Italian luxury brand Bulgari is world-renowned for its lavish gemstone jewellery and fine watches. Exalted designs such as the Trombino ring, the Giardinetto brooch and the Serpenti bracelet-watch often achieve exceptional results at auction.
Bulgari was founded by Sotirio Bulgari, who was born in 1857 in Greece and was descended from a family of silversmiths. In 1884 he opened his first shop in Rome on the Via Sistina, and then in 1905 he moved to the Via dei Condotti.
Upon Sotirio’s death in 1932, his sons Giorgio and Costantino took over the business. They are credited with creating the distinctive ‘Bvlgari’ jewellery style. This is inspired by Greek and Roman classicism, the Italian Renaissance and the 19th century Roman school of goldsmiths.
The Trombino ring first appeared in the 1930s and is one of Bulgari’s most long-lasting jewellery designs. Translating as ‘little trumpet’, it lets the central gemstone stand proud. A classic example of this iconic ring was the 14.38-carat Burmese ruby that sold at Christie’s Geneva for CHF 823,500 in 2017.
Bulgari began to attract a star-studded following during the 1960s. Their designs graced the likes of Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Gina Lollobrigida. One of the most famous jewels from the period was the magnificent emerald and diamond necklace that Richard Burton bought for Elizabeth Taylor as a wedding present in 1964. When sold by Christie’s in 2011 it fetched $6,130,500.
Bulgari also perfected the Serpenti bracelet-watch in the 1960s. The design consists of a coiled snake which wraps around the arm and hides a concealed dial within its head. Today, the Serpenti line encompasses sinuously articulated necklaces, rings, bangles and watches.
The 1970s marked the beginning of Bulgari’s international expansion. Stores opened in New York (the first overseas), Paris, Geneva and Monte Carlo. It was also in this decade that Bulgari introduced the ‘Bvlgari-Bvlgari’ which was to become a successful watch classic. Bulgari Time was established in the early 1980s in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, for the creation and production of all Bulgari watch lines, such as the distinctive Bulgari Octo.
In 2001, Bulgari formed a joint venture with 'Luxury Group' to create a new luxury hotel brand, Bulgari Hotels & Resorts. In 2011, the brand was acquired by LVMH.