by Amanda Triossi, Daniela Mascetti

Bulgari is a lavishly illustrated exploration of Italy's greatest jeweler. New photography and archival pictures trace the development of the Bulgari style, a distinctive look that has captivated royalty, movie stars, and others for more than a century. Since its start in Rome in 1884 - and throughout its years of expansion through shops from Los Angeles to New York,… See more details below


Bulgari is a lavishly illustrated exploration of Italy's greatest jeweler. New photography and archival pictures trace the development of the Bulgari style, a distinctive look that has captivated royalty, movie stars, and others for more than a century. Since its start in Rome in 1884 - and throughout its years of expansion through shops from Los Angeles to New York, from Madrid and Athens to Jeddah and Hong Kong - the Bulgari firm has launched trends and revivals. In this volume, detailed chapters examine a range of successful innovations such as the easy-to-wear everyday jewels made with precious gems, the powerful modular units combined in repeating patterns, and the recent trademark Bulgari wristwatches.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Readers who may be too intimidated to browse in one of the elegant international shops of this renowned Italian jeweler will linger long over the merchandise on display in Bulgari, with 450 color illustrations of such fidelity that one can almost caress the necklaces, rings, silverware and other pieces that for more than 100 years have emerged from the firm's design workshops. Sotheby jewelry experts Daniela Mascetti and Amanda Triossi relate the history of this family-owned chain and educate readers in the jewelers' art as perfected by Bulgari craftsmen. (Abbeville, $75 256p ISBN 0-7892-0202-6)

Product Details

Abbeville Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Second Edition
Product dimensions:
9.90(w) x 13.30(h) x 1.40(d)

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The Origins of the Family

The origins of the Bulgari family are to be found in a small Greek village situated in the Pindhos mountain range in Epirus, not far from the Albanian border. This is a region rich in historical and mythical traditions, cited by ancient poets and historians such as Homer and Thucydides. It is the land of the river Acheron--entrance to Hades--and of the famous sanctuary of Dodona, sacred to Zeus. The family's early history--they were then known as Boulgaris--and their presence in the village of Kallarrytes date back to the early part of the 19th century. These facts are recorded in a document written by Costantino Bulgari on the basis of his father's memories (entitled Memorie di Famiglia Raccontate dalla Viva Voce del Papa Sotirio dal [sic] Figlio Costantino e qui Appresso Trascritte con la Maggiore Fedelta e Precisione Possibile). Kallarrytes' economy was based largely on stock farming. However, it also counted among its inhabitants skilled metalworkers whose craft had been handed down by father to son since Byzantine times. In particular, the silversmiths of Kallarrytes were famous throughout Epirus for their production--reminiscent in style of Byzantine artefacts--of belts, buckles, buttons, earrings, sword sheaths and cartridge belts worked in debased silver.

The Bulgari ancestors were among the silversmiths of Kallarrytes. There is little information on Constantinos and his son Georgis (1823-1889). The latter, a skilled silversmith, used to travel Albania and Epirus to sell his crafts. On one such trip he met and married Eleni Strougaris (b. 1833) at Paramythia where he settled, opening a small shop. They had eleven childrenbut only one survived: Sotirios, born on 18 March 1857, the founder of the Bulgari firm. Sotirios, a lively, proud and ambitious boy, spent his youth in Paramythia. Little is known of his childhood, though it was apparently a happy one; of those early days he recalled an excessive love for cakes and sweet syrups which often got him into trouble with his mother. In addition, he never forgot his first unpleasant and frightening experience: while returning home with a friend from a fair in a neighbouring village using a shortcut in the mountains, he was suddenly confronted by two bandits who robbed him of everything--including his clothes.

Epirus was then under Ottoman rule; Sotirios recalls how, around 1873, the Turks and Christians agreed to burn down Paramythia in order to rebuild it ex novo. In the ensuing blaze, the Boulgaris' shop was destroyed. Georgis and Sotirios, the latter by then a trained silversmith himself, left the village and started to work for Albanian beys--local rulers--especially for those who lived in the vicinity of Argyrokastro. Father and son never settled in one place, spending at most one month in a location before moving on to the next. Sotirios never forgot the bitterly cold winters of the Albanian mountains or those unsafe areas where he required the protection of Turkish gendarmes--zaptie--while transporting precious silverware. In 1876, while carrying some of his silver, Sotirios was the victim of an attempted robbery. This particular experience, and in general a feeling of constant precariousness, led the Boulgaris to consider the idea of expatriating. The decision was finally taken the following year, largely as a consequence of the outbreak of the conflict between the Russians and the Turks in the Balkans. During this war the insurrection of the Christians against the Ottomans in the Paramythia area was repressed with extreme brutality. The horrors of these events, coupled with the collapse in the silver trade caused by such hostilities, were instrumental in prompting the Boulgaris to leave their country. Sotirios never forgot what his father told him when the decision was taken: "Let's go, my son, let's leave this country where life has become impossible, and let us find a land where we can live and work in peace."

Towards the end of 1877 Georgis Boulgaris, having left his wife with her relatives, set off with Sotirios for Corfu. Here they settled. In the spring of 1878 they opened a small workshop on the ground floor of a house in the San Rocco quarter. In due course they integrated into the Epirote community of Corfu and were joined by Eleni. Some of the artefacts produced by Georgis and Sotirios in those years--necklaces, bracelets, buckles and belts--survive in the Bulgari family's collection.

In spite of the relatively comfortable life which Corfu provided, the young, talented and ambitious Sotirios found it restricting and began to entertain the thought of moving on. The occasion arose when, by chance, he met an old acquaintance, Demetrio Kremos, a Macedonian silversmith who remembered Sotirios' skills in chasing silver. Kremos, who was en route to Italy, persuaded young Sotirios to join him. In the autumn of 1880, they sailed for Brindisi and then proceeded to Naples. There they opened a small shop in Piazza dei Martiri, where they sold their artefacts in silver and plate. One evening, while the two partners were dining, the shop was broken into and many of their products stolen. This unfortunate event prompted Boulgaris and Kremos to abandon Naples and leave for Rome, where they arrived on 18 February, 1881. All Sotirios had left in his pocket was 80 cents of a lira.

Life was hard at the beginning. Nevertheless, they managed to produce and sell small silver objects from a stall in front of the French Academy on the Pincio. The selling lasted only three days, as they were caught without a licence and stopped from trading. This short period, however, was quite profitable as the two partners had managed to make two hundred lira. Their lives picked up when a Greek sponge merchant, a certain Kindinis, offered to let the two partners display their wares in a corner of the window of his shop. This outlet was situated at the beginning of Via Sistina, the present location of the Hassler Hotel. Their wares--buckles, buttons, etc.--sold well and soon the two partners were able to open their own shop at 75 Via Sistina. Here their business flourished; their goods were sought after by a foreign clientele in particular. This success also led to the first disagreements between the two partners. The enterprising Sotirios parted, setting up his own shop in the spring of 1884 at 85 Via Sistina.

As business in Rome during the summer months was very quiet, Sotirios sought to capitalise on trade at summer resorts: he packed his limited stock and set off to find a suitable location. He settled for St Moritz, which even at that time was a fashionable mountain resort, where he concluded the summer season very satisfactorily. This success, however, was based on hard work: Sotirios woke up every morning at 5 to begin fusing and casting his silver, which he then chased until late at night in the workshop which doubled as his home. In 1888 he agreed to an arranged marriage with Eleni (later known as Elena) Basios (1870-1940), the seventeen-year-old daughter of Sotirios' parents' neighbours in Corfu. After their wedding in Corfu, the couple settled at 109 Via Sistina, where a year later their first son, Costantino Giorgio (1889-1973), was born. Their second son, Giorgio Leonida (1890-1966), was followed by three daughters--Maria Athena (1891-1976), Sophia (1893-1908), Alexandra (1895-1894)--and a third son, Spiridione (1897-1932).

As business thrived, Sotirios summoned his fellow countrymen and relatives to join him in Rome to help him cope with his increased work load. In 1894 he opened another shop in Rome at 28 Via dei Condotti. This shop front, as may be seen from contemporary photographs, was inscribed: "S. Bulgari--Argenteria Artistica, Antiquites, Curiosites, Bijoux." The inscription confirms that by this date Sotirios, known in Rome as Sotirio, had also italianized his surname Boulgaris. The shop front, furthermore, gives an idea of what Sotirio was trading at the time: a variety of goods ranging from silver, antiques and bric-a-brac to jewels.

During these years other subsidiaries were opened: San Remo (1895), Naples (1897), Bellagio (1897) and Sorrento. Sotirio's successful summer seasons in St Moritz prompted the opening of "Saison d'ete" premises at Pontresina in the Engadine and at Lucerne, in addition to his two outlets in St Moritz-Bad. By 1905, Sotirio had managed to secure larger and more prestigious premises at no. 10 b-c Via dei Condotti, on the ground floor of Palazzo Lepri. The inscription on the front of this shop indicates Sotirio's ongoing activity abroad. Furthermore, the store's English name, "Old Curiosity Shop," taken from the title of Charles Dickens' novel, shows that his aim was to capitalise on aristocratic, wealthy British and American tourists. It was during these years that he began to widen his stock to include an increased selection of jewels and items of personal adornment. Although Sotirio was clearly very proud of his numerous subsidiaries, he soon realized the necessity of concentrating on one location in order to succeed and excel in the field of jewellery and silver. Gradually he began reducing his network, either by closing or by handing over his shops to relatives. For example, the Sorrento subsidiary was ceded in 1908 to his brother-in-law Giorgio Basios.

The first decade of the 20th century were the formative years for Sotirio's sons Costantino and Giorgio, to whom he taught the secrets of the trade. They gradually became involved in the running of the firm, mainly dealing with antique silver and jewellery. Shortly thereafter, however, the First World War brought the business to an almost total standstill; nevertheless, from 1918 on it began to flourish again. By that point, their future had been decided: the Bulgari would become famous jewellers and would collect fine silver and objects of art to serve as a backdrop to their gems.

Author Biography: Daniela Mascetti is Director of the Jewelry Department of Sotheby's London, and the author of several books on jewelry, two of which were written with Amanda Triossi, who is also a jewelry expert of Sotheby's.

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