Bulgari's vintage jewels display at Abu Dhabi Art offered a rare sit-down with the luxury brand's marketing director.
Jewellery designer features wearable art
Included as part of the exhibitions at the third annual Abu Dhabi Art fair at Saadiyat Island were some real jewels: 27 stunning pieces, many of them vintage, all intricate and distinctly Bulgari.
Twenty security guards were brought along to guard the collection, which provided the public with a rare glimpse into a range of pricey pieces from select decades of the Italian jeweller's 127-year history.
"As a platform for modern and contemporary art and design, Abu Dhabi Art is the perfect occasion to share the impactful creativity of our high jewellery pieces," says Nicola Bulgari, the grandson of the founder. "They have been designed and executed to convey a sense of perfect, unquestionable and timeless beauty, like a work of art."
In cases designed by the celebrated Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, the rare collection offered bracelets, chokers and minaudières (small decorative cases). Hadid drew inspiration from the craftsmanship of signature pieces by Bulgari, which was established by the Greek silversmith Sotirio Bulgari in Rome at the end of the 19th century. The select pieces are the best representation of the master jeweller's work from 1920 to the modern day, says Giampaolo Della Croce, Bulgari's high jewellery senior marketing director.
"We tried to pick the most significant jewels to share the brand's heritage," he says.
"There's a blend of colourful gems like rubies, sapphires, emeralds, amethysts and aquamarines. And of course, since they are a girl's best friend, we have jewels set with diamonds, too. We also have porcelain - a lovely bracelet part of our Chandra collection, which was crafted at the beginning of the 1990s."
From the 1920s and 1930s, Croce points to Bulgari's eastern-inspired brooches as the exhibition's standout pieces. It was also during this period that the company first became known for its use of vibrant coloured gemstones and love of imposing geometric motifs in diamonds and precious stones. Growing in equal popularity around the same time were its convertible jewels, including necklaces that could be separated into different, usable parts including clips and bracelets.
Bowing to the constraints of the Second World War, Bulgari paired down its use of precious materials such as platinum and diamonds, using gold and favouring more natural designs than previously seen.
"Then in the 1950s, we used a lot of cabochon [polished but not faceted] cut gems," says Della Croce. "Also, 'the snake' came from the second half of the 1950s. This was something that fascinated Liz Taylor, who bought a lot of Serpenti bracelets and watches."
As seen in Abu Dhabi, Bulgari fashioned the sinuous body of the serpent into many timeless creations, from rings to wraparound bracelets. It was also the first jeweller to adapt the snake into a wristwatch, which became one of its signature pieces.
"In the 1970s there was the use of coins," says Della Croce.
The tradition dates back to the late Roman era and remained in fashion until the 7th century AD, before re-emerging in the 19th century.
Pieces in the capital's exhibition from the 1980s truly represent a Bulgari style that the late pop artist Andy Warhol famously once told Nicola Bulgari everyone was "trying to copy". Precious stones are combined with ones of lesser value to form elegant, decorative, often modular pieces - a secret to their "wearability", according to the jewellery house.
In the 1990s, Bulgari's style became far less structured and gold continued to be the metal of preference.
"From then we also have beautiful rainbow-coloured tourmaline gems on a sumptuous necklace with heart-shaped gems," says Della Croce.
And bringing the story up to date is the exhibition's pièce de résistance, representing the jewellery makers' savoir faire and ease of mixing the classic with contemporary design:
"The new millennia tiara is an icon of all these important dates," says Della Croce. "The pieces are all one-of-a-kind and, if we want to give a price, I would say the most expensive is the tiara from 2000 because of the two huge diamonds dangling from the top - 20 carats each. It's a masterpiece and a treasure of nature with those diamonds."