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Creative director of Bulgari on having Priyanka Chopra Jonas as the brand ambassador

Lucia Silvestri also talks about marrying the past with the present and why certain old pieces of jewellery ought to be revisited

By Mariella Radaelli

Published: Thu 10 Feb 2022, 10:53 PM

Bulgari’s high jewellery collections are magnificent pieces of cultural significance. As a master of coloured gemstones, diamonds and details for 137 years, the Rome-based luxury house has created an instantly recognisable aesthetic that brings sparkle to la dolce vita, Hollywood celebrities and wealthy families in the world. Today, the iconic brand continues to transcend the ephemeral with stunning, audacious designs for women with strong personalities. It crafts bold, timeless and masterfully modern pieces that prove style is eternal.

The Italian Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai recently featured a Bulgari exhibition titled The Art of Craft — The Glamor of Italian Excellence. It partly retraced the history of the world-renowned jewellery house that opened its first shop on Via Sistina in Rome in 1884. The show combined 60 awe-inspiring Bulgari pieces, such as Serpenti bracelets and the Trombino ring along with 21 iconic Italian high fashion garments from the last 60 years. There were pieces to match the Sorelle Fontana gowns from the ’40s and ’50s, the Pucci geometric print minidresses of the ’60s, the Moschino ironic style from the ’80s, the Giorgio Armani minimalism, the Valentino sophisticated glamour and the Mediterranean charm of Dolce & Gabbana in the mid-’90s.

I meet Lucia Silvestri, Bulgari’s longtime creative director, in Rome. She was 18 when the Bulgari brothers perceived her talent. They immediately allowed her to travel the world searching for splendid, rare gemstones. She thus started a journey that led her to be the head of creation for the house in 2013. “Bulgari maintains a high level of creative innovation without ever losing its roots and DNA, especially in today’s world where competition is fierce,” Silvestri tells wknd. from inside Bulgari’s headquarters on the Lungotevere Marzio.

How did your love affair with jewellery begin?

I have been fascinated by jewels since childhood, but I never thought I would end up working in the field. I only knew this would be my path the first time I saw gemstones in Mr. Bulgari’s office. I felt their energy right away. It was a lucky coincidence, or maybe it was written in the stars!

What kind of child were you? Is that little girl still alive in you?

Part of that girl is still within me — I never let her die. She relives in the pure instinct of joy and emotion that I feel every time I am in front of gemstones, true gifts of nature.

You started working at Bulgari in the gemological department at 18. You were so mesmerised by the gemstones’ colours, varieties and energy that you decided to leave your university studies in biology. Do you still feel their vibrations?

Absolutely! In the years at Bulgari, I have seen the most exquisite gemstones in the world. Each of them is a gift of nature emanating unique energy. For me, they are authentic sources of joy, inspiration, and beauty.

Each precious stone expresses a fascinating and mysterious story. Every type speaks with symbolism — mythological and even metaphysical meanings. Should we choose gemstone jewellery according to ancient symbols?

Although we tend to attribute specific meaning to certain precious stones, in my opinion, we should select a gemstone jewel depending on the emotions it arouses in those who see or wear it. For me, jewels are not talismans. They have the power to make me feel good.

Let’s take, as an example, a ruby ring. Originally from India, rubies symbolise burning passion, love and courage. They were sacred to the ancient Indian culture. The ruby’s inner glow hints that perhaps it contains an inner magical fire. Is a ruby jewel still a perfect gift to express ardent love?

No doubt, rubies still embody those meanings but considering their current scarcity and rarity, other gemstones — not only the red ones — have taken their place to symbolise love, passion, courage, power and determination.

Why does the Eternal City remain so inspirational for Bulgari?

Without Rome, you cannot explain Bulgari, which comes out of Roman art and architecture. Rome is an incredible city full of wonders; it exudes beauty and offers a lot, given its history. It has lived through many different periods and has undergone many artistic influences. There is always something to discover. I keep finding inspiration in every corner of this magical city that still leaves me speechless. After years, I can’t get enough. Beauty is timeless, and our jewels inspired by the beauty of Rome are unique works of art centred on exceptional precious stones, experienced craftsmanship and creativity.

Women from Ancient Rome wore snake-motif jewellery. Snakes were positive symbols associated with rebirth, healing, and ancestors in the classical world. Bulgari has been similarly using the serpenti, or snake, motif in bracelets and numerous other ways in its creations since the 1940s when Constantino and Mario Bulgari created the first spiraling Serpenti watch and bracelet. The Serpenti is an instantly recognisable Bulgari signature, one that’s continually refreshed with new design twists, ensuring it appeals to modern jewellery lovers and classic collectors alike. What does it represent for you?

Serpenti is Bulgari’s most legendary icon, a symbol of power, charm and seduction and, above all, it represents endless reinvention. From the 1940s onwards, our Serpenti jewellery has continually changed its skin, updating and adapting to the surrounding environment and the continuous evolution of society without ever losing its essence! Serpenti is a transformative symbol that embodies the concept of metamorphosis.

You craft the classics of tomorrow. At which point do you realise you are creating a timeless piece?

When I find the perfect harmony between gems, design and craftsmanship. In other words, when my team and I recognise something iconic representing the brands in all respects.

How do you work on colours and shapes? What comes first? And at which point does the choice of precious metals fit into the creative process?

It depends on what I’m creating. When it comes to fine jewellery, the inspiration always starts from the gem’s shape and colour. The design follows. On the other hand, if I work with diamonds, the starting point is the design and the cut comes later.

Taylor loved Bulgari. Richard Burton once said that during the nine months she spent in Rome filming Cleopatra, Elizabeth learned a single word of Italian: “Bulgari”. Also, Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida had a penchant for the iconic Roman house, as did Sharon Stone and Catherine Zeta-Jones and today’s actresses and supermodels such as Bella Hadid. How does it feel when a celebrity steps out on the red carpet wearing a Bulgari piece?

It is a point of pride for us to see actresses and celebrities wearing our jewellery, and it represents a common thread with history as Bulgari has always been the jeweller of the divas! It makes both me and the Maison proud.

Priyanka Chopra Jonas is the new global Bulgari ambassador. The actress declared: “I have always admired Bulgari’s magnificent jewels, true works of art by Bulgari, many of which celebrate some of the most precious resources of my motherland.” With Bulgari, Priyanka has raised funds for the Covid-19 emergency in India, hit hard by the pandemic during the second wave. How did the collaboration take root?

Priyanka perfectly personifies the brand’s spirit, being in all respects a citizen of the modern and globalised world, but at the same time very tied to Indian roots and traditions that contributed significantly to the history of jewellery. Priyanka has a noble soul. She is very attentive to what happens around her and in the world. Priyanka represents a beauty made of authenticity and elegance.

Who is, in general, the Bulgari woman of today? What kind of woman do you have in mind when you create?

A woman who is not afraid to dare. I would say a woman with a strong personality and at the same time elegant, sensual and feminine!

What are your tips to style high-jewellery? How to pair a Bulgari glamour necklace or earrings with a dress?

It’s a very personal choice. The primary thing is to feel at ease. However, when I want to accentuate the beauty of a jewel, I wear solid colour outfits, never clothes with any pattern. Contrary to popular belief, the neckline does not emphasise a piece of jewellery better than a solid colour.

You have pieces explicitly created for the Middle Eastern market.

Yes, our Jannah collections of high jewellery and fine jewellery. Launched last fall in Dubai, the latter is designed and inspired by the Emirates. It is the result of my collaboration with Sheikha Fatima Bint Hazza Al Nahyan. Her Highness partnered with Bulgari in a project that bridges cultures and celebrates the rich heritage of the UAE. It was a meeting of two cultures, two countries and two women, but above all, a wish for joy and peace!

Recently, you presented the new Bulgari Magnifica high jewellery collection in Dubai. What was that experience like?

It is always a great emotion for me to showcase a new collection there. Dubai always offers us a hearty, warm welcome! We have very loyal customers in the city.

For the Indian market, you designed an exquisite mangalsutra, a piece that represents the sacred vows of marriage for the Indian woman. “It is so classically Bulgari: it expresses the essence of the brand and its modernity but also respects the culture and tradition of my India very well,” says the testimonial by Priyanka Chopra Jones. “This mangalsutra is already iconic.” How did you work on such an essential piece for the modern Indian woman?

The project is very dear to us because it contains and integrates our know-how in terms of manufacturing with the traditional aspects of the Indian product in a small jewel in a contemporary key.

Bulgari has created unforgettable brooches that marked the history of jewellery, especially those with floral motifs. Are brooches objects to be re-evaluated in contemporary jewellery making?

Yes! In our high jewellery collections, we always include some. In recent years, the attention to that accessory has constantly been growing. Also, some brooches today are marketed specifically to men.

Hollywood stars, US first ladies, princesses and even rebellious countesses were huge devotees of Bulgari. I am thinking about Dorothy di Frasso, an American heiress in Rome in the 1920s and 1930s, the lady who taught her partner Gary Cooper how to dress, making him the most elegant man in Hollywood. Cooper and she were habitués of the Bulgari boutique. In 1939, they bought the most expensive diamond necklace in the entire collection. What is the Bulgari historical piece that enchants you the most?

Elizabeth Taylor’s famous sautoir, in my opinion, is the most beautiful sapphire in the world. Fortunately, that long necklace is now part of our private collection!

The first Bulgari creations drew inspiration from Byzantine and Islamic architecture. In your contemporary creative work, do Islamic culture and art ever supply inspiration for the pieces?

Not often, but it can happen. All cultures inspire me, we are an international brand. And even though Rome remains our muse, we take inspiration from all cultures, the very remote ones too. We transform them according to our canons to create jewels with an international taste. For example, the flower-shaped design of the Jannah collection, launched for the first time in 2020, draws inspiration from the marble decorations of the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, thus representing an example of Islamic culture combined with the West.

How important are sustainable practices to Bulgari?

They are fundamental. Consumer purchase choices are now more than ever guided by ethical, social and environmental criteria. From mining to the production process, Bulgari ensures that the entire supply chain uses precious materials of responsible origin, with utmost consideration for ethics and environment. We proudly state 100 per cent of our artisanal production is made with gold from fully traceable and certified sources. We reached that milestone at the end of 2021, thanks to a continuous improvement process across the house’s entire value chain and the renewal of the prestigious Chain-of-Custody certification issued by the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) that counts Bulgari among its members.

What is the secret formula of Bulgari’s artistic longevity and also your longtime tenure as creative director?

The secret stands in innovating the brand without ever distorting it. We keep alive the link to our history and origins, and above all, we work with passion!


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