The 8 Most Dazzling Pieces at the Bulgari Exhibition in Rome
See diamonds worn by Ingrid Bergman and a sautoir gifted to Elizabeth Taylor by Richard Burton
Having adorned some of the brightest stars in Hollywood in its 130-year history, Italian fashion and jewelry house Bulgari is now celebrating that legacy with an exhibition, “Bulgari: The Story, the Dream,” at Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo.
The house was founded in 1884, when Greek silversmith Sotirios Voulgaris opened his first shop in Rome on Via Sistina. In 1905, he opened a shop on Via Condotti, which would become the company’s flagship. In its early years, the house became known for its silver pieces that integrated elements of Byzantine and Islamic art with floral motifs. Later transitioning to high jewelry, Bulgari evolved over time, incorporating elements of ancient Roman and Greek style as well as that of the Italian Renaissance. Paris fashion and style also influenced Sotirios’s designs such that in the 1920s, his work was influenced by Art Deco, and in the ’30s, it was characterized by geometric diamond motifs.
The exhibition is housed across two historic venues in Rome, Castel Sant’Angelo and Palazzo di Venezia. Lucia Boscaini, the Bulgari Heritage Collection curator, who organized the exhibition, has long been inspired by Italy as a cultural melting pot. Set against millennia of cultural and political history in Rome, Bulgari’s story in the city is relatively young.
This show covers the brand’s early years; the interwar period; Hollywood in Italy; the influence of Indian jewelry on the brand, high jewelry, and fashion; and the history of Made in Italy, the postwar label that connoted fine quality and authenticity as well as an internationally recognized style.
“The valuable research carried out with the technical committee and the curator, Chiara Ottaviano has enabled us to present the company’s history in a very original way,” said Boscaini in a statement, “interweaving it with topics and anecdotes that start in Rome to extend to the whole world.”
Here are the the most dazzling and fascinating pieces in the show.
1. Earrings in platinum with diamonds, 1958
These stunning earrings create the illusion of falling water with multiple diamonds suspended by diamond-set strands of platinum. It is no surprise that Ingrid Bergman chose to wear these, as well as other jewels from Bulgari, for her turn in the 1964 thriller The Visit, costarring Anthony Quinn. Following World War II, many Hollywood films were shot in Italy, as its historic cities provided ready-made sets.
2. Sautoir in platinum with sapphires and diamonds, from the collection of Elizabeth Taylor, 1969
This platinum, diamond, and sapphire sautoir was gifted to Elizabeth Taylor by Richard Burton for her 40th birthday. The octagonal pendant, set with a huge sugarloaf, cabochon, deep-blue sapphire, can be removed and worn as a brooch. The piece was purchased by Bulgari from the estate of Elizabeth Taylor for $5,906,500 in 2011, when it was sold alongside other jewels, dresses, and memorabilia at Christies New York for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. The house bought back a total of seven pieces from that sale, spending millions to return them to its impressive archive.
3. Bracelet, necklace, earrings, brooch, and ring in gold and platinum with turquoises and diamonds, 1966–72
Lent to the exhibition by a private collection, these jewels not only exude glamour and luxury but also nod to the Eastern European roots of Bulgari. Where there would have been silverwork, there is now a plethora of diamonds, heightening the turquoise stones and highlighting the intricacies of the design. These jewels are considered by Bulgari to be among its “icons,” which combine the luxury of high jewelry with wearability.
4. Sautoir with emerald, rubies, amethyst, citrines, topazes, turquoise, and diamonds, 1969
This sautoir, worn by the supermodel Verushka in Vogue in 1970, features an emerald the size of a small egg suspended on a gold chain with links embedded with an array of colored jewels. It’s not only a stunning piece, but it also has an interesting story behind it. The heritage department bought the sautoir at auction. Featured in the catalogue was a portrait of an unnamed woman wearing the jewel by the painter Ricardo Macarron. After tracking down the artist’s daughter, who in turn looked into her father’s archive, Bugalri discovered that the owner of the necklace was Patricia Bemberg. Bemberg had been given the necklace by her husband and was thrilled it had found its way home to Bulgari.
5. The Star-Spangled Banner Collection
Bulgari came to the United States in 1971, with its debut store opening in the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan. The following year, the brand introduced the Star-Spangled Banner collection in gold with coral, lapis lazuli, and diamonds with designs that improvised on the theme of the American flag. Not only did this pay homage to the U.S. flag, but it also referenced the American postwar investment in Italy from which the term “Made In Italy” was born and with it a tradition that continues to bear the same hallmark of world-class quality now as it did in the 1950s.
6. Melone bag in gold with three coins featuring Alexander III in silver (336–323) and diamonds, 1978
This gold Melone bag with a honeycomb pattern and set with coins from ancient Rome and a diamond set into the clasp is a nod to Rome as the home of Bugalri. Bulgari introduced the motif of ancient coins mounted on jewels in the mid-1960s in the Monete collection, revisiting a tradition that existed in ancient Rome. The coins are set in a way that preserves their condition, and the result, a combination of old and new styles, is timeless.
7. Necklace in gold with emeralds, amethysts, citrines, pink tourmalines, sapphires, and diamonds, 1991
The design of this necklace is inspired by one of the two venues of the exhibition, Castel Sant’Angelo. It features the cabochon-cut stones Bulgari is known for combined with calibrated stones. The light pours through it, defying perception, and the metal links are almost invisible, giving the jewel the appearance of stained glass.
8. Bib necklace in gold with multicolored sapphires and diamonds, 2005
This bib-style necklace in multicolored sapphires and diamonds simultaneously shows the contemporary design ethos of Bulgari while harking back to the brand’s original influences. It also taps into the brand’s love of colored stones and historic inspiration from the lavish and colorful style of classical Indian jewelry. Here, we see multicolored, square-cut stones set at angles to one another. A true statement piece, this necklace is a work of art.