Moscow’s Kremlin Museum is currently glittering with the heady Italian glamour of Bulgari, as it hosts a vast retrospective of over 500 historic jewels that reveal how the Roman jeweller has remained at its peak through decades of creativity. For all the sheer style on view, the clunky title of the exhibition – ‘Tribute to Femininity’ – can be somewhat forgiven, happily eclipsed by the powerful designs on show. They chart the development of one of the great Italian design houses and its signature of combining candy hued gemstones, rich goldwork and Italian bravura in bold, avant-garde jewels that are unmistakably Bulgari.

The Italian jeweller has always mined the history of its native city for design inspiration. Since the 1940s, the Serpenti – a protective talisman in Ancient Rome – has been its slinky house motif. It started with the Tubogas bracelet, a smooth, weighty coil of gold technically informed by industrial gas pipes, which still forms Bulgari chokers, bracelets and watches today. Later, the snake would take on a more figurative form, acquiring smoothly overlapping scales in bold enamels and semi-precious stones, and a miniature enamel forked tongue.
 

bulg-embed

Sketch of the ’Playing Card’ sautoir in gold, coral, mother-of-pearl, onyx and diamonds, 1972 

By the 1960s the house was at its exuberant best – the rise of Cinecittà Studios gave Rome the nickname ‘Hollywood on the Tiber’. The jet set was keen to experiment with vibrant colours and increasing volumes, which Bulgari realised with steep, cabochon-cut stones and a revelatory disregard for intrinsic value. Brazilian socialite Carmen Mayrink Veiga’s 1967 gold necklace set with juicy cabochon sapphires, emeralds, rubies and diamonds in floral clusters, for instance, is brilliantly psychedelic.

Bulgari’s best-known patrons are also well-represented: on display is a strikingly geometric platinum sautoir from 1969, gifted to Elizabeth Taylor by Richard Burton for her 40th birthday, in 1972. The pendant, which can be detached and worn as a brooch, is mounted with a 65-ct Burmese sapphire, carefully fashioned into a towering sugar-loaf cabochon; the chain is made up of hexagons and rhomboids, set with smaller sapphires and pavé diamonds. It gestures towards the direction that the house would take in the 1970s, with an emphasis on flowing, hippy-like sautoirs and collet-set stones. It marks an exceptionally experimental era for the maison, which this year’s Wild Pop high jewellery collection has joyously revived.§