The eternal allure of Bulgari
Mention Italian heritage and Bulgari, which has brought untold joys to many, is the name that comes to our luscious lips.
Who can forget the stormy and passionate love story of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor? For many around the world, a big part of the fascination revolved around the many beautiful jewels he presented in a lavish gesture of adoration to her. A quote by Richard Burton that is hard to forget was, “The only word she knows in Italian is Bulgari. I introduced Liz to beer and she introduced me to Bulgari.” They may both be gone now but their legacies live on, as does the legendary love of Elizabeth Taylor for all things Bulgari.
Southeast Asia was recently honoured to be able to host its first retrospective exhibition here which was aptly named “Eternal Jewels. A Magnificent Heritage since 1884”. The well executed exhibition showcased the evolution of Bulgari jewellery designs in almost 130 years and as one went through each priceless piece, history indeed unravelled itself through the unique pieces which mirrored the creativity of the times.
Over 60 pieces of vintage jewels in a melange of necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings and brooches were displayed at the Bulgari Takashimaya store. Just as intriguing was the arresting photo exhibition of past and present day celebrities dressed in magnificent Bulgari jewels. We were informed that the exhibition was in celebration of the glamour of Bulgari which came to the attention of the world elite during the flourishing Dolce Vita Years, the time of the sweet life of the ’50s and ’60s that featured such well-loved names such as Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn. A feat that should be applauded is the maison’s hard work in acquiring the collection of Elizabeth Taylor. The elegant and dedicated lady who played a big part in this, namely Amanda Triossi, was present during this important occasion to walk guests through the collection. Amanda Triossi is Bulgari’s Historical Archives curator who has written several books on the brand. It took her more than a decade of international search to amass the collection.
History came alive as she shared her profound knowledge on each jewellery piece and the era during which it was created. One could imagine the women who wore and coveted the breathtaking pieces and the master craftsmen who painstakingly fashioned each unique piece of jewellery. The highlight was of course the separate room in the Bulgari store dedicated to showcase Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels. The star was obviously the spectacular necklace in platinum and diamonds with 60.5 carats worth of emeralds mounted. It was the famous gift to her from Richard Burton on the occasion of their marriage in 1964. The pendant element with the step-cut Colombian emerald of 23.44 carats was actually initially created by Bulgari in 1958 as a brooch she wore on her wedding day. In 1966, Elizabeth Taylor was immortalised in the necklace when she received the Oscar as best actress.
Down History Lane
Triossi explained that from the 1910s to 1930s, platinum and diamonds were all the rage. It was in the 1940s to 1950s that yellow gold had a strong showing. Then came the colour revolution from the 1950s to 1960s and it was during this time that Bulgari started making its mark with the creation of jewellery with coloured stones. The Giardinetto brooches, popular then, were like a precious bouquet of flowers from the garden and gold and platinum were mixed with sapphires, rubies and diamonds. The 1950s to 1960s also saw the advent of High Jewellery with innovation that up until today is hard to rival. Most notable was the “Tremblant” element. A light touch or movement would cause the flowers and leaves on the brooch to “tremble” on their branches ever so elegantly and this would make the stones flash with even more fire, bedazzling the eye of the adoring beholder.
How could anyone talk about Bulgari and not think about the snake or serpent creations? The snake bracelet-watch in gold with polychrome enamel and emeralds (1967) still fascinates and there even was a snake bracelet in gold with jade included as one of the precious elements, showing the farsightedness of this jewellery house and its willingness to experiment with the different precious stones.
On display also was a “Snake” belt made famous by legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland who wore her belt as a necklace/choker making a fashion statement that is remembered up to today. The piece shown at the exhibition was however, not the original, as despite trying they couldn’t get their hands on it, but a new one similar to the original that they could still make by a stroke of luck, as Bulgari still had the mould.
Rise of the Diva
Walking through the Bulgari store, we couldn’t help but notice a few lovely and unique pieces which we had never seen before. Upon enquiry, our curiosity was sated when we were told that they were from the new collection which would be called the Diva Collection. This new Medium High collection takes its name from the movie stars who wore Bulgari jewels during the glamorous ’50s and ’60s, including Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and, of course, Italy’s most honoured actress, Sophia Loren.
Mauro Di Roberto, Bulgari worldwide managing director of the Jewellery Business Unit revealed that the face for this collection is someone considered a diva akin to the famous ones of the past, and it is none other than Carla Bruni Sarkozy. The thought behind choosing her was to get someone who could best represent a diva. He says, “She’s been a model, an artist and a first lady. Her presence is felt worldwide at the highest level and she wears jewellery extremely well.”
Some people will like her and some may not, but that’s subjective and that’s the kind of emotion a diva brings. Her similarity with Elizabeth Taylor is in the way that she carries herself... the allure and the fact that she’s a public figure and sought after.
The jewels, including rings, necklaces, bracelets and earrings in white and pink gold, are distinguished by geometric patterns and a brilliant combination of the rarest coloured gemstones – a Bulgari trademark. A fan-like motif unites the collection, transformed into the petals of a flower or hung in clusters that hint of the Orient. Arresting beads of amethyst and rubellite nestle among pink gold and pavé diamonds like ripe berries, shot through with juicy green peridots. The fluidity of the different elements is remarkable, making each piece highly unique.
A Bulgari jewel is indeed exceptionally unique and that’s why up to today the pieces of long ago never lose their allure. Who better to vouch for this than Triossi. She shares, “My main activity is to find back the pieces and the most exciting aspect is to find a jewel that I’ve seen photographs of or heard of, and it comes out. The other most exciting thing is you’re collecting pieces here and there randomly and you find you can get an organic collection. Yes, it fits!”
It’s clear Triossi always had a fascination for jewels and when asked if she had anything from Bulgari, she mentioned two of the snake pieces. Her greatest challenge in her job is being selective in trying to edit. She shares, “When it is a small collection, within the store like this one, you have to show off and illustrate the best, but it has to be the essential ones.”
Besides Elizabeth Taylor, this talented curator also tries to acquire other famous Bulgari heritage pieces. Just recently she managed to get a piece that belonged to Gina Lollobrigida. A truly dedicated jewellery aficionado, she looks at jewels from the aspect of their creativity. What appeals to her is something that makes a statement, is strong but versatile and wearable. “That’s very Bulgari,” she says.
Thanks to dedicated people like Triossi, Bulgari’s heritage will be safe and never lost. This will in turn ensure this Italian jewellery house lives in the hearts of women forever... in the past, present and future!
This article has previously appeared in the September 2013 issue of Malaysia Tatler Jewels & Time.