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A date with Bulgari

Bulgari: Three syllables that linked together conjure up a world of impossibly dazzling glamour, luxury and thrill. Bulgari: Jeweller to Hollywood stars, European aristocracy, and the international jet set.

Bulgari: Iconic emeralds, priceless diamonds, rubies and sapphires, crafted to adorn some of the most celebrated wrists and necks on the planet, like Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Grace of Monaco, Sophia Loren and Ingrid Bergman.

Model show during Bulgari’s 130th anniversary
Model show during Bulgari’s 130th anniversary

Bulgari. When it invites you to celebrate its 130-year anniversary, can anyone say no?

Doing as the Romans
I am on an Emirates flight one morning in March, winging my way to Rome for a day to celebrate Bulgari’s 130th anniversary.

Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni and Jean Christophe Babin
Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni and Jean Christophe Babin

It will be a day that will include the unveiling of the renovation of its legendary flagship store in Rome’s Via dei Condotti No. 10, once described by Andy Warhol as the world’s most important museum of contemporary art.

Jewellery Room PIC/Massimo Listri
Jewellery Room PIC/Massimo Listri

It will witness the brand’s historic adoption of the Spanish steps and its generous donation of 1.5 million Euros to renovate it to its former splendour.

And of course, given that it's one of the world’s most glamorous luxury brands, there will be much wining and dining, and partying with Hollywood stars like Adrien Brody, and supermodels and former first ladies like Carla Bruni. One day in Rome. We shall do as the Romans do.

Liz Taylor and International Glamorama
No one can quite fathom the passion with which Elizabeth Taylor bought jewellery, but when the reigning star of Hollywood appeared in public, wearing her iconic Bulgari emerald necklace with a headdress of pearls and fake flowers in Venice in 1967, it was the official launch of International Glamorama. Soon, one couldn’t keep the gals away from the jewels.

Elizabeth Taylor. Pic/Getty Images
Elizabeth Taylor. Pic/Getty Images

Sophia Loren wore her cabochon sapphires and rubies, highlighted by brilliant cut diamonds to Hollywood premiers; Princess Soraya of Iran was known for her fondness for her Bulgari pendent set of earrings, each made with 36 cushion-shaped Burmese rubies and diamonds; Claudia Cardinale posed for the cover of Vogue, wearing four Bulgari gem set bracelets, and of course, scores of stars, princesses, mistresses and divas would be photographed by the paparazzi making a beeline to the store that satiated their craving for beauty and glamour like no other. Bulgari was on their wrists and necks, but more significantly, it had seeped into their hearts and bloodlines.

History in a gemstone
With such a heady influx of glamour, legend and romance, meeting the coolly elegant, Cambridge-educated, jewellery historian Amanda Triossi is a welcome relief.

Amanda Triossi Pic/Bulgari
Amanda Triossi Pic/Bulgari

For almost two decades, Amanda has been working closely with the Bulgari family to develop and increase the Bulgari Vintage Collection – the company’s retrospective collection of jewel watches and precious objects.

With her academic approach, Amanda tells us how each piece of jewellery is a tiny but significant representation of history. “They speak of the times they were made in, the people they were bought by and the fashions and mores of their eras,” she says.

But Triossi is not immune to the beauty and romance of the material she works with. “Each piece of jewellery is not only a priceless work of sculpture, but has also been created deep in the earth’s bowels, showcasing Nature's beauty,” she says.

And of Bulgari’s romance, Triossi is well acquainted. Her eyes moisten, as she recounts how even as Bulgari adorns the necks of the rich and famous, it illuminates the lives of the unknown.

“Not so long ago, a much married man approached me to assist him in delighting his wife,” she recounts, “He would walk her in to the store, and there displayed on one of its walls would be her favourite piece of jewellery, and unobtrusively below it would be her name.”

She recalls, “Mind you, the woman was not a trophy wife, but a middle aged housewife. That made the gesture even more special!” Superstars, divas, princesses and models; add to that long adored wives and you know why the Bulgari legend endures.

Entering India
In this context, meeting Bulgari’s International VP, the attractive Sabina Belli, underscores the professionalism and scale that Bulgari now embodies. Known for her strategic thinking, Belli joined LVMH 21 years ago. “The challenge for any luxury manufacturer is how to build on the brand’s legacy even as it remains contemporary,” she told us.

Sabina Belli. Pic/Bulgari
Sabina Belli. Pic/Bulgari

Belli is an avowed fan of India, which gives Bulgari’s India plans some additional heft. In October this year, it will enter the country, promises the lady who confides that one of the most evocative phrases she has ever heard are the words ‘Mother India’. “We are coming to India,” she tells us, smiling like an excited child. “India is the land of the future”.

Growth and acquisition
In 2011, the world’s leading luxury group, LVMH announced that it was acquiring Bulgari at $6.01 billion, making it its priciest acquisition.

(From left) Jean Christophe Babin, Paolo Bulgari, Adrien Brody and Nicola Bulgari
(From left) Jean Christophe Babin, Paolo Bulgari, Adrien Brody and Nicola Bulgari

But aside from the eye-popping figures, came some very strategic opportunities for growth. After all, LVMH, under the guidance of its dynamic chairman Bernard Arnault, had changed the way the universe of luxury worked.

Now the company, founded in 1884 by Sotirios Voulgaris and nurtured so ably by his descendants, would have the support of one of the fastest growing international conglomerates to take it to even dizzier heights. Its CEO, Jean Christophe Babin, a respected leader in his field would ably ensure that.

Of course, over the years Bulgari had not rested on its jewel encrusted laurels, and had spread its allure to all corners of the world, even while discovering new ways to touch the hearts of luxury-loving women – and men! Now exquisite watches, accessories, fragrances, cosmetics and even uber luxe hotels bear the Bulgari name!

Homeward bound
So finally, our trip to Rome has come to a close. There has been a jaw-droppingly glamorous black carpet and champagne celebration at the foot of the Spanish steps, lit up like a diva, followed by a veritable Roman feast at a fairytale palazzo, where impossibly beautiful women have danced with unimaginably glamorous men, and where the jewels have vied for attention, with the endless tables piled to the ceiling with the world’s choicest foods and wines.

Serpentine necklace by Bulgari
Serpentine necklace by Bulgari

So the next day, winging our way back to Mumbai, can you blame us if our dreams are full of priceless emeralds and diamonds and that the long black carpet that we had walked on has turned into one of the brand’s enduring trademarks-a jewel encrusted golden serpent with rubies for its eyes? Such is the allure and magic of Bulgari!

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