EVENT RECAP: BVLGARI Celebrates 130 Years of Exquisite Jewelry at HMNS

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

BVLGARI turns 130 this year and to celebrate they brought ~150 pieces to display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Amazing, right? They say 'Diamonds are a girl's best friend' and after this exhibit I've become a believer! The Bulgari: 130 Years of Masterpieces Exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) opened up to the public on May 2nd.  On May 1st, I attended a Media Preview of the exhibit before it opened to the public. Of course the event was during my work hours but I decided to take vacation hours to attend! This was definitely an event not to be missed.  The President & CEO of Bulgari, Jean-Christophe Babin, was present along with the President and CEO, Curator of Gems & Minerals at HMNS, Joel Bartsch.  The event started at 9am with Italian cookies, and coffee outside the exhibit, while a jumbo tron cycled pictures of Bulgari jewelry across the screen. I invited my friend Heather Petrey from LA Fashion Snob to attend with me! We ran into Sarah Gabbart from Houstonia Magazine, Cherise & Keith Luter for Houston Press, & made new contacts with the editors of Bayou City Magazine.   Around 9:30 we entered the exhibit to hear from Joel and Jean.  Joel spoke about the importance of HMNS being the chosen museum by Bulgari for their exhibit and Jean spoke about the rich history of BVLGARI.  

Goodie Bags for the guests that had press information and the $50.00 BVLGARI Catalog on sale at the HMNS gift shop.
Joel Bartsch & Jean-Christophe Babin
During the Q&A session I had a few questions for Jean-Christophe. In his introduction, he mentioned visiting the gems and minerals exhibit in addition to the BVLGARI exhibit and I was curious to know why. Though there are only 4 precious stones in the world, Bulgari prides themselves in using both precious AND semi-precious stones, which separates them from traditional jewelry competitors that solely focus on the use of precious stones. He recommends visiting the gems and minerals exhibit to see all the types of gemstones that Bulgari would be interested in for their pieces.  

I then asked him about the process of coming up with each unique jewelry design.  Jean-Christophe said, "It's like kids playing with pieces of a puzzle. We lay the stones out on a big table and start moving them around to come up with a concept.  Every piece must be perfect. We currently have a piece that has been waiting to be completed for 2 years." 


"We are looking for the 7th emerald that will match the exact emerald shade of the first 6." WOWZA! I can't imagine waiting 2 years to complete a piece of jewelry. It really shows how dedicated they are to the quality of the jewelry, the perfection and the craft. Besides the obvious reason of prestige and glam, owning a Bulgari piece will have you standing out from the crowd.  They are intricate pieces of artwork signifying many, MANY hours of labor to fabricate. 

Quiz: Without looking it up, can you name all 4 precious stones? (Answer at the end of post)

Enjoy these pictures with information shared from the press/media materials I received.
Though Bulgari is an Italian house, their origins are Greek.  Sotirio Bulgari, a Greek silversmith & founder of the company, sold precious silver objects & jewelry like the ones pictured above. These pieces were referred to as 'peasant jewelry' and were popular among tourists that visited his shop. They paid homage to ancient traditions.  In 1884 he moved to Italy and opened his first shop in Rome. In 1905, with his sons Costantino and Giorgio they opened a shop in Via Condotti, Rome which today remains their flagship store. 
In the 1920s, Sotirio was hugely inspired by  Parisian trends, the discovery of King Tut's tomb and Art Deco. 
Sotirio died in the 1930s leaving his company to his two sons Giorgio and Costantino.  When he was 18, Giorgio traveled to Paris where he was inspired by the fashionable French jewelry at the time and developed a passion and expertise in precious stones and jewels. He became known as one of the best connoisseurs of gemstones of the period.

Jewelry in the 1930s were inspired by the Machine Age and industrial design. Bracelets, brooches, double clips, and necklaces were formed by a succession of geometric shapes.  

During the 1940s, after World War II, silver wasn't readily available and Bulgari began to use more yellow gold, introducing the TUBOGAS collection (jewelry consisting of a flexible chain that does not require soldering).  With the success of this collection Bulgari continued to move in the direction of making jewelry that is comfortable to wear. 

1950s - 60s
Bulgari continued to follow French jewelry design trends well into the 1960s due to Giorgio's studies in Paris. Many pieces were made of platinum and were convertible.  At this time they became known for perfecting the art of asymmetrical floral spray brooches known as EN TREMBLANT.  En Tremblants were made of fancy colored diamonds that flickered like flowers in a breeze. Stars became enamored with Bulgari and the jewels were seen all over the silver screen.  Anna Magnani, Ingrid Bergman, Sophia Loren, Monica Vitta, Zsa Zsa Gabor are just a few actresses who indulged in a Bulgari obsession, but none more other than Elizabeth Taylor.  
Quality and excellence form the basis of Bulgari's culture. Its corporate philosophy reflects this commitment within the working environment, with the aim of achieving the customer's full satisfaction.
These earrings belonged to Italian Actress Gina Lollobriglia. She actually purchased them.  Stars knew the value of owning and investing in jewelry back then during the Golden Age.
Our tour guide Monica! She's one of the Bulgari Heritage Experts

These ruby pieces belonged to famed Italian actress Anna Magnani

After awhile Costantino and Giorgio became interested in precious stones, jewels and watches and after the Second World War,  the designs began to reflect Greco-Roman classicism vs the French goldsmith school of trade. These new bold and innovative styles became wildly popular for the movie world by the 1950s-60s.
One of my favorite pieces from the exhibit. I love me some rubies!
Celebs embracing BVLGARI through the years
Moving away from french influence Bulgari began to create jewelry made with cabochon-cut stones (considered second-rate gems by traditional jewelers) creating bigger and bolder pieces.  They began to develop striking color combinations, choosing gemstones based on color rather than value. 
In 1977, Bulgari launched BVLGARI BVLGARI watches, and by 1982, an entire Bulgari division was created soley dedicated to the production of Bulgari watches. 
The popularity of the serpent (snake) in Bulgari designs took off in the 1960s

A plaque given to Marilyn Monroe made by BVLGARI
This decade marked the beginning of Bulgari's international expansion.  They opened new stores in New York, Geneva, Monte Carlo, & Paris.  Bulgari liked to set coins in objects since the 1930s. Nicola Bulgari an avid coin collector thought he could give second life to these ancient relics by adding them to Bulgari jewelry. To Bulgari these coins were relics of the past, a homage to their Greco-Roman heritage. 

Bulgari embraced trends of the moment and created sensational, whimsical and exotic designs during the 1970s, including these long and heavy sautoirs.

In 1976 Bulgari created a special collection, STARS & STRIPES to honor America's Bicentennial and it's store opening in New York.
The MELONE bag was created in 1970s; it was named for its oval and melon-like shape, and quickly became recognizable as Bulgari.  The bags were made in various shapes and finishes, and almost always featured a silk cord (usually ending in a tassel) that could be changed to match the color of the wearer's dress. 
1980s - 1990s
The 1980s was the decade when all of Bulgari's design motifs that had taken shape over the years came together in a recognizable form that incorporated volume, strong colors, clean lines and an awareness of antiquity.


There was an entire room dedicated to Bulgari pieces owned by Elizabeth Taylor
The watch on the left was requested by Twentieth Century Fox to gift to Elizabeth Taylor for her portrayal of Cleopatra. Right - My goodie bag!

I really didn't think my jaw could drop any lower than it did while gaping at these exquisite works of art, and my pictures only do so much justice, you really have to go see this exhibit in person while it's still there:

5555 Hermann Park Drive
Houston, TX 77030
Group ticket reservations can be made by contacting Martine Kaye, Director of Corporate Sales via email at mkaye@hmns.org of 713-639-4768

ANSWER TO QUIZ: Diamond, Sapphire, Emerald & Ruby
BVLGARI Facts, provided in press releases in press kit. 

To see all my photos from the event visit my Facebook Album:

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  1. Gahhh!! Your pix are amazing.... Looks like it's time to me to buy a new camera!

    1. Thanks Heather!! Yea I'm very impressed with my little camera! She does good work!


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