Outdoing itself in innovation and creativity was never the question for Bulgari, as Yanni Tan finds out during the Paris launch of the house’s new garden-themed high jewellery collection.
Late springtime in the world’s fashion capital ushered in a fresh flurry of activity not seen since Covid times. Tourists were once again flocking to Paris, boutiques and cafes were bustling, and in Place Vendôme, the global epicentre of high jewellery, Roman jeweller Bulgari is taking its rightful place among a French-born glitterati of heritage jewellery brands.
Those familiar with the City of Lights would already know that the cobble-stone square distinguished by a towering bronze column of Napoleon is where generations of royals and wealthy patrons have traversed since the late 19th century, in search of the finest gemstone creations. It can be said that another chapter of Place Vendôme’s history has begun with the opening of Bulgari’s gleaming new flagship boutique last July.
Situated at a prominent location at the northern end of Place Vendôme, this “temple” of wonders is the creative brainchild of none other than Peter Marino, who led the massive refurbishment project. Together with four artisan laboratories, he expanded the original space fronting Rue des Capucines by a good 50 per cent across two 17th century palais, redesigning and restoring it according to strict regulations by France’s historical monuments department.
Now, with an entrance facing the square’s Napoleonic column, which was styled after Trajan’s Column in Rome, Bulgari’s Roman connection with its historical twin city is complete. And it was here, at 23 Place Vendôme, where the magic for a very exclusive group of media including Prestige, began.
Imagine the sun rays from 13 windows and various skylights flooding into the boutique’s cream, walnut wood and marble interiors, casting what seems like the Eternal City’s golden glow onto the jewels within. Fortunately for us, those on display were from the latest Bulgari Eden: Garden of Wonders high jewellery collection. The sight was nothing short of magnificent.
From the Place Vendôme entrance, we passed through an arched corridor flanked by Italian marble columns, as well as glass cases and display niches lined with apricot-hued silk. A little garden oasis sprouted within a small, round domed room, lit with a 20th-century Italian chandelier, before the main salon with two-storey-high ceilings and a grand staircase appeared before us. Weaving through security personnel and editors from the world over, we feasted our eyes on not just jewellery, but veritable jewellery art.
The Bulgari Eden collection totalled over 140 pieces – not that we counted, for it was impossible to not feel overwhelmed taking in all that splendour in an awestruck silence not unlike the hushed ambience in a great Roman museum. There are three major sub-themes: nature, tribute to Paris, and the Serpenti – all of which intersect with one another in demonstration of the maison’s show of force.
Nature In Its Blood
While Bulgari has always been well-known for its colourful, voluptuous gemstones and vivacious expressions of nature inspired by Roman gardens and the Mediterranean, this new collection takes its mastery of creativity and craftsmanship to the next level.
Here, the dynamism and lushness of nature are not emulated, but interpreted with aplomb. For the first time in Bulgari’s history, more than 30 creations are dedicated to the extraordinary emerald, which is as dear to the maison as the late Cleopatra star Elizabeth Taylor (famous for her Bulgari emerald and diamond jewels) is obsessed with the brand.
The Emerald Glory necklace, which is set with 11 pear-shaped Colombian emeralds among a cascade of diamonds, drapes on skin with the softness of lace despite weighing over 220 carats in total. It took no less than 3,000 hours to make this transformable piece, which features a detachable choker and can be worn as necklace or tiara.
Also a demonstration of Bulgari’s flair for imagination and creativity is the Emerald Venus necklace, whose irregular design is inspired by the Capelvenere, a type of Mediterranean fern whose Italian name translates to Venus’ Hair. Branches and florets of emerald beads and diamonds radiate outwards from an impressive 20-carat Colombian octagonal-cut emerald.
Which Italian house could resist the allure of the country’s famous coastline? This time, a rare 107.15-carat cushion-cut Sri Lankan sapphire grabs the spotlight on the Mediterranean Reverie necklace, which according to Bulgari is one of the most precious ever made. The stone’s intense yet transparent blue immediately evokes the hues of Capri’s Blue Grotto sea cave. What looks like droplets of glistening seawater on the chain are baguette-cut sapphires and multi-cut diamonds set on platinum.
“Only Paris is worthy of Rome; only Rome is worthy of Paris” goes the motto, when the two cities were officially twinned in 1956. Therefore, it seems only right that the house’s beloved emerald is the star again for the Tribute to Paris necklace, which pays homage to the new boutique’s host city and celebrates the artistic bond between the two destinations.
The result of 2,000 hours of painstaking work, the masterpiece features a stunning 35.53-carat oval-shaped Colombian emerald surrounded by exquisite inlays of emeralds and diamonds evoking the slender silhouette of the legendary Tour Eiffel. Balancing movement and weight, Bulgari’s artisans delivered a harmonious necklace that is supple and lightweight, despite the sheer number of gems.
Metamorphosis Of The Serpent
Being a lifelong fan of the Bulgari Serpenti, it was hard to contain my excitement for the many new iterations of the maison’s icon. Time and again, the snake sheds it skin to reveal yet another surprising new silhouette, mesmerising pattern and tactile texture.
Crafted from pink gold and diamonds, the Serpenti Spinel Embrace necklace wraps its tail around a 25.70-carat drop-shaped pink spinel from Tajikistan. The reptile is striated with rows of multi-cut diamonds set on an elegantly twisted body. Incredible? You bet.
Also a first for Bulgari is the design of a pair of snakes fusing into one – on the Serpenti Ocean Treasure necklace. Twisting around each other sensuously, the platinum and diamond serpents merge into a single entity and hold an exceptional 61.30-carat drop-shaped Sri Lankan sapphire from its mouth.
Another double-snake design depicts what looks like sea kraits curled on top of one another languidly. Their rose gold beaded segments are ringed with diamonds and rubies, and accentuated with yet more round rubies. Sensational doesn’t even come close to describing the finesse with which these designs were given realism and movement by Bulgari’s master craftsmen.
From this showing alone, it appears that the maison is again making a very emphatic statement on its extensive jewellery-making vocabulary. In an interview in one of the Paris flagship’s second-floor private salons, Bulgari veteran and its jewellery business unit managing director Mauro Di Roberto says that this collection is the most important one since the pandemic struck. “The Bulgari Eden: Garden of Wonders theme is our most elaborate collection to date, and it resonates with this renewed will and mood of positivity – and the jewels show it. Green, the colour of our showcase emeralds, represents hope.”
What is truly impressive is the cross-pollination of design codes across the sub-themes and the reinvention of existing house symbols. Some more-abstract pieces look like they bear the shape of Serpenti scales, while some florets that are a mainstay in Bulgari’s iconography are rejuvenated with new gem colour and shape combinations. Adds Di Roberto, “You also realise how 3D the designs are. The combination of quality stones, design and craftsmanship gives our jewels a soul. They come alive.”
Nevertheless, every creation is resolutely Bulgari in its DNA – as every jewellery lover can tell. Di Roberto concedes that the brand is upping the ante in today’s highly competitive climate: “Pressure is a stimulus. We don’t want our capability to go unnoticed. We have an important high jewellery workshop in Rome, and this collection is a very diverse exercise in our artistry – re-cutting stones and putting them together in different ways, using more diamond baguettes, and making them works of art that can be worn ergonomically. It is extremely tedious, but we are pushing it.”
The launch in Paris also coincided with the announcement of Hollywood star Anne Hathaway joining Zendaya, Lalisa Manobal and Priyanka Chopra as one of Bulgari’s global ambassadors. Their faces, personalities and talents are as diverse as Bulgari’s loyal and new generations of patrons. “What is happening is evolution. Since the time when I lived in Singapore where I was responsible for the Southeast Asia market from 1995 to 1998, things have changed quite a bit. Today, the young Asian clientele is more sophisticated and has a greater level of appreciation of our work, compared to 20 years ago. While our high jewellery buyers are typically 30 to 45 years old, in China, the age is lower.”
If Bulgari continues on its path of showcasing its strong heritage, creativity and branding, whatever it is the Roman house launches, even if they were capsule collections for the West, will be embraced by the East – as his experience showed. Ultimately, says Di Roberto, beauty is a common language.
This point was driven home during the brand’s lavish VIP dinner gala, which we were invited to, at the Italian embassy in the 7th arrondisement of Paris. Local fans waiting to see Bulgari’s global ambassadors lined Rue de Varenne, exploding in near-hysteria when Lalisa of K-pop girl group Blackpink arrived, while international media clamoured for a slice of her.
During the pre-dinner catwalk presentation, Carla Bruni, the former First Lady of France who also happens to be a former Bulgari glamour girl, made a special appearance on the runway. Adorned with the scintillating Tribute to Paris necklace, the ageless celebrity took our breath away – just as she did gracing the Bulgari Diva high jewellery event in Paris that I’d attended nearly a decade ago. It is the perfect reminder – that while some things do change, what is truly the heart of the maison will always stay the same.
(Main and featured image: The main salon of Bulgari’s new Place Vendôme flagship store in Paris)
This story first appeared in the Aug 2022 issue of Prestige Singapore.