Bulgari also BVLGARI (Est. 1894 – ) Although formally established in the late 19th Century, the Bulgari legacy began well before that. Georgis Boulgaris (1832-1889) from the Greek village of Kallarrytes was a skilled silversmith who would travel to Albania and Epirus to sell his creations.
On one of his trips, he met and later married Eleni Strougaris with whom he opened a small shop in Paramythia. The couple had eleven children. The founder of Bulgari, Sotirio (1857 -1932) was the only one to survive and apprenticed to his father.
After a series of political upheavals and traumatic robberies in which his shop was burned down, Sotirio and his family moved, in 1877, from Paramythia to the Greek island of Corfu. There they set up a silver workshop practicing the art that had been handed down through the family since Byzantine times.
In 1878, father and son opened a small workshop on the ground floor of a house and Eleni joined them. In this period the firm produced necklaces, bracelets, buckles and belts some of which are still owned by the family.
Around 1880, Sotirio reconnected with an old friend and decided to move. He and the friend, Demetrios Kremos sailed to Brindisi, and then to Naples, Italy. They set up a shop which was subsequently broken into; an event that prompted the partners to leave Naples for Rome.
By 1881, the Boulgaris and Kremos were struggling and selling their creations from a stall without a license. Even though they were ordered to shut down, they made enough in three days to replenish their stock. A Greek sponge merchant recognized their talents and offered them space in his shop window located on the Via Sistina, the current site of the Hassler Hotel.
In 1884, Sotirio Boulgaris decided to split from his partner because of ongoing disagreements. He set up on the same street at #85, under the name, S. Bulgari, that Italianized the family name. There he sold silver objects, antiques, and archaeological-revival jewelry that was still popular in Rome at the time.
The Roman summer was a slow time for business and the restless Sotirio packed up his family and stock and moved to St. Moritz, the fashionable mountain resort. At the new home, he had a workshop where Sotirio spent many hours casting silver creations.
In 1889, the same year his father, Georgis died, Sotirio’s wife, Elena, gave birth to their first son, Costantino (1889-1973). In 1890, their second son, Giorgio (1890 – 1966), was born. The couple also had three daughters and another son was born in 1897.
Business in Rome was so good that Sotirio convinced friends and relatives to join him there to help with his workload. In 1894, the store moved to a larger location. In 1905, Bulgari moved to the Via del Condotti, a larger, more prestigious location. From then on, Bulgari increased and varied their stock attempting to attract English Aristocracy while keeping their Italian customers.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, Sotirio began to teach his sons Costantino and Giorgio the art of engraving concentrating on silver pieces and various pieces of jewelry as well as how to run the House. In 1925, Maestro Orafo (Master Goldsmith), Ubaldo Crescenzi was hired to run the Bulgari workshops. He did so until 1965 and was an enormous influence on the Bulgari firm as friend of the family, associate, and highly skilled craftsman.
In the 1920s, Bulgari introduced a new style to the art of jewelry. In place of the “French style” diamond surrounded by other precious stones, Bulgari used colored stones in a hand-crafted gold bezel, within a frame of tapered baguette diamonds.
The center was encased in a heavy gold chain in a design that resembled ancient Etruscan jewelry. The Bulgari brothers later introduced the use of antique coins and handmade gold chains into their jewelry. This emulated the workmanship of ancient Roman jewelry while reinterpreting it in new and contemporary designs.
The Bulgaris also started using colors such as violets, pinks and yellows, and color combinations of yellow gold together with white, red, or other materials likes white and burnished steel. The use of “pippoli” (small colored stones which embellished the central stone), is often seen in their creations. They also produced cameos and intaglio inspired by Renaissance jewelry, introducing a new aesthetic to the jewelry of the time. From Renaissance techniques they revived the cabochon cut for precious stones marking a reversal of the dominant tradition of the early 20th century.
In 1927, Costantino had a daughter, Anna, and in 1930, another named Marina. They were both raised in and with the family business.
After their father died, the sons took over the business and turned from engraving to the production of modern jewelry. During the 1930s, they moved the flagship store to Via Condotti where it still stands.
The Bulgari brothers complimented each other; Giorgio became the House’ creative genius because of his expert knowledge of stones and jewelry-making techniques. Costantino specialized in antique silver and art objects with collections of snuff boxes, jade, and Italian and English silver. He later published a book, Argentieri, Gemmari e Orafi in Italia that is the only existing directory of Italian silver hallmarks of all periods.
When the sons took over, they changed Bulgari’s stylistic direction. From the 1920’s until the 1960’s, they produced jewelry to accessorize current French fashions. Styles ranged from Edwardian to Deco to Retro to Modern. They also stopped producing archaeological jewelry.
Giorgio managed the business and watched over the designs. Constantino studied ancient silversmithing techniques, researching and writing about the history of silver production in Italy.
From the 1930’s through the 1960’s, the brothers created and specialized the highly distinctive “Bulgari” style inspired by Greek and Roman classicism, the Italian Renaissance, and the 19th century Roman School of Goldsmiths.
Giorgio had three sons Paolo, Gianni and Nicola who took over the management in 1927. Through their efforts, the Bulgari establishment took on an international image. As the third generation of Bulgari children entered the business (Giorgio’s sons, Paolo and Nicola, and Constantino’s daughters, Anna and Marina), the firm’s ambitions changed yet again. No longer following French styles, Bulgari instead created its own.
In 1962, Elizabeth Taylor’s famous affair with Richard Burton during the filming of ‘Cleopatra,’ (where Bulgari jewelry was prominently featured) brought a new notoriety to the brand. Richard Burton is said to have remarked, “I introduced Liz to beer, she introduced me to Bulgari” and that “the only word Elizabeth knows in Italian is Bulgari.”
Elizabeth Taylor was a loyal and regular client and Bulgari jewelry appears in many of her films. Italian actresses Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida were also steady customers. Sophia Loren was often photographed wearing a cabochon sapphire and ruby necklace designed by commission with accompanying earrings and a large cabochon sapphire ring.
Also in 1962, Bulgari launched their instantly recognizable coin collections that continue to be part of the firm’s offerings. Nicola Bulgari was a keen coin collector and wanted to give these ancient relics a second life through Bulgari.
After Giorgio died in 1966, his son Gianni led the company as co-chief executive with his cousin Marina. In 1976, when Marina left the firm, the family hired former Tiffany & Co. designer Donald Claflin to help the enterprise.
Under Claffin’s influence, volume and color were the new watchwords. The firm produced massive colored-stone parures inspired by Indian, Iranian, and Egyptian sources. These featured bubbly, large cabochon-cut gemstones that flaunted bright and adventurous color combinations. Bulgari’s modular jewels were also bold and bright.
The basic idea was to use striking, geometric shapes to form a distinct, repetitive pattern. The first in the series, Parenthesi, featured stylized parenthesis and is reputedly the most copied of Bulgari’s designs.
It was also during this era, that Bulgari coin jewelry increased in popularity. These pieces referenced the firm’s nineteenth-century beginnings and also its Italian and Greek heritage. Large, interesting, and often very old coins were set in bezels and attached to a filed, curb-link chain. Coin jewelry is now among the firm’s stylistic trademarks.
As the fourth generation of Bulgari children entered the fold, Bulgari’s has had continued success. In the early 1990’s, the firm introduced the Chandra collection to great acclaim. Chandra pieces feature molded, white porcelain beads combined with gold and precious stones. During the 1990’s, the firm also expanded to creating and selling watches.
Gianni had started the internationalization of the company by opening shops in New York, Geneva, Monte-Carlo and Paris. In the late 1970s, Gianni led a complete overhaul of the company that established the watch business. In 1985, Gianni resigned as CEO and in 1987 left the family business after selling his one-third stake in the company to his brothers Nicola and Paolo.
In 1984, Sotirio’s grandsons Paolo and Nicola Bulgari were named Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the company and nephew Francesco Trapani was named CEO. Trapani’s goal to diversify the company began in the early 1990s with the release of the Bulgari perfume line. Under Trapani’s tenure, the company has also established itself as a luxury brand recognized throughout the world.
In October 2011, the French luxury group LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA acquired Bulgari SpA in an all-share deal for €4.3 billion ($6.01 billion.) Under the deal, the Bulgari family sold their controlling interest in exchange for 3 per cent of LVMH, thereby becoming the second-biggest family shareholder in LVMH behind the Arnaults.
The takeover doubled the size of LVMH’s watch and jewelry units which at the time included Tag Heuer timepieces and De Beers diamond necklaces.
Ten years earlier, in 2001, Bulgari Spa had formed a joint venture with Luxury Group – the Luxury Division of Marriott International to launch a new luxury hotel brand, Bulgari Hotels & Resorts. Bulgari opened its first hotel in Milan in 2004, a resort in Bali in 2006, followed by a hotel in London in 2012.
The Bulgari trademark is usually written ‘BVLGARI’ in the classical Latin alphabet.
The company’s Swiss subsidiary, Bulgari Haute Horlogerie SA, is responsible for Bulgari watch production. It was founded in 1980 and is headquartered in Neuchâtel, Switzerland where it employs about 500 people. Bulgari develops its own calibers and parts, including highly complicated mechanisms and basic calibers.
The Bulgari watch collection comprises the following lines: Bulgari, Sotirio-Bulgari, Assioma, Astrale, Serpenti B.Zero1, Daniel Roth, Rettangolo, Ergon, Gérald Genta, Serpenti and Diagono and Octo.
At BaselWorld 2006, Bulgari displayed the Assioma Multi Complication watch, equipped with tourbillon, perpetual calendar and second time zone. At BaselWorld 2015, Bulgari unveiled its Diagono Magnesium Concept watch.
While this automatic timepiece uses Bulgari’s style and mechanics, it also incorporates 21st century connectivity and storage. The Diagono Magnesium is named after the material that makes up the center of the case that is both durable and light. The watch also employs PEEK (PolyEtherEtherKetone), a polymer often used in space-technology.
A bezel holds the dial-side crystal in place. They are either screwed or snapped onto the case. Some bezels rotate in order to record elapsed time.
The sanded, grainy texture of the dial is the result of Motor-Lac, a coating normally used to protect engine components in cars. Despite its slimness and sporty look, the NFC (Near Field Communication) chip that’s included is a link to a portable device that can carry the Bulgari Vault App that remembers personal information.
While still in development and priced at $4,600 (with or without chip), Bulgari has taken a step that teeters on the fine line between mechanical innovation and 21st century motion. The watch is designed through a partnership with WISeKey, a leading Swiss company that specializes in high digital security and sensitive data storage.
Also in 2015, Bulgari introduced its Italian Gardens’ Collection. The collection, which comprises 100 unique jewels inspired by the art of the garden, evokes the geometry of hedges and flowerbeds dating back to the Italian Renaissance. A selection of watches, named the “Geometry of Time” line also premiered.
During the first decades of the 21st Century, Bulgari creations have adorned film stars from Elizabeth Taylor to Catherine Zeta-Jones, Keira Knightly, Scarlett Johansson and Nicole Kidman.
One of the main characteristics of Bulgari jewelry is the influence of ancient Greek objects and models. The symmetry and proportions of Bulgari products are based more upon art and architecture than nature and are recognized as “the Bulgari style.”
Today Bulgari features jewelry as well as other products such as watches, pens, lighters, and a whole range of silverware.