The old adage "all that glitters is not gold" is patently not true for "The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond, 1950 – 1990, "which opens at the de Young museum this coming Saturday, September 21.
The exhibition, which includes photos of celebrities in Bulgari, videos and interactive materials, also features seven pieces once owned by Elizabeth Taylor, as well as a piece owned by local gem collector Dede Wilsey, president of the Fine Arts Museums board.
"I've always loved the mix of colored stones in Bulgari jewelry, in particular the unusual ones like turquoise, emerald and amethyst," she said. "Ironically, the brooch I am lending is just a big combination of white diamonds with a yellow diamond in the center."
The first store of what later became the Bulgari line was founded by Sotirios Voulgaris in Epirus, then part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1877, he left for Corfu and then Naples. In 1881 he finally moved to Rome, where in 1884 he founded his company and opened his second shop in via Sistina. The store in Via Sistina was then replaced by the current flagship store in via dei Condotti opened in 1905 by Bulgari with the help of his two sons, Costantino (1889–1973) and Giorgio (1890–1966).
One of the most remarkable stories about the family is how Costantino Bulgari and his wife, Laura Bulgari, hid three Jewish women in their own Roman home during the World War II. The story goes that the Jews knocked on their door during the Fascist ghetto raid in 1943. On 31 December 31, 2003, they were awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem for their courageous action.
The store name “Bvlgari” is a phonetic version of Voulgaris’s name. According to some sources, it also believed that this name belonged to ancient Bulgarian family of jewellers that operated in Greece between 15th and 18th centuries. The letter “v” in the company name is a brand move to reinforce the company's origin in Greece.
The exhibit showcases the work of the Italian jewelry house from the 1970s through today. The time frame covers two pivotal moments for Bulgari - the post-World War II economic boom in which Bulgari became a leader in the field of jewelry design (while other Italian firms paved new ground in fashion, furniture and auto design), as well as the shift by third-generation family members in the 1970s toward innovation, avant-garde designs and pret-a-porter jewelry intended not just for grand occasions.
From 1950 to 1990, Bulgari's style became distinctive with the use of cabochon (rounded, not faceted) gemstones; unusual color combinations (such as the turquoise, amethyst and emerald of the bib necklace owned by Lyn Revson, wife of Revlon mogul Charles Revson); and later, coin-set jewelry on heavy gold chains; and the modular Parentesi line, inspired by the joints of Roman pavements.
Bulgari jewelry design is distinctive and often imitated (and counterfeited). In the 1970s, many of the more expensive Bulgari pieces (such as necklaces, bracelets and earrings) were characterized by instantly recognizable, bold, architectural designs combining large and weighty gold links with interlocking steel. Bulgari is also famous for colored stones, especially sapphires mixed in unique formats. Genuine Bulgari watches have a unique serial number that is registered with the company.
The show dovetails neatly with the Year of Italian Culture in the United States, which San Francisco Italian Consul General Mauro Battocchi describes as a celebration of "Italy's unique passion for beauty, which becomes available to the global public today through a passion for high-quality design, craftsmanship and innovation in everything from sports cars to jewels to luxury goods."
The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond, 1950 – 1990 will be on display at the de Young Museum from September 21, 2013 through February 17, 2014.