Big, bold bodacious color defines Bulgari jewelry, but it didn’t start out that way. In fact, the story of Bulgari begins in Greece where Sotirio Voulgaris was born in 1857. It was there that Sotirio, working alongside his father, learned the art of silversmithing. Due to political turmoil in Greece, Sotirio and his father moved to Italy. In 1884, Sotirio opened his first store in Rome, selling antiques, silver and archeological revival jewelry which was popular with tourists visiting Italy. Sotirio had earned a reputation for his superb craftsmanship and was so successful that he opened a larger store in a new location a few years later.
Voulgaris Becomes Bulgari
At the turn of the 20th century, Sotirio’s two sons, Giorgio and Constantino, joined the business. By this time Sotirio had adapted to life in Italy, which included him changing his name from the Greek Voulgaris to the more Italian Bulgari. The “V” that we always see used in the Bulgari logo comes from the traditional Italian alphabet.
Sotirio died in 1932 and left the business to his two sons. Giorgio and Constantino shifted the focus of the business to concentrate more on high jewelry styles that were contemporary and in line with French fashion – Edwardian and Art Deco styles in platinum were popular at that time and sold well in the store. It was however, a personal piece of jewelry, the Trombino ring, that became one of Bulgari’s most iconic designs. Originally designed as an engagement ring for Giorgio Bulgari’s bride-to-be in the early 1930s, it was first fabricated with all diamonds. The Trombino ring, which got its name because its shape is evocative of a small trumpet, was so admired that it was recreated with a colored gemstone in the center and continues to be a favorite today.
In the 1940s, as World War II raged through Europe, jewelry styles were forced to change due to the challenges of getting the necessary materials. Platinum was not readily available as it had been declared a strategic metal and was reserved for military use. In response Bulgari turned to yellow gold with colored gemstones, both of which were easier to access during the war years.
After the war, when the world was feeling optimistic and hopeful, a distinctive new look was becoming more pronounced at Bulgari. Color became the core of the brand, unexpected combinations of hues that were quite daring for the time were central to the firm’s look. Bulgari also began using more cabochon gems to further show off the stone’s color. They once again began creating platinum jewelry with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies — gems that were hard to acquire during the war years.
Inspired by Roman architecture, Bulgari’s big, bodacious and colorful style blossomed into the 1960s and early 1970s and became synonymous with Italy’s “La Dolce Vita” years popularized by the film of the same name that came out in 1960. It was during this time that Bulgari was on the radar of Italian nobility and celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn, which brought tremendous recognition to the firm.
A New Bulgari Generation
Girogio and Constantino’s children eventually entered the business. Girogio had three sons, Gianni, Paola and Nicola, while Constantino had two daughters, Anna and Marina. In 1967 they began to take over the firm. This third generation of the family had their own ideas on how to run the business, changing it yet again and launching the firm on the design path that we recognize today as Bulgari — impeccable production, flamboyant color and signature motifs.
During the 1980s, Bulgari changed again and began producing jewelry meant for everyday wear. In 2011, luxury purveyor LVMH purchased Bulgari for a reported $6 billion. Today, the brand continues its innovative designs that stay true to its DNA of bold, beautiful color combined with exceptional craftsmanship.
Featured image (top of page): Coral, hematite and 18-karat gold bracelet, signed Bulgari, circa 1970s.
First: Blue sapphire, tourmaline and 18-karat gold earrings, signed Bulgari, circa 1980s. Second: Unheated blue sapphire, diamond and 18-karat white gold Trombino ring, signed Bulgari, circa 1955. Third: Cabochon ruby, emerald and sapphire cocktail ring with diamond accents, in 18-karat gold, signed Bulgari, circa 1960s. Fourth: Tourmaline, peridot and 18-karat gold bangle, signed Bulgari, circa 1980s.
Authored by Amber Michelle