Bulgari’s jewelry has been celebrated worldwide for over a century by royals, celebrities, and style icons, yet its beginnings were surprisingly humble.
One of Italy’s oldest jewelry houses, it was founded in 1884 by skilled Greek silversmith Sotirois Voulgaris. He had immigrated to Italy in 1880 with precious little money and named his company Bulgari after the phonetic pronunciation of his last name. He opened the Bulgari flagship store at Via dei Condotti in Rome in 1904 with his sons, Constantino and Giorgio. Their luxurious, well-crafted jewelry appealed to wealthy American and British tourists and they swiftly built a reputation for their Greek and Roman-inspired designs. Bulgari created a tiara for the 1930 wedding of Prince Umberto of Italy and Princess Marie José of Belgium, and Robert Lehman and Frank Jay Gould were among his many famous clients.
Constantino and Giorgio took over the business after their father’s death in 1932 and ushered in a new era in the brand’s history. They remodeled the store and updated the company’s logo to their now-iconic Bvlgari, utilizing the traditional Roman V as opposed to U. Under their leadership, Bulgari became a leading source of fine jewelry. In the prosperous years following WWII they became more fully dedicated to making platinum jewelry encrusted with precious gems such as diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies. Glamorous jewelry drew a glamorous crowd; the store became a celebrity hub and grew even more popular with Italian nobility and American socialites through the 1960s.
It was during this booming period that Bulgari began to break away from prevailing French jewelry trends and became trendsetters themselves. They turned to Roman architecture for inspiration and incorporated large, colorful, unfaceted stones into their designs versus the perennially popular diamond center-stones. Stones were chosen for their color rather than value, and precious emeralds or amethysts were placed next to semi-precious stones like turquoise, resulting in big, bold statement pieces. Andy Warhol, who would stop by the store on his visits to Rome, likened their jewelry to contemporary art. The company was taken over in 1967 by the third generation of Voulgaris brothers and they spent the 1970s expanding internationally and entering into the watch market with their trademark Serpenti bracelet watch. Bulgari became a favorite of countless iconic celebrities including Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor.
By the end of the 20th century Bulgari had storefronts around the globe and diversified their portfolio to include luxury goods such as perfumes, scarves, sunglasses and handbags. They opened a hotel in Rome in 2004 and, in 2011, were acquired by LVMH for an astounding $6 billion. Today, Bulgari continues to be one of the leading names in fine jewelry and luxury goods, and their baubles remain a favorite among celebrities such as Jessica Chastain, Lady Gaga, Kiera Knightley, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, and Zendaya.
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