A year ago, international high rollers celebrated Bulgari’s 135th anniversary and new collection at a major show at the Castel Sant’Angelo, the ancient fortress across the Tiber from the Roman jewel house’s headquarters. This year no exhibit is planned; the new collection can be tried on only virtually, with a specially designed app. To be allowed to see the stones in person, I needed to take a blood test.
The coronavirus has hit high jewelry, too, but Bulgari believes that through plagues and other assorted scourges, some things—namely diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, and pearls—are forever.
“Jewels have existed since the birth of man. As long as there have been people, they have sought to adorn things,” said Lucia Silvestri, Bulgari’s creative director. She added that the beauty and the energy of the one-of-a-kind jewels she designed “kept me good company in the house during Covid.”
Silvestri spoke to me earlier this year as she held up a string of stones, each the size of a walnut shell, surrounded by emerald beads and 131 diamonds. Like the rest of the High Jewelry Barocko Collection, she said, the Cabochon Exuberance necklace (“one of my favorites, a precious work of art”) was inspired by the heyday of the Italian Baroque as she took in the “light, color, and wonder” of Rome in the summer. She compared the polished curves of tanzanites, tourmalines, rubellites, and aquamarines to architectural cupolas; she literally lost her breath as she slipped it on.
It was a warm June morning at the Villa Aurelia, originally built in the 17th century for Cardinal Girolamo Farnese, whose family’s gardens inspired the necklace’s settings. (“Mai troppo,” read the brochure explaining Bulgari’s approach. “Never too much.”) The villa later became a candle factory for a count and a fort for Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Roman Republic.
It now belongs to the American Academy of Rome, which in 2006 rented it out for Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’s rehearsal dinner. (“May Katie and Tom enjoy the happiness and joy of married life,” Holmes’s father toasted then, alas.) In 2019 the villa’s umbrella pines spread over the wedding of the designer Misha Nonoo to oil scion Michael “Mikey” Hess, as paparazzi angled for photos of the guests, which included working non-royals Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner and nonworking royals Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Those were simpler times.
Now, in a room that is protected by armed guards and has an eight-person capacity, masked employees assembled plastic trays as if they were at the world’s most expensive Tupperware party. Silvestri showed off the new collection, flipping the necklaces over to show the exquisite workmanship of the yellow, white, and rose gold settings. During their making, she challenged Bulgari’s artisans to go thinner and lighter to make room for more jewels, even as lockdown slowed production and reduced the number of pieces to about 120.
One showstopper was the Emerald Corset, a necklace with a pendant that can be detached and worn as a brooch. It sparkled with nine cabochon-cut emeralds and ribbons of pear-shaped and pavé-set diamonds. The arches of the Galleria Farnese planted the seed that led to Festa, a bib necklace of 51 rubellite beads, 42 amethyst beads, and 92 round -brilliant-cut diamonds and pavé-set diamonds. (“I’m very proud of it,” Silvestri said.)
Next came a coin minted in 323 BC in the kingdom of Macedon, set in a platinum necklace with Akoya cultured pearls, diamonds, and rubies. The jewels kept coming; they included Bulgari’s new take on its classic Serpentine watch, a wristband glistening in diamonds.
As I got up to leave, and douse my hands in more sanitizer, I spied a ring called Joyful Color: a green tourmaline surrounded by buff-top amethysts, buff-top rubellites, buff-top turquoises, and pavé-set diamonds. It definitely had a Baroque appeal. I slipped it on and immediately felt like a Farnese eminenza. Or as if I had graduated from some extremely blingy high school. Or won the Super Bowl. Or mugged Liberace. Or killed Jimmy Hoffa. I wondered who would wear such hardware—and also where such a person would wear it in a suspended world deprived, however temporarily, of Met Galas, Oscar red carpets, and oligarchic bacchanals.
Then I looked up at Silvestri taking another coy-faced selfie, adorned in her creations. She was right: They make good company.
This story appears in the October 2020 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW
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