DESIGNER 101

Bvlgari 101: How a Greek Silversmith
Started Rome’s Famed Jewelry House

By Ann B. Oct 29, 2021

Rebag x Virgil Abloh

Bvlgari is
synonymous with
La Dolce Vita.

Bvlgari may be Greek in origin, thanks to its founder, but its identity is embedded in its reputation as one of Rome’s premier fine jewelry houses. In 1884, Greek silversmith Sotirio Bulgari established the jewelry brand that would later be known as Bvlgari. His legacy lives on nearly a century and a half later after countless red carpet appearances.

 

How a Greek Silversmith founded Bvlgari

Greek silversmith Sotirio Voulgaris — later changing it to Bulgari to make it look more Italian — Bulgari left Greece for Italy in 1881. Just three years later, in 1884, he opened a jewelry shop in Rome at via Sistina 85. BVLGARI — the trademarked name that it’s known for today — didn’t come into play until 1934, when the family decided to pay homage to ancient Rome by replacing the u with a V using the Latin alphabet. 

During Bvlgari’s first years in operation, Bulgari was influenced by Byzantine and Islamic art, often combining elements from both with floral motifs. Paris was one of the world’s more fashionable capitals in the early 1900s, so Bulgari often found inspiration in the Art Deco movement that was popular at the time. In 1894 he opened a second location at Via dei Condotti, and he opened a third, more prominent location on the same street in 1905. That store would become Bulgari’s flagship store, where it still stands today.

2012 London Omega Olympic edition watch
The Bvlgari store on Via dei Condotti in Rome.
(Vittoriano Rastelli/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Much of the Bvlgari’s clientele In its early years were English travelers who were going through Rome on the requisite Grand Tour that was a custom ritual for wealthy people from England after graduating from university. It wasn’t until Sotirio’s sons Giorgio and Constantino joined the business and convinced their father that fine jewelry would grow it. That’s when they looked to the French for inspiration, echoing the lines of the Art Deco movement with materials like diamonds and platinum. During the early 1930s, Sotirio created the Trombino (Italian for small trumpet), a trumpet-shaped ring for his wife. 

Sotirio passed away in 1932, and Giorgio and Constantino took over the family business. Bvlgari was finally coming into its own, forging its Italian identity as it was influenced by Italian architecture and folklore. At the end of the 1940s, the brothers looked at the serpent, a symbol of ancient Roman and Greek mythology representing renewal, a creative life force, or fertility. Bvlgari’s Serpenti, a jeweled serpent-shaped watch, complete with a reptile-shaped dial that coils around the wearer’s wrist like a serpent, would go on to become one of the house’s most iconic items. 

In the 1950s, Bvlgari became known for vibrant precious and colored stones inspired by the rounded domes that dot the city’s skylines. Now Bvlgari’s signature cut, Cabachons are polished, round stones that are the opposite of the usually faceted stones that decorate fine jewelry. 

With Rome’s postwar boom came the Dolce Vita era in the ‘60s, defined most notably by Federico Fellini’s iconic 1960 film La Dolce Vita. Bvlgari’s Via dei Condotti store became a gathering place for socialites and starlets who passed through the city, creating more buzz around the jewelry house. In the ‘70s, Bvlgari expanded both in Europe and globally. The label developed more styles, influenced by everything from Pop Art to East Asia. The round-faced Bvlgari Bvlgari watch became one of the Roman jewelry label’s most popular pieces in 1977. The ‘90s saw innovative modular Bvlgari pieces. To this day, Bvlgari’s most famed collections include B.zero1, Divas’ Dream, Serpenti, BVLGARI BVLGARI, and Parentesi. 

Today Bvlgari is more than a jewelry brand; it’s also a lifestyle brand that lends its name to fragrances, hotels, and 300 stores worldwide. 

 

From “Hollywood on the Tibor” to the Oscars Red Carpet 

As stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Berman, Claudia Cardinal, Sofia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida filmed in Rome at the famed Cinecittà Studios — which won the nickname “Hollywood on the Tibor,” Bvlgari’s Via dei Condotti flagship became a regular stop for them. Taylor even wore a Serpenti bracelet in Cleopatra, and a stunning 60.5 carat, 16-emerald Bvlgari necklace as she accepted the Best Actress Oscar for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in 1966. In recent years, countless celebrities have worn Bvlgari on the red carpet, including Zendaya — who wore $6 million in Bvlgari jewels during the 2021 Oscars, Charlize Theron, and Keira Knightley.  

Cardi B. with a black Chanel 19

Italian actress Sophia Loren in a Bvlgari necklace in her home at Palazzo Lovatelli in Rome, 1959.
(Mondadori via Getty Images)

Katie Holmes with a black Chanel 19

Elizabeth Taylor holding the David di Donatello Award for Suddenly, Last Summer in Taormina, Italy in 1962 wearing Bvlgari platinum, emerald, and diamond earrings and a Bvlgari Tremblant brooch. (Mondadori via Getty Images)

Influencer Tamu McPherson in a Chanel 19 bag

Italian actress Claudia Cardinale and Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida wearing Bulgari jewels, attending a party held by the Counts Cicogna for the 28th Venice International Film Festival at Ca’ Vendramin Calergi in 1967. (Giorgio Lotti\Mondadori via Getty Images)

Cardi B. with a black Chanel 19

Keira Knightley at the 2006 Academy Awards in a vintage Bvlgari necklace from the 1960s. (Mirek Towski/FilmMagic)

Katie Holmes with a black Chanel 19

Charlize Theron at the 2019 Oscars in Bvlgari’s Serpenti collection wearing a white gold double-wrap high jewelry necklace with a matching bracelet, along with a high jewelry diamond necklace of over 75 carats, high jewelry earrings with 25 carats of sapphires, and high jewelry rings and bracelets. (Steve Granitz/WireImage)

Influencer Tamu McPherson in a Chanel 19 bag

Zendaya in over $6 million of Bvlgari jewels at the 2021 Academy Awards. (Chris Pizzello-Pool/Getty Images)

Bvlgari Investment Value

Bvlgari, especially the fine jewelry pieces, makes a good investment, with the fine jewelry pieces holding the majority of their retail value. The best Bvlgari investments include the Bvlgari Diva’s Dream pendant necklace in 18-carat gold with diamonds, which retains 91% of its retail value at resale. A Tubogas cuff bangle in stainless steel and diamonds has a retention value of 86% on the secondary market. A B.Zero1 round pendant necklace in 18 carat rose gold and ceramic holds 85% of its retail value at resale. 

Materials

Bvlgari uses a wide range of materials, including rose gold, white gold, yellow gold, platinum, stainless steel, porcelain, and stones like diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, amethyst, peridot, pink tourmaline, malachite, and more.

Sizing

Chanel 19 Waist Bag

Case Size/Width: 26mm / Watch Height: 6mm
Band Width: 14mm Wrist circumference: 6.0″

Bvlgari Quartz Watch White Gold and Alligator with Diamond Bezel 26

Chanel 19 Clutch With Chain

Size: 5.75 – 51
Width: 12 mm

Bvlgari B.Zero1 XXth Anniversary Five Band Ring 18K White Gold

Chanel 19 Wallet on Chain

Length: 16.00 – 18.00 / Pendant Length: 15.00 mm Pendant Width: 8.00 mm

Bvlgari Parentesi Pendant Necklace 18K Yellow Gold

Chanel 19 Flap Bag

Height/Length: 17.15 mm
Width: 9.10 mm

Bvlgari B.Zero1 Hoop Clip-On Earrings 18K Yellow Gold

Chanel 19 Flap Bag

Case Size/Width: 26mm / Watch Height: 6mm / Band Width: 15mm / Wrist circumference: 6.0″

Bvlgari Quartz Watch Stainless Steel 26

Chanel 19 Waist Bag

14 Round Brilliant Cut Diamonds 0.2ct.

Bvlgari Divas Dream Ring 18K Rose Gold with Diamonds 7.5 – 56

Chanel 19 Clutch With Chain

Length: 15.75 ” / Pendant Length: 14.25 mm
Pendant Width: 8.45 mm

Bvlgari B.Zero1 Pendant Necklace 18K White Gold

Chanel 19 Wallet on Chain

8″W x 6″H x 1.5″D
19.5″ strap drop

Bvlgari Serpenti Forever Square Shoulder Bag Leather Small

Chanel 19 Flap Bag

Size: 6.25 – 53 / Width: 5.00 mm

Bvlgari Roman Sorbet Band Ring 18K Rose Gold with Sapphires and Tsavorite Garnets and Diamonds

Chanel 19 Flap Bag

Circumference: 7.25 – 6.50″

Bvlgari B.Zero1 Soft Bracelet 18K Rose Gold with Diamonds

Balenciaga Range