is to be seen in her de­signs, in which she jux­ta­poses pre­cious and semi­precious stones for the great­est chro­matic ex­u­ber­ance, and even the costli­est and most im­por­tant pieces breathe a sense of play­ful­ness amid the ex­quis­ite crafts­man­ship. “For me, a Bul­gari piece has to be con­tem­po­rary, cre­ative, and fem­i­nine,” she says. “And a plea­sure to wear, like sec­ond skin.” She flicks through her phone to show me a pho­to­graph of a young client, who is wear­ing a miniskirt, a cropped jumper that ex­poses her stom­ach, and a mag­nif­i­cent high jewellery di­a­mond neck­lace from the Giar­dini Italiani col­lec­tion. “I love this way to wear Bul­gari – very rock!” Sil­vestri says ap­prov­ingly.

Rome has been fun­da­men­tal to the cre­ative DNA of the brand, ever since it was founded in 1884 by Sotirio Bul­gari, an itin­er­ant Greek sil­ver­smith. And this month, Bul­gari’s dis­tinc­tively Ro­man aes­thetic has come to Lon­don, with the re­design by the ar­chi­tect Peter Marino of Bul­gari’s New Bond Street store. Step inside, and you could be in the Via Con­dotti flag­ship: here are the mar­ble col­umns, the bronze lat­tice­work screen in­spired by the Pan­theon, and the Bul­gari eight-pointed star mo­tif, sig­ni­fy­ing “Roma Ca­put Mundi”. It is an ap­pro­pri­ate motto for Sil­vestri her­self, who al­ways de­signs her high and fine jewellery col­lec­tions in Bul­gari’s of­fices over­look­ing the Tiber. The gingko mo­tif of the Diva col­lec­tion was taken from the shape of the mo­saics in the Baths of Cara­calla, while the now-iconic B.zero1 col­lec­tion was orig­i­nally con­ceived by the Bul­gari brothers to echo the struc­ture of the Colos­seum.

The lat­est reimag­in­ing of the B.zero1 is ac­tu­ally one of the ear­li­est pro­to­types, orig­i­nally re­jected for be­ing made from three kinds of gold in­stead of two. “We went back and re­alised now is the time to bring out this mis­take, be­cause it’s beau­ti­ful,” says Sil­vestri.

It was 35 years ago that Sil­vestri’s pas­sion for gems brought her to the at­ten­tion of the Bul­gari brothers, the grand­sons of the founder. At the time, she was work­ing as a tem­po­rary sec­re­tary, but found her­self ir­re­sistibly drawn to the raw ma­te­ri­als of­fice. “I im­me­di­ately started to touch the gems, to play with com­bi­na­tions of colours.” Sens­ing the po­ten­tial be­hind her pas­sion, the Bul­gari brothers trained her up as a jewel buyer. Since then, Sil­vestri has trav­elled the globe in search of the finest stones, de­scend­ing into sap­phire mines and, on one mem­o­rable oc­ca­sion, driv­ing for five hours into the Sri Lankan jun­gle to meet a dealer pro­tected by an army of gun-tot­ing body­guards and a house leop­ard. She still turned down his ru­bies, for her in­stinct is un­com­pro­mis­ing.

On her wall, she has a pic­ture of her­self hold­ing a fist-size rough sap­phire. It took seven years be­fore the owner could bring him­self to cut such a stone. When he did, Sil­vestri un­hesi­tat­ingly re­jected the re­sult. “I said, ‘It’s not right. I want to see the life, the sea, the vel­vet ... ’” Only when it had been re­duced to 125 carats and the size of a gull’s egg did she de­clare it wor­thy. Goose­bumps vis­i­bly prickle on her arms as she re­calls her first sight of “the best Sri Lankan sap­phire I ever saw in my life.”

Af­ter her decades in the busi­ness, Sil­vestri can tell a jewel’s in­trin­sic qual­ity from in­stinct alone. It must have been that same well-honed sense that led the Bul­gari brothers to snap up this rare gem when she first walked into their of­fices.

Pink, white, and yel­low gold

ring, Bul­gari

Bul­gari’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, Lu­cia Sil­vestri

A ren­der­ing of the jewellery area for

the New Bond Street bou­tique

Sil­vestri’s gemtable

Pi k

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