Bulgari is a name which is synonymous with fine jewellery and stylish watches. The company has always been a magnet for affluent and famous clientele. The founder of the luxury house was Greek-born Sotiro Bulgari.
Sotiro, a silversmith by trade, arrived in Rome in 1881 and established his business three years later in 1884. His early work included elaborate silver buckles, delivered in the Ottoman style. Sotiro’s children, Giorgio and Constantino, succeeded him in 1932, imbuing the maison with a sense of modernity and embracing art deco designs.
The company’s sumptuous premises at 10 Via Condotti in Rome, with marble fixtures and wooden parquet flooring, were the epitome of elegance in the 1930s, attracting stars from the silver screen visiting the historical city.
The geometric jewellery styles of the 1930s gave way to the softer, gentler shapes in the 1940s. Indeed, part of the success of Bulgari has been its ability to innovate, creating new styles in tune with the prevailing period. Moreover, the luxury Italian brand has always had a wonderful ability to court beautiful stars of the silver screen.
Two famous admirers of Bulgari were Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. In 1962, Burton gave Taylor an emerald brooch with matching ring, weighing 23.44 carats and 7.4 carats, respectively. These were the first items of Bulgari jewellery the Welsh actor gave his dark-haired diva and they were subsequently joined with other mind-blowing creations. Such was Taylor’s profound love of Bulgari that Burton once quipped, “The only Italian Elizabeth knows is Bulgari”.
Today, Bulgari is a global brand with a retail presence in numerous cities. The company is now part of the French luxury conglomerate LVMH. Its portfolio includes jewellery, watches, fragrances and even hotels.
The first watch offered by Bulgari was the ‘Serpenti’ snake watch, released in the late 1940s. The bracelet of the watch was incredibly flexible, made of coiled gold, constructed using the ‘Tubogas’ technique. In the mouth of the snake was a watch dial.
The movements used in the early Serpenti watches came from various companies, including Jaeger-LeCoultre, Movado and Vacheron Constantin. Steel versions of the watches were released later. Some of the watches featured dual branding, showing the Bulgari name on the dial alongside the name of the watch manufacturer.
Bulgari Bulgari – a new era
In 1976, the Bulgari Roma was released with a quartz digital display, housed in a gold case with the name of the watch gracing the bezel. The initial release of 100 pieces became sought after. Its success encouraged the luxury brand to explore watchmaking further.
The following year, in 1977, Bulgari released its most famous watch, the Bulgari Bulgari. The company took the decision to cease featuring other watchmaker’s names on its products, signalling its intent to become a prominent player in the watch industry.
The Bulgari Bulgari of 1977 repeated the bezel design of the Bulgari Roma with the nomen of the watch enveloping the dial area. The case was offered in different sizes ranging from 23mm to 33mm, ideally suited for both male and female wearers. The case shape resembled a truncated cylinder, the lugs were slender and the dials were presented in black lacquer.
The success of the Bulgari Bulgari resulted in the company establishing a Swiss based watchmaking business in 1980, ‘Bulgari Time’. The company went on to enlarge its Bulgari Bulgari collection, with chronograph and tourbillon variants.
In 2013, the ascent of Bulgari as a serious watchmaker culminated in the release of the Bulgari Bulgari featuring the in-house self-winding Calibre BVL 191.
The acquisition of Daniel Roth & Gérald Genta
In 2000, Bulgari acquired the Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta production facilities in Le Sentier, located in the Vallée de Joux.
The takeover of Daniel Roth led to the company entering the elevated world of haute horlogerie. Indeed, the Le Sentier facility was always known for its expertise at making complicated watches, including tourbillons and minute repeaters.
Bulgari has continued to sell the Daniel Roth collection with its unusual case shape still delivering a point of differentiation. The case shape is neither rectangular, circular or oval but a fusion of all three forms. The movements pay due reverence to traditional Swiss watchmaking craft with sublime finishing much in evidence.
The Octo was originally conceived by Gérald Genta, but in 2012 Bulgari revisited the design, refining each aspect of its composition. The styling of the reworked model incorporates a myriad of surfaces adorning its case and bezel. While the late Gérald Genta continues to be regarded as one of the greatest watch designers of the twentieth century, the rework of the model by Bulgari was widely felt to enhance the appeal of the Octo with its clean appearance.
In 2014, Bulgari added a chronograph model to its Octo family. It is equipped with the Calibre BVL 328, sharing much of the architecture of the famous El-Primero from Bulgari’s sister-brand, Zenith.
Bulgari has become a vertically integrated watchmaker. In recent years it has purchased further companies, including a dial maker, a bracelet manufacturer and a case producer. Today, the watchmaking expertise of Bulgari is incredibly impressive.
Bulgari continues to offer high-end jewellery which celebrates femininity and Italian style. Rare and unusual gems presented in eye-catching designs remain objects ladies wish to own.
Since the launch of the Bulgari Bulgari and the decision by the Italian maison to establish a watchmaking subsidiary in Switzerland in 1980, the luxury brand has gained a reputation for its handsome watches which blend Italian elegance with Swiss watchmaking know-how.