VENICE — “Venice is larger than life.”
From this premise, Bulgari’s chief executive officer Jean-Christophe Babin highlighted the aesthetic value of the Italian city to present the brand’s latest high jewelry collection on Thursday. Called “Festa,” the collection is a celebration of the Italian lifestyle, paying homage to the joyful mood of the country’s festivals and outdoors events such as the Carnival or the Palio, the storied horse race in Tuscany’s Siena.
“Historically, Bulgari’s collections are very colorful and joyful, more extrovert compared to other, more serious-minded jewelry brands,” Babin said. “With this collection, this joy is contagious, there is a playful, infantile dimension, as well as the celebration of the agricultural world, from the ice cream-shaped brooches to the olive twig or chili pepper designs.”
Babin pointed to “strong and spontaneous emotions” created by these suggestions, which lead to “a richer and more intense, magic experience. The collection is born from the essence of our daily life.”
Lucia Silvestri, jewelry creation and gem buying director at Bulgari, said the “combination of Roman discipline, rigor and architecture and these joyful elements created excitement and tension.”
Asked about Bulgari’s main markets, Babin said Europe and Italy are historically strong, as well as Japan. Referring to the high jewelry category, the U.S. has the highest percentage of high net-worth individuals, so Western countries are still driving this business. The Middle East “has always been very important in high jewelry, but the demographics and the wealth distribution are different and limited,” Babin said. “In the next five years, on the one side more efforts on creativity and our classic customers, while we [nurture] emerging countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and China will give us an extra mile to grow our market share.”
On the more accessible front, Babin expects the number of Chinese and Asian consumers to overtake that of the Japanese and Americans in 10 years, based on the growing middle class and economy. Bulgari, remarked Babin, is “among the most successful brands in China,” where it took advantage two years ago of “the announced slowdown. We didn’t believe this would happen, it seemed illogical, and we invested more than other brands, which has allowed us to [secure] more visibility.”
In Venice, Bulgari recreated a traveling funfair, complete with party flags and a mirrored carousel that reflected the sparkle of the diamonds and stones ranging from emeralds and rubies to turquoises and sapphires, to display the more than 100 jewelry and watch pieces. Several of the items were marked by a discreet gold star, showing that they had already been set aside for purchase.
Among the standouts were the Palio necklace and bracelet, remarkably crafted items embellished with stones reproducing the colors of the 17 “contrade” or districts in Siena, whose horses race every summer. Bulgari worked with the authorities of the Tuscan city to get the colors of the “contrade” perfectly right. There were also brooches in diamonds, rubies and sapphires shaped as the head of a horse.
Another group of jewels was inspired by the Tarantella, a folk dance from the South of Italy, accompanied by tambourines, which were reproduced as elements of the necklaces.
On a long table, rings were shaped as pistachio, lemon or chocolate cakes.
The company’s strong link to Rome, where Sotirio Bulgari founded the jeweler in 1884, was seen in a ruby and diamond necklace with an intricate pattern reminiscent of the pavement in Piazza Navona in the Italian capital.
More than 30 jewels in the collection paid homage to Roman Princesses including, for example, Paolina Bonaparte, sister of Emperor Napoleon, with the Il Magnifico, the 180 carat cabochon sapphire pendant and diamond chain necklace, or the former Queen of Italy, Margherita di Savoia. One of the latter’s favorite jewels was a long double chain entirely made of diamond bows — a symbol of the Savoia family. Eight jewels in the Festa collection are inspired by that bow. One is a triple chain of pearls linked together by two bows made of sapphires and diamonds. The Baroque palace of Stupinigi and the hexagonal shape of the ballroom inspired the pendant of a necklace called the “Royal Ball Room.” The main stone is a 59 carat cushion-cut Colombian emerald.
Babin said Bulgari continued to raise the bar of innovation by “reinventing the cabochon” from a round to an oval shape. “We will continue with it after the Festa collection, it’s a new way to cut and a gigantic step forward” claimed Babin, remarking on the innovative takhti cut the company unveiled in 2014. “New cuts are very rare,” Babin said.
Bulgari also paid tribute to the brand’s origins, rooted in classical Greek tradition and Roman culture, with the Monete Secret-Watch pendant featuring an antique coin with the profile of Alexander the Great, which hides the movement of the timepiece. (The watch had already been sold to the tune of 400,000 euros.)
Presented by actress Jennifer Tilly, Bulgari also unveiled the book “The Joys of Gems,” published by Assouline, with texts by jewelry historian Vivienne Becker, and photos by Laziz Hamani. “This book does not look only to the past of Bulgari, it’s about its future,” Babin said. To wit, 30 of the new 100 high jewelry pieces appear in the tome. “It was a way to capture the jewels before we sell them,” the executive explained. The book will be available in one month and retail at $250.
Bella Hadid, the face of Bulgari’s newest fragrance “Goldea the Roman Night,” was expected at the dinner following the launch on Thursday evening.