Bvlgari’s Tribute to Femininity in Moscow
This is the story of Bvlgari. You’d think it’d be about jewels and the desire to possess the jewels, or the story of a Grecian silversmith named Sotirio who desired to move West and set up a boutique on Via Condotti in Rome, or about the two brothers Paolo and Nicola descended paternally from this very silversmith, expanding the business and trained in the arcane arts of diamond cutting and fusing platinum, but it isn’t. Well, it kind of is, but not primarily. It’s about women, and the indomitable, independent power of femininity emblazoning itself upon the Russian night sky... And so we find ourselves in Moscow To desire, to be desired: This is perhaps what fundamentally makes us human. Or at least what makes being alive intriguing and worthwhile. There is not just lustful or romantic desire, or object desire—there is the desire for progress, self-actualization, emancipation, and power. There is the desire to own, to possess, to dominate. And sometimes, the desire is to create desire. “The plans for the future are desirability,” Jean-Christophe Babin, global CEO of one of the most luxuriantly desired brands in the world—Bvlgari— alluringly states over the phone in Rome, where the company has been headquartered since 1884. “So that, more than ever, Bvlgari will be the irresistible brand.”
This is the story of Bvlgari. You’d think it’d be about jewels and the desire to possess the jewels, or the story of a Grecian silversmith named Sotirio who desired to move West and set up a boutique on Via Condotti in Rome, or about the two brothers Paolo and Nicola descended paternally from this very silversmith, expanding the business and trained in the arcane arts of diamond cutting and fusing platinum, but it isn’t. Well, it kind of is, but not primarily. It’s about women, and the indomitable, independent power of femininity emblazoning itself upon the Russian night sky... And so we find ourselves in Moscow for the landmark exhibition Tribute to Femininity, where Bvlgari has assembled the largest showing of jewels that the Kremlin, a UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site and one of the most famed and prestigious jewelry museums in the world, has ever exhibited.
Over 500 pieces of jewelry. Sounds like a lot. But it’s actually so much more, considering that each piece of jewelry is comprised of so many individually stunning components, harnessed from nature and then meticulously crafted with an audacious vision for style and colors into historically resonant icons—say, a tiara belonging to Princess Torlonia comprised of aquamarines and diamonds; or Elizabeth Taylor’s necklace with 16 perfectly step-cut Colombian emeralds, one 23.44 carat Colombian emerald as pendant, and countless diamonds surrounding all of this; or a choker in lapis lazuli, rubies, diamonds, and sapphires; or a necklace from the Chandra collection featuring porcelain, pink, red, and green tourmalines, and gold; or a sautoir from the Monete collection in three-color gold with diamonds and featuring antique British coins—exactly 3 groats and 12 shillings from the XVI and XVII centuries.
It’s this dynamism, this combination of completely different materials and a vivid array of colors, that makes Bvlgari so unique. “It’s really the emblem of Bvlgari, to produce the latest materials and innovative techniques to create jewels,” Lucia Boscaini, Bvlgari’s Brand and Heritage Curator, gushes. Boscaini’s role at Bvlgari is integral to the identity of the company and diverse in its requirements. She oversees “all activities related to the identity of the brand and the history of the brand,” which means fastidiously maintaining the archive of papers, photographs, interviews, ensuring the preservation and care of the brand’s heritage pieces, and executing special projects, like Tribute to Femininity. Speaking more about the aforementioned Monete collection, for which Bvlgari mixes original antique coins in silver, bronze, or gold and then sets them amidst a glittering array of contemporary jewels, she continues, “Every one of them is really the perfect combination of past and future, and this to me is the reason why this line is so iconic. For the exhibition, all of these items are encased in beautiful, custom-made displays, but there are also stunning graphics that are projected on all the walls.” The projections on the Kremlin walls are stunning indeed in person, and will have many a guest vying for that boomerang selfie in front of it.
But jewels, no matter how beautiful, need to be worn to achieve their highest essence, to be brought to life, to breathe—ideally by someone who is themself not only beautiful, but strong and daring, someone whose story will only enhance the provenance of the jewelry, who will make the jewelry even more captivating for their having worn it. For Bvlgari, more often than not, these people have been women. Hence the title of the exhibition: Tribute to Femininity. Elizabeth Taylor, Anna Magnani, Anita Ekberg, Gina Lollobrigida, Princess Olimpia Torlonia—these are just a few of the women, paragons of beauty, power, audacity, and grace, whose prized collections are represented at the exhibition. “It represents one of the core values of Bvlgari—you have this powerful expression of femininity, which isn’t just about beauty, but about success, about pedigree, about strength and determination, which makes the Bvlgari clients very unique and special ladies, very much pioneers at the time and still today,” Jean-Christophe tells me.
This is perhaps most perfectly exemplified by Elizabeth Taylor, so supremely beautiful it remains unclear whether she or the jewels benefitted more from their proximity to the other; and Taylor’s passion, unrivaled, only strengthens the significance of this relationship. In Boscaini’s words, “To Bvlgari, the link with her is really deep and authentic because she had a personal friendship with the Bvlgari brothers. And so, to us, she has been extremely relevant, not only because she was a beautiful woman and a very good actress, but because she was really a woman in control.” The word link is interesting here; in it, one may sense a kind of transcendent relationship between Taylor and her jewels, may even see her emeralds as an extension of herself. And what better display of (self) control than to give a part of You away? When she came out as a major supporter of the fight against AIDS, “she created her own charity foundation and decided to auction a few items that she was really, really linked to, because she wanted to show a sign of her personal engagement, the real engagement,” Boscaini says. So Elizabeth Taylor sold her Bvlgari engagement ring, decorated with emerald and diamond. “And, in selling the certificate describing the number of carats, the quality of the stone—you know, the technical certificate—she hand wrote: ‘Wear it with love.’”
Much like Elizabeth Taylor, Bvlgari is a brand that gives back. Boscaini oversees these philanthropic efforts as well. In 2016 the company completed a $1.7 Million Renovation of Rome’s famed Spanish Steps, and as of last year partnered with the Zaha Hadid- designed MAXXI Museum in Rome to establish a generous annual prize for emerging artists. It’s a way for the company to define the future, much as exhibitions like Tribute to Femininity help to define its past. And here in Moscow, surveying a century of history embodied in hundreds of timeless pieces as well as more contemporary designs—just as radiant and inspiring as their predecessors, gracing new icons of femininity—we are provided a vantage of both. Alicia Vikander, one of Bvlgari’s amdassadors, strolls by, the light glinting off a radiant bracelet and necklace she’s worn for the celebratory opening. It seems the path forward for this storied company will be just as riveting as the journey it has taken so far.