La Dolce Vita: Bulgari’s Enduring Legacy

Born into a family of silversmiths originally hailing from the Greek village of Kallarrytes, at the age of 20 a young Sotirios Boulgaris and his silversmith father moved to Italy to escape the political insecurity and lawlessness in their homeland. Following on from a number of successful jewellery start-ups around Italy, in 1905 Sotirios Boulgaris, who had by now Italianised his name to Sotirio Bulgari, set up a silverware and fine jewellery store, S. Bulgari, in 10 b-c Via dei Condotti, Rome which continues to this day to be Bulgari’s flagship store.

Initially drawing heavily on the Parisian fashion scene for trends and design cues, Sotirio Bulgari soon reimagined the French designs to Italian tastes and aesthetics. A defining feature of the early Bulgari designs was the use of circular elements embellished with large diamonds which quickly set their jewels apart from their competitors. Their patrons soon went on to include ruling European monarchs and members of royal families, heads of state, politicians, American industrialists and celebrities from the arts and letters.

Following Sotirio’s death in 1932, under the able stewardship of his sons Constantino and Giorgio the firm rebranded as BVLGARI and consolidated their reputation for original design and exceptional craftsmanship.

Sold for $125,000

An enduring design from the 1930s is the iconic Trombino ring. Translating to “small trumpet”, one of the early models in 1932 served as Giorgio’s engagement ring. Centring a large gemstone mounted on a broad band framed by pavé-set diamonds, the shoulders are decorated with horizontal lines of graduated baguette diamonds. The Trombino ring, which represented Bulgari’s early experimentation with smooth and linear contours would go on to influence the firm’s style. Later in the ‘60s, coupled with the prolific use of bold coloured gemstones in striking colour mixes, the structured designs and more compact shapes came to define their unique aesthetic and set them apart from their US and French counterparts.

To the American stars of the silver screen such as Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, Anita Ekberg and many others filming in Rome, “Hollywood on the Tiber”, Bulgari’s colourful and symmetrical jewels in innovative designs came to be seen as capturing the spirit of La Dolce Vita — the sweet life.

Elizabeth Taylor in her autobiographical book “My Love Affair with Jewelry” recalled, “Undeniably, one of the biggest advantages to working on Cleopatra in Rome was Bulgari’s nice little shop. I used to visit Gianni Bulgari in the afternoons, and we’d sit in what he called the ‘money room’ and swap stories.” Taylor would go on build an enviable jewellery collection. Jewels representative of Bulgari’s creativity featured heavily. In December 2011, Christie’s held a sale of Taylor’s private collection which set a record then as the most valuable sale of jewellery in auction history. Amongst other lots, her Bulgari Trombino ring centring a 25ct sugar-loaf cabochon Ceylon sapphire framed by diamonds which she self-purchased in 1971 to complement a sautoir Richard Burton had given her as a birthday gift, sold for US$866,500.

Inspired by designs from the mid-century period, in 2004 Bulgari launched the Sapphire Flower Collection featuring an extraordinary selection of fancy coloured sapphires in vibrant hues including mauve, raspberry red, lime green, violet and sky blue. Representing a new direction for Bulgari, the innovative ‘high jewellery designs’ are characterised by flexible openwork delicate motifs that give the floral themed jewels a two-dimensional effect when worn on the body.

We are privileged to offer this spectacular 18ct gold Sapphire, Emerald and Diamond bracelet, a special order, from the Bulgari Sapphire Flower Collection as part of our Important Jewels auction on the 8th of December in Sydney.

HAMISH SHARMA / Head of Important Jewels

October 2020