Bold, brilliant and glittering, Bulgari’s perfectly arranged fine jewelry has graced the profiles of notable women and men for more than a century. From 1884 to today, what was once a name almost exclusively associated with fine Italian jewelry has expanded into precise watches, elegant leather handbags, exclusive hotels and more. Yet the history of this iconic brand, representative of Italian luxury around the world, starts with the story of an immigrant.
The silversmith Sotirios Voulgaris left his home in Greece for Italy in 1877. Sotirios continued to make objects in silver, but for years didn’t have the resources to set up a permanent shop that would thrive. After working in Brindisi, then Naples, he began peddling his silver belt buckles on the streets of Rome. With his savings, Sotirios was able to open his first successful store in Via Sistina in 1884.
In 1905 Sotirios and his two sons chose to move the store to Via Condotti. Inspired by the title of Charles Dicken’s famous novel, they added a sign that read “The Old Curiosity Shop,” in an attempt to attract the business of rich British tourists. In the 1930s a new sign rewrote the Italian version of Sotirios’ last name in classic Latin characters for the brand we recognize today, BVLGARI.
Bulgari has always met the trends of each age with ease and creativity, to create pieces that mix vintage inspiration with current taste. The perfect example is the snake watch which was inspired by 1920s art deco aesthetics and debuted in the 1940s. Yet, Bulgari’s international success can be traced to the 1960s when the brand adopted a bold and colorful new look that captured the world’s attention.
Gemstones were the stars of Bulgari’s collection in the 1960s. Large cabochon-cut emeralds, sapphires and rubies were surrounded by clusters of smaller sparkling diamonds and combined with heavy gold cuffs, collars and chains, to create striking pieces in rich color pairings.
During the 1960s and 1970s period many great actresses, including Ingrid Bergman, Claudia Cardinale, Anna Magnani and Sophia Loren, fell in love with Bulgari’s jewelry. However, the American actress most commonly associated with the brand is the legendary jewelry lover Elizabeth Taylor. The beginning of the star’s romance with Richard Burton played out in an endless series of trips to and gifts from the Bulgari store in Via Condotti. Aside from her wedding ring, the one piece of jewelry Taylor wore the day she married was a diamond and emerald Bulgari brooch.