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Bulgari’s Big Statement

Bulgari reopened its expanded boutique on North Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, a 10,000-square-foot unit that’s the largest jewelry chain in the 155-store chain.

BEVERLY HILLS — Bulgari thought big with its expanded boutique on North Rodeo Drive, literally. The 10,000-square-foot store, which opened its doors last Monday, is now the Italian jeweler’s largest in the world.

The new boutique has been in the planning stages for two years, starting before the luxury sector experienced a dropoff. But Francesco Trapani, Bulgari’s chief executive officer, said in a telephone interview that he remains confident about the luxury sector — especially in the U.S. and Canada. Bulgari’s sales grew 20.7 percent to $41.1 million in 2002, even as the company’s worldwide sales rose only 0.9 percent to $837.7 million.

Trapani declined to reveal first-year sales projections for the boutique, but said: “There are plenty of people here with a lot of money and a willingness to spend a lot of money.”

Analysts posit the Bulgari store could very well be the brightest of them, topping $10 million in sales its first year. But expanding the boutique, once a 2,000-square-foot corner unit before taking over three adjacent spaces formerly occupied by Celine, BCBG and Dunhill, came at a price. Insiders said the cost of construction has approached $10 million, nearly double the original budget set a year ago when construction began.

With marble walls and sheets of glass creating points and angles like a faceted stone, the boutique is a sprawling space as arresting to the eye as the Italian jeweler’s baubles. A primary focus of in-house architect Massimo Magistri and New York-based architectural firm Space 4 Architecture is to encourage shoppers to linger, leading them through the cozy, low-ceiling first-floor salon, past Bulgari’s core collection of watches and jewelry, to the second floor art gallery.

As consumers ascend an imported Italian marble staircase, previously assembled and brought in through the ceiling by a crane, they view displays of handbags, priced between $630 and $800.

In the upstairs gallery hangs Steve Pyke’s 1999 black-and-white photograph of Sophia Loren in Florence, on loan from the Flowers West Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, Calif., as well as Bulgari family-owned works by Italian artists Sandro Chia and Mimmo Paladino. Also on display are vintage Bulgari necklaces.

On the third floor, shoppers can sip complimentary espressos on white leather couches, surrounded in a glass rotunda overlooking Rodeo Drive and the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel.