Roman holiday: Bulgari’s Barocko collection
A close look at the Green Dream necklace
“Bonjourno! You are here!” sings Bulgari’s creative director Lucia Silvestri. The gregarious Silvestri is not in fact talking to me, but rather to a magnificent amethyst that has just arrived from the workshops where it has been recut to meet Bulgari’s (read her) standards. “This was a stone with a beautiful colour, [but needed] re-cutting in our style, with our master cut... It’s here, it’s here, I could scream, it’s finally here.” Silvestri exclaims, “I could feel the life inside this stone”. This sort of meticulous examination and deeply held passion for coloured stones is at the heart of why Bulgari sits at the pinnacle of high jewellery design. However, we’re not here - or rather on video link from London - to discuss this new edition to the Bulgari safes, but instead the Barocko collection which made its debut in Rome this July.
While Bulgari has called Rome home for more than 130 years this new collection, inspired by the Baroque period of its history, is for Silvestri like seeing the capital with fresh eyes. “Of course, I know Rome quite well, I am Roman,” she teases. “But [in designing the collection] I discovered it again, Rome is huge and rich with monuments and art. It is a museum in the open air.”
The overarching concept for the Barocko collection was, however, always on the cards for the Italian behemoths. She explains: “We have been thinking about Barocko for several years, at least two or three, but we had other things to do first – Festa, Cinemagia, Wild Pop - but if you look at our past collections, in each one there is a piece that could be a Barocko piece. In our mind Barocko was always there. We are Barocko in our DNA.” Then in 2019, the time it seemed, had come.
Work began in late summer when Silvestri first found her creative inspiration while taking early morning walks around the city. “At 7am I was walking in Piazza Navona, it was completely empty... it was such a nice atmosphere, it was August, there was no-one in the square, and I could feel the Borromini and Bernini - my idols, my myths, I could enjoy the small details of the buildings, the monuments and the fountain.” Through the lens of coronavirus and the now ubiquitous scenes of deserted Italian landmarks it is perhaps hard to imagine that an empty piazza in Rome would elicit such wonder. However, in the dawn light, unencumbered by cacophonies of tourists Silvestri could discover and delight in the eternal city’s architectural minutiae. “I took pictures of the small details and my team did the same. We could take inspiration from this wonderful city.”
The Barocko collection is a vivacious and poetic ode to a centuries-old muse. While the inspiration might be well known, imagined through the Bulgari gaze the results are anything but predictable. “It feels classical but with a really great touch of contemporary,” ponders Silvestri.
The designs thread themes of architectural elements together with techniques employed by artists of the period. Intricate details of the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone designed by Francesco Borromini, the Fountain of the Four Rivers sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the Horti Farnesiani estate which sits on The Palatine Hill and the statue of Archangel Michael, which watches over the city from atop the Castel Sant’Angelo papal fortress, can all be found adorning the pieces. There are also echoes of artistic concepts such as chiaroscuro (Italian for light-dark) – rather fitting for a collection rich with so many richly coloured stones. As we have come to expect with Bulgari, the collection is utterly joyful and audaciously colourful while crucially underpinned by exceptional craftsmanship. Silvestri and her team combine vision and technical know-how to truly bring to life the grandeur and the golden age of 16th century Rome in all its glory.
At the heart of the sublime Barocko collection sits the Green Dream necklace together with accompanying earrings and bracelet. Not since the iconic Elizabeth Taylor necklace has a suite of emeralds of this magnitude been created. “I had in my mind the idea to create a necklace thinking of Elizabeth Taylor’s [one] but in a contemporary way because one of our rules which Mr Bulgari told me from the beginning, ‘we keep our eyes to the past but we also keep our eyes to the future, don’t repeat yourself ’,” explains Silvestri.
Emeralds have been prized for centuries whether for their believed spiritual properties or simply for their mesmerising beauty. They are in fact part of the same family of stones as sapphires, and are subject to categorisation under the same parameters as a diamond or in fact any gem: cut, clarity, colour and carat weight. When it comes to emeralds colour is arguably the most important of all, and by quite some way. The verdant, vibrant shade of green so prized in an emerald is rarer than bejewelled hen’s teeth. “When we buy coloured stones, the colour is the most important thing,” explains Silvestri, who not only holds the title of creative director but also of gem buying director. “In terms of colour, it must be vivid, have a happy colour and never too dark. I’m always looking for a colour that has space for me to see the life inside the stone.”
In contrast to diamonds however, flawless is not the yardstick by which emeralds are measured. While brilliant, luminous stones are the aim of the game, inclusions are often referred to as “gardens”. It is the pattern and nature of these elements rather than the absence of them which dealers and connoisseurs alike both seek. “The colour has to be vivid and open, not too dark. Only if I can see through the stone can I feel its beauty.”
The hunt for these eight extraordinary stones which adorn the Green Dream suite began in earnest many moons ago. “I had a vision for layout of five stones for the necklace, two stones for the earrings and one stone for the bracelet,” explains Silvestri, of her concept for the designs; tellingly the multitude of diamonds that surround the pieces don’t even seem worth her mention in comparison to the rarity and importance of the emeralds. “At least three years ago I saw the first three of these stones. I told my supplier I wanted to buy the stones but I needed more!. Slowly step by step, stone by stone I started to see other stones and to talk about the cut. I was very interested in the size of the gems but the cut was not so good, it was not a Bulgari cut. A Bulgari cut is when it’s very elegant, very sophisticated. We prefer to have a smaller stone but with a great cut.”
This approach, of seeking excellence over heft isn’t often found in jewellery, but is exactly the mentality that has earned Bulgari high jewellery the reputation for being as impeccably crafted as it is exquisitely designed. The five Colombian emeralds, (the South American country is long considered the source of the world’s most exemplary emeralds) which adorn the Green Dream necklace total 128 carats, while a further pair of impressive stones totalling 40.50 carats decorate the earrings. Finally, a single 24.98 carat emerald provides the centrepiece for the bracelet. The suite is a feat of craftsmanship, it’s not hard to see why the necklace alone took more than 900 hours to create.
And so, after many years in conception, months in production the Barocko Collection was revealed to the world in July in Rome and coronavirus be damned. The event was joyful and elegant in a way perhaps only Bulgari could achieve. Social distancing was observed and every precaution taken without diminishing the beauty and the elegance of their high jewellery events. “It was very emotional,” says Silvestri. It seems these past few turbulent months have reaffirmed Bulgari’s approach and ethos, and lead by their consummate Maestra Silvestri, they have emerged bolder and braver. Barocko is both celebratory and gloriously optimistic, a triumph of high jewellery. “Not just because it is ours but I really believe it’s the most beautiful collection we’ve ever done,” concludes Silvestri.