Bulgari is synonymous with the highest quality jewelry and brings to mind many of our favorite celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor. If you’re curious about how the legendary Italian brand got its start, read on for a glimpse into the history of Bulgari jewelry.
Bulgari Jewelry History
The humble beginnings of Bulgari started as a single shop in Rome, founded by Greek silversmith Sotirios Bulgari in 1884. Dangerous wars forced Sotirios and his father to flee from their home and eventually settle in Rome in 1881. The father-son team prevailed despite challenges and established themselves as prominent silversmiths. Initially, the shop’s primary customers were English tourists participating in the Grand Tour, who treasured Bulgari’s expertly crafted silver luxury ornaments.
Sotirios’ sons, Costantino and Giorgio, inspired the evolution of the brand beyond silver and into high jewelry. They experimented with various styles throughout the 20th century before finding their signature, distinctive point of view in the 1940s. They drew inspiration from the grandeur of Roman architecture, mosaics, and stone sculptures to become makers of some of the finest, most revered forms of fine jewelry. The Bulgari brand continues to encompass an Italian flair in all of its endeavors and seeks to create wearable masterpieces that celebrate the beauty and history of Rome.
What is Bulgari Famous For?
Besides the exceptional quality of its pieces, Bulgari is known for its innovative designs, which have shaped the history of jewelry since the brand's inception. Above all, Bulgari’s design ethos has always revolved around the finest craftsmanship and highest quality colored gemstones. Many of their older designs are still incredibly popular today, so familiarizing yourself with their antique jewelry brooches, rings and necklaces can give insight into why Bulgari jewelry is so treasured.
In the 1930s, Bulgari debuted one of their most popular designs, the Trombino ring. The unique ring setting includes pavé diamonds surrounding the center stone, further accented by a row of baguette diamonds. While the Trombino engagement ring below features an impressive unheated Ceylon sapphire, other precious stones, like jewelry rubies and rare emerald gems, were also popular with the firm then and now.
In the 1950s, Bulgari’s designs reflected its adoration of Roman architecture and culture. The high jewelry brand embraced cabochon gems to mimic the awe that cupolas elicit. They patterned vibrantly colored and precious stones together. Architectural forms were a major inspiration for the firm as it developed its signature geometric designs of the period. Bulgari’s luxury creations from this era established the brand's luxurious Roman style and caught global attention.
Following WWII, a worldwide fascination with the Eternal City characterized Rome’s “Dolce Vita“ era and inspired American Hollywood movies. Bulgari starred in iconic films alongside famous actors such as Elizabeth Taylor and Ingrid Bergman and was showcased both on and off the screen by fabulous celebrities and society ladies. Filming Cleopatra sparked Elizabeth Taylor’s love for Bulgari and she eventually started collecting unique pieces for her own famed jewelry collection.
In the 1970s, the brand expanded beyond Rome and accordingly showcased cultures of the globe in their designs. The luxurious suite above was crafted circa 1970, and it embodies the brand’s more modern styles while still preserving its exquisite craftsmanship.
The 1980s and 90s were characterized by the brand’s embrace of modular jewelry, in which one strong motif is replicated with a variety of materials. Bulgari also sought to create pieces that could be worn comfortably all day, and it introduced the use of uncommon materials such as steel, wood and silk to enhance this idea of lovely looking — and luxurious feeling — pieces.
Elizabeth Taylor’s Collection
Elizabeth Taylor was known for her awe-inspiring collection of jewels, so impressive that it earned the nickname “The Crown Jewels of Hollywood.” Bulgari was among her favorite jewelry brands, and she amassed a collection that showcased her spectacular taste for their creations. Elizabeth Taylor discovered her love for Bulgari while on the set of the 1963 film Cleopatra, but her admiration of the jeweler was defined by her romance with Richard Burton. Upon learning about Elizabeth’s obsession with jewels, Richard never missed the chance to gift her with a remarkable Bulgari jewelry piece . Elizabeth had an eye for iconic pieces, many of which have been reacquired by Bulgari for its Heritage Collection, and wove her personal fine jewelry collection into countless roles. The brooch below belonged to her personal collection, and it features brilliant blue and pink sapphires accented with dozens of white diamonds. Learn more about famous diamonds and the glamour they bring to jewelry pieces.
M.S. Rau offers an exceptional collection of designer jewelry, as well as stunning precious gemstone and diamond estate jewelry. Whether you’re looking to expand your luxurious Italian jewelry collection with Bulgari or Buccellatti jewelry, or if you’re new to the world of signed jewelry, our extensive collections of fine jewelry include the perfect jewelry piece for anyone.
If you’re curious to learn more about other designer jewelry brands, discover the history of Cartier and the brand’s influence over time.