The BVLGARI exhibition in Madrid

One of the first things we saw after arriving in Madrid was the Bvlgari and Rome exhibition in the museum Tyssen-Bornemisca.

I have long been wondering about the name of the Bulgari Company and its origins. The short family history, offered by the exposition, only tickled my fancy and I decided to research further, when I returned home.

So, the founder of the company was Sotirios Boulgaris (pronounced Sotir Bulgari). He was born in 1857 and trained in jewellery making in his own village in Epirus, Greece. His surname indicates Bulgarian ancestry.

The dominant jewellery style in the Balkans at the time was filigree. It consists of delicately twisted gold or most likely silver threads, arranged in artistic motifs, whose general appearance reminds us of lace or tiny beads, soldered together, on a surface of the same metal. The style emerged in Mesopotamia and its’ beauty quickly conquered the world.

In search of a better life, in1877, Sotirios left the Balkans for Corfu, and then moved to Naples in Italy. In

Some of the first products, Spiros produced in Italy

Some of the first products, Sotiros produced and sold in Italy

1881, we find him in Rome. Initially, jewellery was a comparatively small part of the products for sale – Sotirios had used friends and family to send him silverware, antiques and curiosity objects from the Balkans. Those were selling well and soon he had the means to found his company and to open his first shop in 1884.

Later, he opened a second shop in Via Sistina. His abilities in marketing, his intelligence and business acumen were obvious by the fact that he called his shop “The Old Curiosity Shop” – using skilfully the title of Dickens’s novel to attract the ever-increasing number of prosperous English tourist, travelling to Rome. A photograph from 1906, shows Sotirios standing proudly in front of the Via dei Condotti shop, where the company had moved in 1905. The shop in Via dei Condotti is still their main current position in Rome.

With time, his sons Constantino and Giorgio became more prominent in the company, which gave the father – by then having italicized his Christian name to Sotirio, to concentrate on the Via dei Condotti shop and to increase their jewellery output. Initially, Giorgio was often travelling to Paris – the epicentre of exquisite new jewellery, to research the new tendencies and to bring back exciting ideas.

However, this was not deemed sufficient, and in 1925, the company appointed a highly skilled and well-respected master goldsmith – Ubaldo Creszenzi to run their production workshop. He worked for them for the next 40 years, having a major impact on the success of the company.

When in 1932 Sotirio died, the company was inherited by his sons. Soon, they undertook a complete refurbishment of their flag-store, cladding it in beautiful marbles and reverting to the roman spelling of the letter u. BVLGARI – the name we know the company with today, appeared in blocked capitals above the premises.

Two of the sons took roles, reflecting their different interests: Giorgio undertook the artistic and business development, while Consantino‘s artistic inclinations found a release in the company’s art and craft collection. His particular favourites were the silver ware, jade carvings, snuffboxes and other antiques. Many of those are exhibited in their stores.

After the raid of the Jewish ghetto in Rome, during the Second World War, Constantino and his wife Laura were so outraged, that they opened the door to their home and hid three Jewish women, complete strangers. For this noble deed, they were awarded with the title Righteous among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

IMG_1893The artistic development of the Bvlgari jewellery changed with time. While initially, it was fashioned in a French style, using mainly platinum and diamonds, in the 40-ies and 50-ies, they began to use yellow gold and a number of precious stones. During the 60-ies and 70-ties, we not only see a wider range of precious stones being used, but new and interesting stiles and ranges appeared. Some related to the beauty of old coins – the Monete collection, others to geometrical figures – the Parentezi collection and the Serpenti collection, as well as BVLGARI BVLGARI collections were influenced by the beautiful shapes of Rome – the eternal city. Their clientele were the rich and famous of the day and their products represented the Dolce Vita artistic style.

After the death of Giorgio in 1966, his sons Gianni, Paolo and Nicola joined the management team. After Constantino’s death in 1973, their cousins Marina and Anna joined them. Having established themselves as the best, the most imaginative and most sought after jewellers of Italy, they sought to prove their success abroad. The company now has more than 300 stores, spread amongst the most expensive shopping areas in the world. Their largest shop is the Bulgari Ginza Tower in Tokyo, covering over 940 sq. metres of shop floor space.

In the 1980-ies, the company structure took a new shape – Gianni, Anna and Marina had left the management, while Francesco Trappani, the son of Giorgio’s daughter Lia, a graduate from a business school in New York, was elected to be the new CEO at the age of 27. Francesco, with his uncles Paolo and Nicola, was the driving force in the company’s product diversification in the 1990-ies into perfume, accessories and even hotels. The luxury brand of goods they represented was now  recognised and accepted around the world.

The Bvlgari wristwatch production arm of the company is in the hands of their Swiss branch. Founded in 1980, it employs around 500 people, who produce a vast collection of watches.

Listed on the Italian stock market in 1995, proved that by 2003, the company had 150% revenue growth. On the 6 March 2011, the Bulgari family sold 50.4 % of their controlling shares to the French luxury brand  LVMH Moet Hennessey Lois Vuitton SA in exchange of 3 % of the LHMH and 4.3 billion euros.

In 2002, Bulgari Spa signed into a joint venture with the Luxury group – of Marriott International Hotels to launch a new luxury hotel brand – Bulgari Hotels & Resorts. The first one was opened in Milan, followed by one in Bali, London, and Shanghai. Many more are planned for the future.

It is probably worth noting, that from 2009 n and 2011, Bulgari donated 13 million euros to Save the Children fund. And they continue to support the charity now.


But, enough history! The exhibition was very popular. We followed the order of exhibits, starting from a window with examples of the early work of Sotirio, to the later collections. They were accompanied by large lit colour photographs, on which a white line showed the structural element, used by the designers for a particular collection.

One saw the imposing lines of the Coliseum, evoked into a number of bracelets and necklaces; the Spanish steps, which were reflected in a number of pieces, the cobbled stones of Apian Way, transformed into precious stones, the geometrical lines of Roman buildings were outlined to direct the viewer to the equivalent lines of jewellery pieces.

The white line denote the shapes, used by the Bvlgari jewellery for the shapes of their products

The white line denote the shapes, used by the Bvlgari jewellery for the shapes of their products

The associations, made by the exposition, emphasise the link between the glorious past of the city, its architectural gems and the modern jewellery design, uniting the feel of Mediterranean luxury and Baroque exuberance. Around the pieces exhibited, we saw photographs of famous actresses, models and socialites, who had worn, rented of possessed BVLGARI jewellery. One recognised familiar faces.

The jewellery excited me, as a woman, but then I was the wrong socio-economic group and would never be able to even hire, let alone possess an item of their jewellery. Also, I found most of the pieces quite heavy or complex in design, and too colourful for me, despite the fact, that my friends consider my taste quite bold. So, you will see that only a few photographs accompany this piece of writing –items, which I really liked.

However, I appreciated the intelligent design, its inexhaustible creativity, and the immaculate production. The capture of the magical, mystical, the majestic, and its conversion into elegant shapes and beautiful stones I thought was the immense artistic impact of the BVLGARI jewellery.