“The last stone that really talked to me was an emerald, 55 carats,” Lucia Silvestri, Bulgari’s creative director for jewellery, tells me with a grin. “I wanted to see the life in that stone. I could see something there, but it was not completely clear. So I asked the supplier to recut it a little bit, and now it’s the best emerald in the world.”
The stone will form the centrepiece of a necklace in Bulgari’s next high-jewellery collection. The piece is not quite complete, but Silvestri shows me a picture, almost conspiratorially, on her phone. Again, she can barely contain her excitement.
It is this same enthusiasm, unfettered after 35 years in the industry, that first got Silvestri her job at Bulgari, she explains. “I was 18 years old and I met Mr Bulgari in his office. He had this huge table, full of gems. I’m a very shy person, but when I saw the gems, I started touching them. I couldn’t help it. I think Mr Bulgari was a little surprised. And maybe at that moment he understood there was something in me – a special feeling.”
The Bulgari brothers, Nicola and Paolo, great-grandsons of the founder of the storied jewellery brand, became Silvestri’s mentors. At the age of 20 she began travelling the globe – visiting Geneva, Antwerp, New York, Jaipur and Colombo – to meet the world’s leading gemmologists. She learnt how to sort, select and acquire precious stones, and was eventually named director of gem acquisitions, a role that had previously only been held by the Bulgari brothers. In 2013, Silvestri was appointed as Bulgari’s creative director for jewellery.
Earlier this year, Silvestri’s expertise and experience were recognised at the 15th annual GEM Awards, which are organised by Jewelers of America, a national trade association serving the fine-jewellery marketplace. Silvestri picked up the GEM Award for Jewelry Design and is unashamedly proud of her achievement when we meet in Dubai a few weeks later. “It’s very emotional to me,” she says. “It’s important because now I can feel that everybody knows that I worked very hard – although, for me it’s not just work, it’s a passion. I don’t work, I play, with gems.”
She is also, quite rightly, proud of being a woman who has succeeded in a very male-dominated industry, and of the fact that she is one of the few, if not the only, people in her position who is equally skilled in the acquisition and design side of the process.
For its 2017 high-jewellery offering, Bulgari played on its distinctly Italian appeal, with a collection that celebrates the blue hues of the Mediterranean, the pinks of an Italian sunset and the golds of ancient Rome. The collection is divided into three parts – Italian Extravaganza, Mediterranean Eden and Roman Heritage. In its entirety, it highlights what is perhaps Bulgari’s and, by extension, Silvestri’s greatest strength: the ability to fuse old and new, and to incorporate signature motifs in new and intriguing ways. It is also an unapologetic tribute to the brand’s home city: Rome.
“When I am buying gems around the world, I take inspiration from everywhere,” says Silvestri. “But I am truly inspired when I get home and I look at the colours of Rome – the colours are so special, from the sky to the buildings to the architecture. Rome is an open museum. I can go around a corner, and maybe I’ve done it a million times before, but I’ll see something new and I’ll think – that could be a motif for a pair of earrings. So Rome, for me, is fundamental.”
She takes the Spanish Steps as an example. There is a necklace in the new collection that takes direct inspiration from the popular Roman landmark. Bulgari made a €1.5 million (almost Dh6m) donation to fund a restoration of the Spanish Steps, and the project was completed last year, so this reference in the new collection is not unexpected. But it’s actually an idea that Silvestri has been carrying around with her for decades. “I was very young when I first went to the Bulgari store on Via Condotti, which overlooks the Spanish Steps. Even then I thought that they could be the inspiration for a big necklace. So when, last year, the marketing department asked me to create something for the Spanish Steps, I was very happy because it was already in my mind.”
The collection also references Rome’s ancient Terme di Caracalla, dubbed the first spa in human history. The Divas’ Dream Bellezza earrings are a tribute to the age-old beautification rituals practised there. Elsewhere, ancient coins are encircled with diamonds and other precious stones in oversized medallion-like pieces that offer a new, but also very old, take on the brand’s Parentesi motif, itself inspired by the travertine stones that were used to pave the roads leading to Rome. And in the Giardini Italiani collection, Bulgari references the artists of the Renaissance period, who also drew such inspiration from the natural world.
Silvestri admits to being a particular fan of earrings, and is on a one-woman mission to bring brooches back into fashion. “I can’t live without earrings. And right now I am very close to the sautoir. I think it’s a trend. But I would like to do something with brooches. They are very elegant, and we have stopped wearing them. We have to adjust them a little bit, because maybe in the past they have been too heavy. But now, if we do something a little more light and playful, it could be something that we can wear.”
And of all the pieces she has seen and created in her time, is there one that is particularly special, I wonder? “I have many special pieces. But there is one Elizabeth Taylor sautoir with a sugar-loaf sapphire, 60 carats, that is the best sapphire that I have ever seen,” she says. “For me, it is hypnotic. Mr Bulgari and I can spend hours just looking at the stone, not saying a word.”
Read this and more stories in Luxury magazine, out with The National on Thursday, April 13.