Bulgari: A born-in-Greece tale

PARIS-The tale of a gifted Greek leaving his or her homeland and doing (extremely) well in a foreign land is a recurring theme in Greece?s long history. That of Sotirios Voulgaris (Bulgaris in Italian), the founding father of jewelry house Bulgari, ranks high on the list of inspiring life stories, many of them winning combinations of creative flair and business acumen.

The success of four generations of Bulgaris is explored in ?Bulgari: 125 years of Italian Magnificence,? a spectacular retrospective exhibition on display in Paris at the city?s Grand Palais until January 12.

What makes Bulgari the luxury powerhouse that it is? One of the answers is its forever dazzling clientele: international stars such as Elizabeth Taylor (an entire room is dedicated to the Bulgari pieces owned by the doyenne of Hollywood?s elite) Cinecitta?s very own Gina Lollobrigida, Anna Magnani and Claudia Cardinale, along with global icons of exquisite taste such as Princess Grace of Monaco.

Showcasing just over 600 pieces, the show traces the house?s craftsmanship and the development of its numerous signature styles. Cabochons (unfaceted stones), combos of precious and semiprecious stones, a distinct sense of color through unique mixes of gems, the use of ancient Roman and Greek coins, as well as the celebrated Bulgari logo are all part of the Italian brand?s trademark.

Born in the village of Paramythia, northwestern Epirus, in 1857, Voulgaris, had been the sole surviving child in a family of 11 siblings and had trained as a silversmith under the watchful eye of his father, Georgis. Following a devastating village fire, father and son had moved to the Ionian island of Corfu. In 1880 Sotirios departed for Italy, making his way to Rome in 1881. Changing his name to Sotirio, he established his first store in Via Sistina in 1884. By 1905, flanked by his sons Constantino and Giorgio, he had inaugurated a shop in the Eternal City?s famed Via Condotti – Bulgari?s flagship store to this day.

While Sotirio?s silver pieces, both jewelry and other objects, lay at the house?s foundations, from 1910 onward, he dedicated his efforts to making jewelry pieces with precious stones, following the period?s predominant French school of jewelry thought.

After Sotirio died in 1932, the house continued its expansion. In the aftermath of the Second World War, Constantino and Giorgio took the decisive step of moving away from French styles and established the Bulgari style, which was inspired by ancient Greece and Rome and the Italian Renaissance.

Currently headed by Francesco Trapani, Sotirios?s great grandson, Bulgari?s luxury journey continues: Besides high jewelry, accessories and fragrances, the brand?s activities now include hotels and resorts.

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