Monday, September 16, 2013

Bravo Bulgari!

Bellisimo Bulgari: The Glittering History of Bulgari and Its Fabulous Jewels Is Revealed at the New de Young Museum Exhibit in San Francisco 

Monica Vitti, wearing the Bulgari “Seven Wonders” necklace of platinum, emeralds, and diamonds, 1963. Photo: © Karen Radkai

Necklace, 1961
Platinum with emeralds and diamonds
Bulgari Heritage Collection © Antonio Barrella Studio Orizzonte

Bravissimo Bulgari

This week at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco opens The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond 1950 – 1990, an exclusive exhibition of approximately 150 pieces created by the renowned Italian jeweler over four decades.

This exclusive exhibition will highlight jewelry that defined a pivotal period in Italian design, and will include many pieces from the personal collection of Elizabeth Taylor, as well as custom pieces from the collection of actress Jennifer Tilly, Ellen Barkin, and the private collections of Dede Wilsey, the president of the board of trustees of the museum

The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond, 1950 – 1990 will be on display at the de Young Museum from September 21, 2013 through February 17, 2014.

“I always visit Bulgari because it is the most important museum of contemporary art.” – Andy Warhol

Works in the exhibition also include those from the 1970s and 80s, a particularly innovative period for the jeweler and one influenced by Pop Art and other contemporary trends. 

“In the 1980s the Parentesi collection had a smoother, modular, almost architectural presence; both show how the jeweler could lead in new directions with a strong sense of design,” said Martin Chapman, curator in charge of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. 

Elizabeth Taylor and Bulgari 

Bulgari’s notably ‘dressed’ with jewels and adorned such prominent patrons and movie stars as Sophia Loren, Ingrid Bergman, and most notably, Elizabeth Taylor, who has long been a key aspect of the jeweler’s reputation. Bulgari recently acquired many extraordinary styles from Taylor’s collection, now part of the Bulgari heritage collection. 

“The BULGARI store on via dei Condotti (the official name) began to draw more visitors from the States during the 1960s, when many film stars were in Rome making films at Cinecittà—the principal Italian movie studio. Elizabeth Taylor was a great fan of the jewelry house, frequenting it on breaks from filming Cleopatra in 1961–1962 and continuing her patronage long after the production finished. Such was her fervor for the jeweler that her husband Richard Burton said, “The only word that Elizabeth knows in Italian is Bulgari.” For their engagement he gave her a substantial emerald brooch from Bulgari and followed it up on their wedding day in 1964 with an enormous matching necklace.” – Martin Chapman, curator of the show, in the exhibit catalog. 

Eddie Fisher adjusting Elizabeth Taylor's Bulgari tremblant brooch, Rome, 1961. Photo: © Bettmann/CORBIS.

Tremblant brooch, 1962 
Platinum with yellow and 
white diamonds 
Bulgari Heritage Collection
© Antonio Barrella Studio Orizzonte Roma

Tremblant brooch, 1958 
Platinum with diamonds 
Bulgari Heritage Collection
© Antonio Barrella Studio Orizzonte Roma

Tremblant brooch, 1960 
Platinum with yellow and 
white diamonds
Bulgari Heritage Collection
© Antonio Barrella Studio Orizzonte Roma

The brooch was probably given to Elizabeth Taylor by Eddie Fischer, her husband at the time and was worn both as a brooch and hair ornament. On the “tremblant”pieces, flowerheads are mounted on spring settings, which allow them to flicker at every movement, thus marvelously radiating their light. Since the 18th century, realistic floral motifs had been a constant theme in French jewellery.

In the early 1960s, Bulgari rivalled the finest Parisian jewellers in creating these asymmetrical sprays. 

Necklace, 1962, with pendant/brooch, 1958
Platinum with emeralds and diamonds
Formerly in the collection of Elizabeth Taylor
Bulgari Heritage Collection © Antonio Barrella Studio Orizzonte

Elizabeth Taylor became rather obsessed (or at least extremely and deliriously and permanently delighted) with Bulgari when she was in Rome to make ‘Cleopatra’. The subsequent moments of her love affair with Richard Burton were marked with Bulgari sapphire, emeralds and diamonds.

I encountered many of these dramatic pieces at Bulgari’s display at the Biennale des Antiquaires at the Grand Palais in Paris last fall, and most of them are in the exhibit at the de Young. One of Taylor’s sapphires was 50 carats. There were stones of extreme voluptuousness and rarity. Now this is jewellry. 

Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra, wearing her Bulgari snake bracelet-watch, 1962. Photo: AP Images/La Presse/Umberto Salvemini

Snake bracelet-watch, ca. 1967 
Gold with yellow and red 
enamel and rubies
Bulgari Heritage Collection
© Antonio Barrella Studio Orizzonte Roma

Italian actress Virna Lisi, in front of the Bulgari shop on via dei Condotti, Rome, 1971. Photo: Alfredo Agomeri

A Happy Memory of Bulgari in Rome

I discovered Bulgari on my first visit to Rome, as a student. I was studying art and classical architecture—and my goal was to see every Caravaggio painting in Rome, all eight (one questionable), as well as every baroque church, and the collections at the Doria Pamphilj palazzo. 

One very warm hazy golden afternoon, with an hour free, I ventured alone down swoony via Condotti. My eye was suddenly captured by the most mesmerizing colorful jewels in the window of Bulgari. I stepped closer. The colors seemed...planetary or solar and too intense for this world. These were substantial pieces—think Sophia Loren—with large cabochon sapphires, tourmalines, citrines, spinels, aquamarines and turquoise stones. The modern, colorful, exuberant and superbly crafted designs made every faceted jewel in other windows seem fussy and dated.

Brooch, ca. 1969 
Platinum with turquoise 
and diamonds 
Collection of Jennifer Tilly 
Photograph by Zale Richard Rubins

Ring, ca. 1969 
Platinum with turquoise 
and diamonds 
Collection of Jennifer Tilly 
Photograph by Zale Richard Rubins

In the intense summer heat, I was neatly dressed (nice white linen blouse, black skirt, Capri-style sandals, a neat little black cross-body) so I rang the door buzzer and was discreetly ushered inside. I’d studied Latin for years, so I improvised Italian, and I asked if I might possibly look, per favore, if they would be so kind, si prega di... at some of the jewels on display.

I was offered a leather-cushioned Klismos-style chair, a glass of chilled water on a little square silver tray with a hemstitched linen napkin, even an espresso.

Clearly, as a romantic student I was there to ‘view’. They were charming. I was made extremely welcome, rings were brought out, and I was introduced to the elegant, hospitable, and private world of Bulgari. It was joyful, serious, very Roman and very classic Italian bella figura. I left, thirty minutes later, and stepped into the intense, sun-struck afternoon.

Bravissimo, Bulgari 

“Tubogas” choker, 1974
Two-color gold with Greek silver coins
Bulgari Heritage Collection © Antonio Barrella Studio Orizzonte

Mirror, 1962 
Gold with turquoise 
Formerly in the collection of Elizabeth Taylor 
Bulgari Heritage Collection
Photograph by Antonio Barrella, Studio Orizzonte Roma

Snake bracelet-watch, ca. 1962 
Gold with rubies, emeralds, and diamonds 
Private collection 
Photograph by Zale Richard Rubins

I’m so excited that Bulgari, now a great international name, has come to San Francisco, and everyone can discover the rare beauty and consistent point of view.

I hope you’ll see the show. In the meantime, the big opening party is on September 18, and Nicola Bulgari, the grandson of the founder of modern Bulgari (the company, however, is now officially 125 years old) will pay us a visit. I will spend moments in reverie. Memories of the via Condotti and a charming Bulgari welcome. 

Denise Hale’s Legendary Diamond Bracelet

Bracelet, ca. 1950
Platinum with diamonds
Private collection
Photo: © Randy Dodson

Denise Hale has a noted collection of fine jewelry, including museum-worthy Bulgari pieces. She wears all of her favorites as a ‘second skin’ and never goes out (or dresses) without her famous Bulgari gold and diamond necklaces and bracelets, her David Webb diamond pin, or perhaps a Taffin sea anemone pin, sapphire earrings, a Boucheron chameleon diamond pin, as well as a spectacular and glittering diamond and white gold choker she acquired in Buenos Aires recently.

But the piece I admire the most is a multi-dimensional Bulgari diamond bracelet she was given in Rome on her 19th birthday, by the international businessman who had become her first husband. 

The bracelet, which Hale has lent to the Bulgari exhibit, generally whiles away the hours in a special locked box in a very secret bank vault with her other precious pieces.

Occasionally she will wear it to a very special occasion—a private dinner, a birthday, a gathering among dear friends in San Francisco.

This is a most remarkable creation, admired even by the likes of Nicola Bulgari, whose grandfather, founder of modern Bulgari in Rome, presided over its design. When occasionally Mr. Bulgari visits San Francisco, he takes time with this bracelet, gazing at it appreciatively and almost, it seems, reconnecting with his grandfather’s art and exquisite aesthetic.

Arriving or departing a soirée, the bracelet is concealed beneath a long silk or cashmere sleeve.

Denise (see more about the remarkable Hale in THE STYLE SALONISTE archive) recalls the afternoon when her husband took her to Bulgari on via Condotti to select her birthday gift.

“I was shown twenty different diamond bracelets, all of them beautiful,” she said to me recently. “They were all beautiful. Each one, so finely hand-crafted. The elegance of each was evident. But there was one—very dimensional, with exceptional baguette-cut diamonds inset on the sides—that caught my eye from the start. The design is complex but it’s very light. I always found it exceptionally beautiful, and enjoy it to this day. It’s always fun to wear it.”

Bulgari fans who look closely with find two other pieces from Hale’s collection, including sapphire earrings made by Bulgari using Hale’s grandmother’s sapphires, which are of exceptionally deep and rich hue.

Bracelet, 1960 
Gold with sapphires and diamonds 
Bulgari Heritage Collection,
© Antonio Barrella Studio Orizzonte Roma

Daisy brooch, 1969 
Platinum with emerald and yellow and white diamonds
Bulgari Heritage Collection,
© Antonio Barrella Studio Orizzonte Roma

The Stars That Shine

“Although Elizabeth Taylor was one of the last actresses of old-school Hollywood to wear her own jewelry on the set, American celebrities would continue to turn to Bulgari to adorn themselves for the red carpet throughout the 1980s and up to the present day. They were also enlisted by Bulgari to wear its jewelry to promote the brand. In the 1970s Cher wore part of the Star-Spangled Banner collection (also known as the Stars-and-Stripes collection) for a publicity shoot in conjunction with the opening of the first Bulgari boutique in the United States, the New York shop in the Pierre Hotel, in 1972.” – Martin Chapman, Curator, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Necklace and pendant earrings, 1967 
Gold with sapphires, emeralds, rubies, and diamonds 
Formerly in the collection of Mayrink Veiga 
Bulgari Heritage Collection
© Antonio Barrella Studio Orizzonte Roma

“Parentesi” parure, ca. 1982
Gold with diamonds
Bulgari Heritage Collection © Antonio Barrella Studio Orizzonte

Sautoir, ca. 1973
Three-color gold with British silver coins and diamonds
Formerly in the di Portanova Collection
Bulgari Heritage Collection © Antonio Barrella Studio Orizzonte

Pop Goes the Bulgari

“Pop artist Andy Warhol was a collector of Bulgari jewelry and in 1979 stated, “I always visit Bulgari, because it is the most important museum of contemporary art.” His magazine Interview featured actress Jessica Lange on its cover in 1979, wearing a pair of geometric Bulgari Art Deco–style earrings set with emeralds and yellow diamonds. The following year, in an interview with Nicola Bulgari, Warhol stated, “Well I think your jewelry is the 1980s. Everybody’s trying to copy this look.” – Curator Martin Chapman, from the Bulgari volume that accompanies the exhibit


de Young Museum
Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive San Francisco, CA 94118

About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.

The de Young is housed in a copper-clad landmark building designed by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron. It showcases the institution’s collections of American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 17th to the 21st centuries; art from Oceania, Africa, and the Americas; a diverse collection of costumes and textiles; and international contemporary art.

The Legion of Honor’s Beaux-Arts style building designed by George Applegarth is located on a bluff overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Its collections span 4,000 years and include European paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts; ancient art from the Mediterranean basin; and the largest collection of works on paper in the American West. 

Snake bracelet-watch, 1967 
Gold with polychrome enamel and emeralds 
Bulgari Heritage Collection © Antonio Barrella Studio Orizzonte Roma

About Bulgari
Today part of the LVMH Group, Bulgari was founded in Rome in 1884 as a silver and jewelry shop. Its magnificent jewelry creations were emblems of Italian excellence. In addition to fine jewelry at many price points, Bulgari includes a portfolio of products and services ranging from jewels and watches to accessories, perfumes and hotels. 

Tremblant brooch, 1962 Detail 
Platinum with yellow and white diamonds 
Bulgari Heritage Collection © Antonio Barrella Studio Orizzonte Roma

All photography courtesy Bulgari and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, used with express permission.


ArchitectDesign™ said...

so should wear more jewelry. I'm jealous!

Kathryn said...

What a "sparkling" post, Diane. I especially loved the story of your own visit to Bulgari tucked into this preview. Looking forward to seeing the DeYoung show.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


You have my permission to wear every piece of Bulgari.
You have my permission to wear earrings.
You have my wear perfume (as some of my friends do) that is...sweet and pretty.
Please...if you love it wear it...and if it makes you happy, do it.
xx lovely to hear from you, DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


I love your blog!
Thank you so much for your post.
I hope I see you at the de Young.
I'm attending the opening party on Wednesday.

very best, and do stay in touch, DIANE

Windlost said...

Hi Diane, what a collection of beautiful pieces in your post and what a lovely story of your visit to the store in Rome. How charming and how gracious of them to treat you so wonderfully, and perhaps you could have been a buyer - who would know?! I always want to do the same in the Place Vendome but never I am sure I look too much like a tourist even with my black and scarves....haha.

That snake watch is something else..

I hope you enjoy the exhibit. It is a treat to look upon such things even if we cannot possess...

xo Terri

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Terri-

How lovely to hear from you.

I'll be seeing the show on Wednesday at the opening celebration/party, and all the Bulgari heads will be there, including Mr Nicola Bulgari, who is in my story.

Yes...well...I was a student in Rome and I had the impression of graciousness and charm and hospitality from Bulgari, and when I thanked them, and slowly departed, it was with great appreciation of a lovely gesture on their part. Perhaps they thought my father would come in later to buy that ring I loved...or that my fiancé to be would drop in...but I think they saw themselves as ambassadors (more, in my case, than salespersons).
I have a specific memory of every moment--the clink of the glass of water on the silver tray, pulling up a chair, the espresso on the counter...the golden afternoon light as I dreamily walked down via Condotti. I'm sure they would welcome you...anywhere. my very best, DIAEN

Parisbreakfasts said...

What a divine post Diane.
I thought perhaps the exhibit was coming to the Grand Palais in Paris but it's Cartier in November. Quelle dommage.
Can't decide who is more beautiful - Monica Viti or her necklace...
At 19 I'm sure I could never choose between diamond bracelets...Hmmm

Coulda shoulda woulda said...

I love the snake bracelet which is saying a lot because normally snakes freak me out completely!! but I also never get sick of the parentesi motif.

Karena Albert said...

Diane so much beautiful jewelry and art here. I would love to see the exhibit! Denise Hale's bracelet is so exceptional; takes my breath away!

2013 Artists Series

Philip Bewley said...

Dear Diane,
I am looking forward to the exhibit, and your post captures the glamour, excitement and supreme artistry of Bulgari, past and present.
I especially enjoyed your reminiscence of your first visit to the shop on Via Condotti. I can picture and even feel the atmosphere you describe. The quality of that experience is one that I was fortunate to observe closely and share, in a different way and place. I think that in that there is the underlying excellence in all things, all aspects, and the passion for what they do and a quiet pride in what they offer. That afternoon you relate says everything about Bulgari, to me. Loved your post.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Carol

I love Bulgari...especially now that I've taken such a close look at all their archive images.

I'm attending the opening night patrons' party tomorrow night...can't wait to see everyone wearing Bulgari...all the vaults and coffers will be emptied.

best to you in Paris, DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


RUBIES AND DIAMONDS AND...snakes...oh my...

but these are so chic. You would love.

The really interesting aspect is that most of these bracelets were custom made and very one-of-a-kind.

Fabulous. Oh, and Diana Vreeland wore her snake belt around her neck...and she had the bracelets...lucky.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

KARENA is thought that most likely Denise's could not be made today. It's an Art Deco inspiration--and in the days that she acquired it...the the fifties...the Bulgari workshop was above the boutique. Everything was made there.
Now it is global...fascinating. best DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Philip-

Yes, thank you.

I present these jewels and architecture and design and interiors and opera and music and art features...because I believe all of these forms of creativity...inform each other.
I always feel that designers can be inspired by jewels...and architects can get ideas from opera...and musicians can get ideas from paintings. Photography can inspire music...and travel is always the great inspiration with all senses on alert.
I had not thought of my first Bulgari experience for some time (I've been to Rome many times since...always look at specific quests...) . It was when I saw the black and white photo of Virna Lisi walking outside Bulgari's shop on via Condotti...and saw the logo and marble facade...that I remembered, vividly...the warm afternoon I was walking...saw the jewels and the store...and was propelled to press the door buzzer...magically it opened, and handsome man with a beautifully fitted suit (of course) invited me in...and now I'm writing about it.
Let me know your reaction to the show. I know you'll be very surprised...
very best, DIANE

Brillante Interiors said...

The beauty of the gems, the beauty of the ladies, Liz Taylor's eyes, Virna Lisi's elegance...what a jewel of a post :)

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

DEAR ALBAROSA-'s brillante...and Italian.
I was so impressed, looking through all the images in the the great craftsmanship and artistry and design of Bulgari.
I've always love Bulgari...and I am fortunate to have some rings...that I love.
I had not thought of my happy Bulgari for some time...but when I saw Virna was a total sense memory.
Seeing the collections of friends of mine...very exciting.
I can't wait to see all the Bulgari jewels...worn tomorrow night.
Nicola Bulgari is an especially distinguished man...he is the grandson of Giorgio...who was really the founder of Bulvari as we know it today...before, they made a lot of silver and were less, since the is full-on glamor.
Of's Italian. best to you DIANE

Khai Cue said...

how nice.. i love your blog very dearly..

smr said...

You were neatly dressed I love that you mention that..there's a lesson for us all

henri daussi said...

Thank you for sharing the information. I found it very informative and interesting. Hope to see more post in near future.

Daniel McIntyre said...


So glad I read your post before seeing the exhibit, it got me so excited to see these exquisite pieces. I gasped when I saw Denise Hale's bracelet, I wouldn't have known it was hers if you didn't write about it. It made for great conversation at the gala! I'm obsessed with the deco design and the history behind it. Thank you for your chic and fascinating posts!

Daniel McIntyre said...


So glad I read your post before seeing the exhibit, it got me so excited to see these exquisite pieces. I gasped when I saw Denise Hale's bracelet, I wouldn't have known it was hers if you didn't write about it. It made for great conversation at the gala! I'm obsessed with the deco design and the history behind it. Thank you for your chic and fascinating posts!

SFSusan said...

I am confused about the identification of the photo of Monica Vitti wearing what is described as the "Seven Wonders" necklace (both here on your blog and at the exhibit). Except the necklace she is wearing has 9 emeralds, which look to be closer in size to the center stone, rather than graduated as in the "Seven Wonders". Even the sketch of the necklace in the exhibit shows 9 stones. Was the necklace revised at some point?