rom his office in Geneva’s old town, Giorgio Bulgari has a bird’s-eye view of trees. The atmosphere is peaceful, a space for creation. His desk is strewn with model locomotives: not out of childhood nostalgia but for the inspiration he finds in the sleek lines of the 1930s Streamliner aesthetic.
Giorgio Bulgari grew up steeped in jewellery. As a boy he would watch his father Gianni Bulgari at work, full of admiration. Even so, his journey into the family business would take a circuitous route. After studying art history and communication in Boston, he spent four years as a trader in the United States before deciding to return to Europe and find his place in the Bulgari line, a family of goldsmiths and jewellers since 1884.
Giorgio Bulgari’s journey into the family business took a circuitous route. After studying art history and communication in Boston, he spent four years working in finance.
From 2003 watches and jewellery replaced finance. First of all he joined Enigma, the watch brand his father had founded in 1989. Then, in 2014, he was appointed creative director for Marina B, set up by his aunt, Marina Bulgari, in 1978 and which then belonged to Paul Lubetsky, CEO of Windsor Jewelers in New York. It wasn’t until 2017 that Giorgio Bulgari decided to go it alone as an independent jeweller, initially specialising in bespoke jewels. “Time-out” during the pandemic allowed him to step back and envisage full-fledged collections under the Giorgio B label. They were first presented at a small gathering in Saanen in February prior to the official launch at Dover Street Market in London last May.
- Giorgio Bulgari
His jewellery garnered international attention when Sharon Stone wore a pair of his Palma earrings to the Vanity Fair Oscar party in March. A young brand needs one heck of a network to “dress” a star like Sharon Stone. Luckily for Giorgio B, its communications consultant, Jasmine Vidal, knows the actress’s stylist, Paris Libby. She sent him photos of the collections and, two days before the Oscars, he called her back: the Palma gold and diamond earrings complemented Ms Stone’s dress for the magazine’s after party.
Two days later, a solo show of paintings she had made during lockdown opened at Allouche Gallery in Los Angeles, where she wore the same earrings and the coordinating pendant in rose gold. What you might call a lucky break! We sat down with Giorgio Bulgari to learn more about him and his brand.
- Earring from the Goccia line
Europa Star: After graduating, age 21, you began a career in finance. What did you learn that’s still of use to you today?
Giorgio Bulgari: I was hired with the promise that within three to six months I’d be earning a six-figure salary. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, considering I was living on $1,000 a month. I knew nothing about finance and was eager to learn. I was trading Nasdaq. It was late 1998, stocks were volatile and that volatility made money. When I got my first pay cheque in February 1999 it was indeed for six figures. I stayed four years. Working as a trader gave me a feel for independence and helped me know myself better. You learn to manage fear and greed, to find a middle ground between the two.
You grew up surrounded by gemstones and the sketches your father was still producing for Bulgari. As a boy, did you want to become a jeweller yourself?
It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I looked up to my father, this extraordinary individual. To me, his life seemed like something out of a book. He’d met countless celebrities, the likes of Grace Kelly and Liz Taylor, was immensely charismatic, flew planes, raced cars. I wanted to be like him. He left Bulgari in 1987 when I was ten then set up the Enigma watch brand.
- Palma pendant, inspired by the Streamliner aesthetic
You’re the fourth generation of jewellers with the Bulgari name. Do you feel a part of this family line?
I feel a responsibility towards my ancestors to do things well. At the same time, I have to find my own aesthetic and language. I think there is a certain correlation between my jewellery and what the Bulgari brand has done, in the stylisation, the geometry and the volumes, for example. These elements are a part of my heritage which I express in a more contemporary light.
In 2017 you started designing jewellery for private clients. What made you want to set up your own brand?
I was almost 40 and wanted to create something that belonged to me. I already had a network of gemstone traders and manufacturers in Italy. I set up my company and in September 2017 delivered my first bespoke jewel. Of course, when you make jewellery to order there are always aspects that come not from you but from the client. More and more, I wanted to make jewellery that would reflect my own creativity. I started with one-off pieces which I showed at fairs. From there, I went on to design two lines - Palma and Goccia – which I launched this year.
“More and more, I wanted to make jewellery that would reflect my own creativity. I started with one-off pieces which I showed at fairs. From there, I went on to design two lines - Palma and Goccia – which I launched this year.”
- Ring from the Goccia line
What do you hope to bring to jewellery?
My own vision, my own aesthetic. I like to set stones asymmetrically but still retain balanced proportions. My style is a combination of opulence and pure lines, using volume to show off the stones.
Speaking of which, is investment value a criterion when choosing stones?
In principle, no. I’ve even stopped myself from buying stones I wanted because it would have been too difficult to sell them to my clients. A year and a half ago, for example, I was shown the most extraordinary, 10-carat, cushion-cut tsavorite. It was love at first sight. I kept coming back to it, and showed it to two or three clients who could have been interested but couldn’t get past the price. It cost more than a Colombian emerald but to me it was far more beautiful and rarer. In the end I let it go. At that time I had only a few clients. If I found myself in the same situation today, possibly I would take the risk…
- Ring in rose gold set with a 7.55-carat pink sapphire and diamonds
There’s something of the Streamliner aesthetic in the Palma collection. Was that one of your inspirations?
Yes it was. As you can see, there are locomotives all over my desk. Before designing the collection, I’d been looking at drawings of palm fronds in a book someone gave me on Kew Gardens, and I thought the shape would make fabulous earrings. The Palma bracelet has a 1930s style. Industrial design was born in the late 1920s to transform even the most trivial mass-produced objects into something beautiful. Sometimes, the simplest things are the hardest to produce. There’s nothing to hide behind.
Sharon Stone was the first star to wear your Palma earrings, at an after party for the Oscars in March. How did you feel when you saw the photos?
Enchanted! I loved the way she wore them.
- Palma rose gold and diamond earrings (medium)
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from your father, Gianni Bulgari?
I was fortunate enough to live at home until the age of seventeen. I was an only child and soaked up everything. My father travelled extensively but we still shared great moments together. The two of us would jump into his car and go off for weeks on end. I spent a lot of time in his office. What he gave me is a part of who I am today. Not so much a lesson as a way of expressing myself.
The pure lines and volumes of the Streamliner style are a source of inspiration, hence the model locomotives on his desk.
- Palma ring in rose gold