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Bulgari Puts Spotlight on Roman Roots

The Italian jeweler's 130th anniversary celebrations have kicked off with the official reopening of its newly revamped Via dei Condotti store.

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ROME — The year 2014 marks Bulgari’s 130th anniversary, and to celebrate, the Italian jeweler is mapping out a number of events around the world, starting with the official reopening of its newly revamped Via dei Condotti store here.

In conjunction with the reopening Thursday, Bulgari revealed it plans to support the restoration of the Spanish Steps and pledged to donate 1.5 million euros, or $2.1 million at current exchange.

“It’s our privilege to be located next to the steps, which have also been a source of inspiration for our jewels,” said chief executive officer Jean-Christophe Babin in an interview at the store restored by architect Peter Marino. “This is a double tribute to the stairway, for the emotion it has always conveyed to our customers, and to the founder of the brand, Sotirio Bulgari. The steps were a passageway to reach his three shops between Via Condotti and Via Sistina — where he first opened in 1884.”

Remarking on Rome’s boundless architectural patrimony, Babin said that “even the richest country on earth couldn’t afford” to protect these beauties alone, and said it was “logical that wealthy private donors or companies, which have the chance of doing good, would give back.”

During a press conference earlier, Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino said work on the Spanish Steps is expected to begin within a year and to be completed in two years. The last restoration, he said, dated back to 1995. Babin underscored this is not a marketing initiative and there will be no signs of the sponsorship on the steps, which are called Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti in Italian. With its 138 travertine steps, the stairway was designed by Francesco de Sanctis and was completed in 1725.

To mark the reopening, the company introduced the B.zero1 Roma watch and ring in rose gold ceramic.

As for his vision for Bulgari, Babin, who joined the brand from Tag Heuer last year, said the company will continue to “glorify and innovate jewels, which are more than ever our primary focus.” He also cited the “huge potential” of watches, and ladies’ timepieces in particular, as a natural extension of jewelry. Bulgari will also “fuel” other categories, such as accessories.

He declined to provide sales figures, but said 2013 was “a record year for high jewelry, inspiring and cascading onto accessories and others.” Although it’s early days into 2014, he said “the jewelry business keeps performing well.”

Regarding the impact of the unrest in Russia, Crimea and Ukraine, Babin explained Bulgari is “not yet represented in Russia, it is not dependent on the region, which is not a key contributor. We have not cracked it yet, so we see little impact.”

As for currency headwinds, the company increased its prices in February “around 2 percent, but really it was a hedging increase to cover currency fluctuations.”

Babin touted the “many novelties” Bulgari will introduce next week at the Baselworld watch and jewelry show, and haute joaillerie events in Sydney in April, followed by another in June or July in a location to be defined, and one in November or December in the U.S. Around 15 new boutiques will open this year, including one in Bal Harbor, Fla.; a unit in Miami’s Design District at the end of the year; two venues in Hong Kong, and three in China, as well as a location in Rio de Janeiro and one in Kuwait City, Kuwait. There are 300 Bulgari stores in the world.

The redesigned Via dei Condotti unit will not be exactly replicated in new venues, but its atmosphere is “a platform” for others, said the executive. Babin praised Marino’s “sharp sensitivity in grasping the DNA of a brand.” He said the architect “spent time in Rome, looking at palaces, books and Bulgari’s history.” His renovation was limited, as the building is protected as historic, but he succeeded in bringing “a contemporary and modern expression of the antique Rome,” said Babin.

The store occupies the ground floor of two buildings: Palazzo Maruscelli Lepri, erected in the mid-17th century, and Palazzo Boffil.

Marino’s admiration for Italian modern rationalist architect Florestano Di Fausto, who expanded and refurbished the store in 1934, was essential to the restoration — the first since then. Di Fausto transformed the facade with a travertine covering, which he punctuated with four large openings for the display windows and a central doorway, all framed by ancient green African marble cornices, which Marino restored. A richly decorated elliptical vestibule at the entrance and the four arched doorways are framed by six twinned ancient African green marble columns topped with gilded bronze composite capitals. Four different gilded crowns chosen in the Thirties adorn the niches. On the floor, a central red porphyry eight-pointed star inlay is surrounded by cream Botticino marble. The border is gray-red Salomé marble.

The Thirties character has also been preserved in the two galleries on either side of the entrance, displaying the high jewelry and bridal collections. The original parquet floor has been reconditioned, and the original walnut display cases and counters have been reinstated. Marino restored the “salottino [small living room] Taylor,” where Elizabeth Taylor would stop to shop, and which can be entirely closed off. Marino has brought back in service a “secret” door that leads to a private courtyard and was installed in the Sixties to enable clients like Taylor avoid paparazzi.

A new room is dedicated to men’s watches where Marino has created a masculine atmosphere with a color palette ranging from gray and bronze to dark green. The circles and squares pattern of the bleached walnut parquet was designed by Marino, inspired by the polychrome marble paving of the Pantheon in Rome.

The architect restored Di Fausto’s glass-topped walkway with openings lined with Breccia di Seravezza stone. A white ceramic mosaic floor and a limited edition of three “Les Colonnes Revolutionnaires” — a gilded bronze sculpture made in 2013 by the Belgian artist Johan Creten as a modern interpretation of Bernini’s celebrated twisted columns in St. Peter’s —are standout elements here.

Separately, Babin also revealed that a Bulgari Hotel will open in Shanghai in 2015.

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