The story of how an 18-year-old Lucia Silvestri put her biology studies on hold for a temporary secretarial job at Bulgari and went on to become a protégé of Paulo Bulgari, accompanying him on trips to exotic parts of the world in search of flawless gemstones, is legendary in jewellery circles. Almost four decades have passed, and Lucia’s eyes continue to light up like sparkling green sapphires whenever she talks about her work – still regularly packing her bags to travel to the far corners of the globe.
“No, I have never looked back,” she admits, as her gaze wanders over a collection of sketches, jewellery pieces and magnificent gemstones placed out in new designs on the ‘gems table’ in front of her. A new shipment of stones has just arrived and Lucia is particularly excited today, already anticipating her next creation. “When I touch the stones and feel the energy emanating from them, look at their vibrant colours… I instinctively know what to do with them. The gemstones provide me with inspiration.”
Her passion for gemstones and the craft of jewellery-making is evident as she effortlessly slips on one necklace and bracelet after another while talking about the passion behind the creation of every Bulgari high jewellery piece. “Creative. Contemporary. Feminine. Timeless. Iconic.” Each word is punctuated by pointing to or looking at a different example on the table before pausing, a smile lighting up her face as she exclaims “Unmistakably Bulgari!” in conclusion.
Working closely with a team of designers who produce the sketches once the gemstones have been laid out in different designs, and then with the craftsmen at Bulgari’s high jewellery workshop on the outskirts of Rome to meticulously produce the jewellery pieces, Lucia’s private atelier is at the heart of it all. Only on very rare occasions would members of the press or clients get a glimpse of where it all starts – and today is such an occasion.
Lucia enthusiastically guides me to an adjacent room, which is currently being fitted out and where she and her gems table will be relocating to shortly. Behind her future desk a large wall is already almost entirely covered with rows upon rows of photographs chronicling her travels around the world; attending glamorous red-carpet events with a bevy of celebrities and VIPs, sources of inspiration, experiences, press clippings and other memorable moments. No doubt, she could fill a book with all these memories. “A book?” she ponders the question for a moment. “Who knows, maybe one day.”
Later in the day, on a visit to Bulgari’s Via dei Condotti 10 flagship boutique, I am led up a bronze and marble staircase to the second floor where the two-room, by-appointment-only, Domus is located. The first, with its cosy lounge atmosphere, is an exhibition gallery decorated with sumptuous cream- and salmon-coloured sofas and chairs, crystal chandeliers and display cabinets bearing exquisite jewellery creations along one side. Iconic images of famous Bulgari clients like Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Anna Magnani, Ingrid Bergman, Anita Eckberg and Gina Lollobrigida, among others, adorn the boiserie walls.
The second room, with its more dramatic hues, is a veritable treasure trove with magnificent, one-of-a-kind jewellery pieces from Bulgari’s Heritage Collection. Supported by books, sketches and other memorabilia, the two rooms of the Domus – domus is the Latin word for “home” – trace the stylistic evolution of the brand with exhibits that are regularly updated. It is a space for Bulgari aficionados to immerse themselves in 130-odd years of glamour, where the history of the brand comes to life through some of its most dazzling jewellery creations.
Renowned American architect Peter Marino was responsible for the design of the Domus and the job of reinvigorating the Via Condotti store to coincide with Bulgari’s 130th anniversary in 2014. Considered a master of luxury retail design – boasting a client list that includes the likes of Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior – Marino’s work can also be appreciated at Bulgari’s Siam Paragon boutique in Bangkok.
While the exterior of the Via dei Condotti boutique was about restoring and reinstating the existing architectural features (created in the 1930s by architect Florestano Di Fausto), the focus of refurbishing the interior was on modernising while also preserving the authentic character of the décor, such as the original parquet flooring, green African marble cornices and antique walnut display cabinets.
At the time the restoration was completed, Marino was quoted as saying, “It took all my skills to get a new concept that was as eternal as Rome, as sexy as Bulgari’s clientele. My goal was to capture the Roman-ness of the brand in a neoclassical-baroque marriage – the sun-filled yellow walls, the extraordinary mix of ancient and new.”
Drawing the eye at the end of an impressive hallway is a gilded bronze sculpture by Belgian artist Johan Creten called Les Colonnes Revolutionnaires, selected by Marino himself and a modern interpretation of Bernini’s twisted columns at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. This pièce de résistance evokes the splendour of ancient imperial Roman architecture – a fitting ode to the Eternal City that Bulgari has drawn so much inspiration from through the years.