ROME — With a stage such as the imposing fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome, offset by a modern and digital installation, and a history that spans more than 130 years, Bulgari’s exhibition “The Story, The Dream,” successfully mirrors both cultural evolutions and the exquisite art of Italian jewelry craftsmanship. Further emphasizing Italian know-how, the more than 170 Bulgari jewels are displayed together with a stunning selection of gowns and looks by some of the best Italian couturiers and designers, from Valentino Garavani, Emilio Pucci, Romeo Gigli and Roberto Capucci to Gianni Versace, Krizia’s Mariuccia Mandelli, and Gianfranco Ferré for Dior — all owned by fashion collector Cecilia Matteucci Lavarini.
The exhibition opens with a selection of “giardinetto [small garden]” brooches from the Fifties and Sixties, reproducing flower vases, where rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds delicately sprout from cabochon stones shaped like vases — signaling how Bulgari revolutionized the world of jewelry through daring color combinations. In this first room, a mannequin wears an Elsa Schiaparelli cheongsam and turban, and another dons a Jole Veneziani gown.
In a nearby glass case, Bulgari’s original “trembling” diamond brooches show how the leaves and stems of the flowers lightly quiver through a system of tiny springs.
“This is an exhibition on society, traced through jewels and fashion paired together and it celebrates the Italian excellence in luxury,” said Bulgari chief executive officer Jean-Christophe Babin. “It also pays tribute to Rome, the brand’s home.”
The exhibition, which will be open to the public starting June 26 and close on Nov. 3, spans over another building, as well, the Palazzo Venezia museum — a fact that Babin also says emphasizes the Italian art of beauty. “These are magnificent buildings and the Castel Sant’ Angelo is the most emblematic symbol of Rome together with the Colosseum. It’s the first time a brand is allowed to hold a private exhibition here,” touted the executive.
The friendship with Matteucci Lavarini, who owns “one of the most extraordinary fashion collections,” said Babin, enabled presenting the jewels in a historical context and, similarly how Bulgari shows its high jewelry on the catwalk, he explained, referring to the elaborate presentations held in locations such as Rome or Venice, and, most recently in Capri, to highlight the brand’s haute joaillarie collections.
“We want to create emotions and, beyond a theme, which could be the cinema or snakes, we want to create an immersive world, with modern installations because jewels should not be displayed statically,” said Babin, whose team employed digital technology for additional experiential moments, which contrast with the frescoed vaults and huge stone fireplaces at Castel Sant’Angelo. For example, Bulgari’s chromatic impact was reproduced by a floor-to-ceiling Rubik’s cube of videos and images. “This because jewelry stems from intelligent hands that shape the pieces and then they go on to mark important moments in the lives of those who have chosen the jewels.”
Case in point, one glass case displays Elizabeth Taylor’s dazzling emerald and diamond engagement ring and necklace — gifts by Richard Burton — as well the stunning sapphire necklace and ring famously reminiscent of the color of her eyes.
There are the earrings Ingrid Bergman herself chose to wear in the 1964 movie “The Visit,” and a gold powder compact that belonged to Lauren Bacall dated 1965, as well as a slim cigarette case owned by Audrey Hepburn in 1958.
A brooch owned by actress Ellen Barkin, a former spouse of Revlon investor Ronald Perelman, is shown near one that belonged to Lyn Revson, wife of Revlon mogul Charles Revson. Biki dresses owned by Maria Callas stand next to Anna Magnani’s collection of jewels, as well as Gina Lollobrigida’s and Audrey Hepburn’s earrings.
“My number-one obsession is to create this dream,” Babin said. “The aim is not only aesthetic, that is why the exhibition is called ‘The History, The Dream.’”
In 2009, Bulgari marked its 125th anniversary with an exhibition, but that was more classic, said Babin, and the company has bought hundreds new designs since then at auctions or from private collections — some displayed for the first time here. “We launch campaigns and invest millions of euros to buy back jewels and watches emblematic of our history,” Babin said.
The exhibition spans from the early days, when founder Sotirio Bulgari left Greece and came to Rome in 1884, underscoring his innovative marketing strategies and creative intuition up to the beginning of the Nineties, and how he evolved his gold jewels sets with ancient coins into the Serpenti collections, for example. A Serpenti exhibition is being held in Chengdu and it has brought so much attention to the brand that business in the brand’s store there has doubled since it was unveiled in May, Babin said.
“It was interesting to have a different point of view, to understand the origins of the family, how they were culturally ready to travel and open to different people with no prejudices,” said Lucia Boscaini, Bulgari’s brand and heritage curator, of Sotirio Bulgari and his heirs. In particular, Sotirio Bulgari was ahead of his times in perceiving how the first pockets of tourists could potentially help develop the business, setting up stores in St. Moritz, Sorrento or Bellagio, for example. “The world was his horizon, and his mentality was that everything is possible.”