ROME — Bulgari’s jewels are indissolubly linked with Rome — with some of the city’s landmarks even inspiring a number of pieces. Less visible, yet equally important, is the unique know-how found in Italy’s capital that feeds Bulgari’s high jewelry production.
“It’s a very specific tradition and knowledge that is linked to the city,” said Mauro Di Roberto, managing director of Bulgari’s jewelry division.
It is not surprising, then, that the company has doubled the space of its high jewelry atelier in Rome, unveiling it to WWD.
During a walk-through of the location, which now covers 14,040 square feet, Di Roberto introduced the artisans who painstakingly develop the jewels from a flat drawing to a 3-D mold, mounting the colorful gems and creating what could easily be defined as works of art. “Each goldsmith is the reference point for each jewel, we say he or she is the owner of the project,” explained Di Roberto.
The team works closely with Di Roberto and Lucia Silvestri, jewelry creation and gem buying director at Bulgari. “From the interpretation of the drawing, it’s a work in progress,” said Di Roberto, remarking on how a tiny detail can change the reflection of the light or enhance the stone. Case in point, turning to one of the artisans, he gently suggests that the already minuscule clamps on a ring be filed to be even smaller and less visible. Pointing to another artisan, he said that she had been fine-tuning the base of a ruby and emerald flower in a necklace and putting the petals together for the past month. “It can take up to six months for a jewel,” he observed. “It’s about the micro details without forgetting the whole.”
Di Roberto emphasized throughout the visit the added value of the artisans, who, even when they work with machines, are fundamental. For example, they can understand “at a glance” whether metals are ready or not in the early stages of production. “You need this quality when you are talking about gold, which solidifies in 30 seconds, or platinum, which takes two seconds — they can determine the differences based on the viscosity and color of the metal.” Moreover, he underscored how “the character and passion of the person may be even more important than the technical prowess.” The expansion of the Rome atelier will see the number of employees grow with the addition of 20 to 22 artisan to reach a total of 50 by 2019.
Bulgari clearly relies on Di Roberto’s extensive experience. He began his career at the company in 1979, managing the purchase of raw materials in the brand’s New York store. In 1985, he was called to Bulgari’s headquarters in Rome to manage the sales department with the aim of supporting the expansion of the label through a product assortment strategy for jewelry and watches. His expertise ranges from business management in Southeast Asia to marketing, sales activities with third parties and the implementation of the distribution network in North America. He was appointed to his current role in 2001 with strategic responsibilities on product portfolio, creativity and development, as well as production and warehouse.
Just as engaging the customer has become a mantra for the fashion industry, similarly, creating an experience is increasingly key in high jewelry, too. “We are going in that same direction,” said Di Roberto. To wit, Bulgari’s haute joaillerie events have become more and more inventive. “In the past, we did not really tell stories.”
At the end of June, to present its “Festa” collection in a stately and frescoed Venice palazzo, Bulgari re-created a traveling fun fair, 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. The company paid homage to the joyful mood of the country’s festivals and outdoor events such as the Carnival or the Palio, the storied horse race in Tuscany’s Siena. At the time, chief executive officer Jean-Christophe Babin pointed to “strong and spontaneous emotions” created by these suggestions, which lead to “a richer and more intense, magic experience.”
On a long table, rings were shaped as pistachio, lemon or chocolate cakes. 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. “’Festa’ was born from a strong concept that allowed creativity to roam free,” said Di Roberto.
In another example, in June 2015 Bulgari presented a fine jewelry collection called “Italian Gardens” with a gala event attended by Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and Luke Evans at the 16th-century Villa di Maiano in Fiesole, outside Florence, comprising 100 jewels evocative of the geometry of hedges and flower beds dating back to the Italian Renaissance.
Supporting regional events, high jewelry pieces were presented at the unveiling of the imposing Bulgari flagship on Fifth Avenue in New York last month. Another event will be held on Nov. 16 in Beijing — an annual affair that this year coincides with the opening of the new Bulgari Hotel in the Chinese capital. While all these are business opportunities, they also help to boost the brand’s image, driving social media. “The Venice ‘Festa’ event was amplified by social media and we all know how Asian Millennials are in tune [with digital tools],” said Di Roberto, adding that Asia has become “very important, with an increasingly sophisticated customer in China.”
Much like couture in fashion, high jewelry designs have a trickle-down effect. “They offer the possibility to be creative and inspire new themes, instill creativity and product development throughout the brand,” remarked Di Roberto.
Bulgari’s investment in the Rome labs comes after the company in March inaugurated a new state-of-the art jewelry plant in Valenza, Italy, billed as the largest in Europe, and created its own Jewelry Academy. There is an exchange between the two, including a shared prototype area in Rome for some pieces. “It can take seven or eight years to train high jewelry artisans, so we will also look to work with that school,” said Di Roberto.
High jewelry, which may cost up to more than one million euros, is distributed in 25 to 40 Bulgari stores, out of the total 300 globally.