The breadth and depth of Lucia Silvestri’s knowledge of gemstones can only be surpassed by her fierce love for them, a passion that emanates magnificently from Bulgari’s new Baroque-inspired high-jewellery collection, Barocko.
I’ll never forget my first encounter with Lucia Silvestri, the vivacious woman behind Bulgari’s jewellery collections. She walked into the room aptly accessorised, naturally – and, along with her effervescent presence she carried a pouch filled with what I would soon discover to be a heap of beautiful, coloured gemstones. She then carefully poured the precious contents onto a table, shaped them into a magnificent necklace and said: “At the very heart of Bulgari’s jewels are the stones; our jewels begin, evolve and culminate with the stones.”
Silvestri assumes two crucial roles within the Italian luxury brand. As its creative director, she oversees Bulgari’s entire sweep of jewellery collections – fine and high – and as director of gem acquisitions, she’s also responsible for ensuring that the house has the right gemstones to work with. Silvestri was just 18 when she began her career at Bulgari, working at its gemmological department where she fell madly in love with gemstones – with the colours, their multiplicity and the energy they emanate. Quickly earning the company’s trust, she very soon began travelling the world, on buying trips to Geneva, New York, Antwerp, Jaipur and Colombo, to name a few. At that time, the brand had just five shops worldwide, a far cry from the major luxury goods player Bulgari is today, with more than 300 stores spread across 18 countries.
One thing she’s learned over the decades is to select and acquire gems only if she could see the potential in them. “I acquire them only if I could see a possible use for them,” she says, “which means that in the very act of purchasing, even before the design and realisation phases, I’m already envisioning compositions of colours and forms that might suggest the pieces of jewellery they would ultimately become. Which is why I say that at Bulgari, it always will begin with the stone.
“From these stones, I come up with a creative idea, which I then present to the team. For high-jewellery collections, there’s an extra layer of care and consideration, and we start working very far in advance; we’d give two to three years to amass the gemstones we need for any given collection. We then evaluate the proposal, see to it that it’s consistent with the stylistic code and image of the brand, paying particular attention to the choice of materials used, as well as the processes and techniques involved. We then bring to the fold Bulgari’s designers and expert craftsmen to make these exceptional one-of-a-kind pieces.”
While Silvestri’s role has broadened in scope and importance over the years, her passion for gemstones – and finding them, for that matter – has never waned. “My job has evolved over the years, but gemstone acquisition will always hold a special place in my heart. Nowadays, we put a lot of attention into the search process, given that gemstones are as rare as ever and demand is higher than ever. I have a dedicated team that I work with closely on this and our searches take us all over the world.
“Each time I begin a search, I have no idea what kinds of gemstones I’ll find. I’m always discovering different ‘gifts of nature’ and each time is a unique and special surprise! One of the most unforgettable experiences I’ve had as a gem-buying director was reaching the crater of a mine in Mozambique and walking on a carpet of rubies. The soil was so rich in minerals that they surfaced, like shells on the beach. It was the ultimate ‘red carpet’.”
And with that extraordinarily powerful imagery, we arrive at the topic of Bulgari’s new high-jewellery collection, which was unveiled this month. Called Barocko, the collection is inspired by Bulgari’s home city, Rome – it’s a celebration of how the city stands as a monumental triumph of Baroque extravagance, audacity and exceptional design. And Barocko is also an embodiment of Bulgari’s reverence for colour gemstones, and the brand’s incredible pride in its roots and what it’s achieved in the last 130 years – a motivation that could hardly be more apt.
“Now, more than ever, we need to rediscover a sense of wonder in the world,” says Silvestri, “and this is the aim of the Barocko collection. We live in a time when the world desperately needs a sense of re-birth and well being. And because this collection is all about light and colour, we hope the jewels will bring optimism, energy and joy to the person wearing them. “
“I found inspiration in Rome, which has been a muse for the brand’s creations for more than a century. This collection is rooted in the marvel of the Baroque artistic movement, born in Rome in the 1600s, and draws inspiration from great artists of the time, such as Bernini, Caravaggio and Borromini. Most of the pieces are composed of gemstones of incredible colours and cuts, with balance and perfect proportions taken into consideration. The collection’s aesthetic is as much about strength as it is creativity, innovativeness as it is about timelessness.”
And, as expected, the collection is rich in coloured gemstones, including sapphires, emeralds, rubies and diamonds. Silvestri, though, is quick to add that although Bulgari acknowledges the intrinsic value of these so-called precious stones, it doesn’t classify them as such. “To us, both precious and semi-precious stones fall under a very vast category of colour gemstones, and they’re all precious,” she argues. “On the topic of intrinsic value and based on trends, the demand for spinels, rubellites and paraiba tourmalines – stones that in the past didn’t garner much fanfare – has increased and as a consequence they’ve become more difficult to come by and increased in value. But in this regard, Bulgari was always ahead of the curve, because we’ve been setting such stones in our high-jewellery way before other brands started to do so.”
While there are several impressive stones featured in this collection, certainly one of its headliners is the Green Dream necklace, which flaunts five exceptional Colombian emeralds, all vividly coloured and remarkably vibrant. “These five were selected from numerous other gemstones I searched and hunted for around the world for more than a year. Their very ‘elegant’ cut creates a stunning contrast with the delicate diamonds and emeralds that surround them – the way they capture and reflect the light is simply extraordinary,” she says.
One of Silvestri’s favourites in the Barocko collection, however, is the Lady Arabesque necklace, which she describes is “an homage to the baroque aesthetic. The necklace also shows a quintessentially Bulgari colour palette, with an unexpected combination of fancy pink and violet sapphires and paraiba tourmalines and emeralds. It’s a necklace that highlights the femininity of the wearer, and likewise exudes joyfulness and elegance.”
The bold manner with which Bulgari so consistently creates its pieces has come to characterise the brand’s inimitable aesthetic. While other jewellery maisons embrace subtlety, Bulgari exudes the more-is-more philosophy – who could forget the brand’s powerful Mai Troppo (never enough) campaign? – with unexpected colour combinations and, simply put, sensational designs.
I have to say, though, there are nuances to the Barocko collection. While it maintains Bulgari’s distinctly daring stylings, with the utter provocativeness we’ve come to love about the brand, Barocko feels more introspective and, dare I say, deeply inspired. Silvestri expresses her hope that these jewels will stir within those who would come to see and, for those lucky enough, own them, a sense of wonderment, enlightenment and verve. To that I’d say, mission accomplished.