How Sheikha Fatima bint Hazza forged a link between Bulgari and Abu Dhabi

The brand's latest jewellery connection has the five-petal flower found in the mosque as its motif, reveals chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin

The Bulgari universe is a rather glamorous place. Case in point, when the Italian luxury house launched its latest fine-jewellery collection, called Jannah, in Dubai last week, it did so at its eponymous hotel and with latest global ambassador Priyanka Chopra Jonas playing hostess.

The jewellery, meanwhile – six delicate pieces in 18K rose gold, white diamonds and mother-of-pearl – have been created in collaboration with Sheikha Fatima bint Hazza.

This is the second jewellery project between the Italian house and the Emirati royal, with the first (also called Jannah, the Arabic word for garden or paradise) conceived as a high-jewellery collection of one-of-a-kind pieces.

For this second iteration, The National speaks with Bulgari chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin about the collection and what the involvement of the sheikha means for the house.

“This is the only time a jeweller has worked so deeply with a royal highness to create real collections and not just a unique piece like a tiara for a special occasion. We have had many collaborations for crowning events or whatever, but this is the first time a jeweller is creating … two full collections with a real collaboration, not just an endorsement,” he says.

Both collections are the result of a close working relationship between Lucia Silvestri, Bulgari's creative director, and the sheikha whose involvement has been instrumental. “She brought to the table the idea of the five-petal flower, the original of which she had admired in the Abu Dhabi [Sheikh Zayed Grand] Mosque, which we would never have thought about,” Babin explains.

While flowers are a classic motif in jewellery, the challenge for Bulgari was to find a new method of expression that, says Babin, is “not always easy.” Eventually, a solution was found, of containing the flower inside a circle. “This was a fantastic idea because anything fitting in a circle is immediately associated with femininity, and fits with any kind of jewel, from an earring to a ring or a pendant.”

The new collections arrive as a pendant necklace and matching earrings, both finished with a chained tassel set with diamonds. There are also stud earrings, a fluid bracelet decorated with five discs and a sautoir necklace with 18 double-sided charms.

The pieces are light, elegant and effortlessly beautiful, and Babin is evidently proud of the result. Holding the sautoir necklace, he explains that, unusuall­­­­­­­y in fine jewellery, the backs of each charm or disc have been given as much thought as the front. Being a long necklace, these discs can flip over, meaning that Bulgari had to ensure each one was perfect from every angle.

“On the back, you discover that it is not only crafted as artfully as the front, but is even diamond-set. So if the sautoir flips, it will always be extremely beautiful.

“Jewellers spend a lot of attention on the jewellery you can see,” he continues, “but don't spend so much time on what you cannot see. Setting diamonds on the part the eye cannot see, this is typically a Bulgari signature. This makes the collection very sophisticated.”

Having been founded in Rome in 1884, Bulgari is built on a deep-seated Roman pride, leading it to fund several restoration projects across the city, such as the Spanish Steps; a second-century mosaic floor at the Baths of Caracalla; and work at Rome’s oldest temples at Largo di Torre Argentina, a square that dates back to the third century BC.

While in the UAE, this strong identity led the brand to become actively involved with the Italy Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. “We consider ourselves as brand ambassadors of Italian excellence, art and luxury. Italy is the most respected ‘made in’ in the world, [and] we prefer to invest our resources – human, artistic and financial – to be the most prominent protagonist of the pavilion. I prefer Bulgari to be considered as the ambassador of sophisticated Italian lifestyle, above and beyond politics, in the fields of art and luxury. For me, this is important,” says Babin.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, Nov 06, 2014. Dubai Design District (d3) showcases, for the first time in the Middle East, Bulgari's Elizabeth Taylor's collection. The exhibition is showing in Cuadro Fine Art Gallery, DIFC. Pictured: Bulgari's CEO Jean-Christophe Babin, in front of an installation commissioned from Analogia Project for Bulgari's Elizabeth Taylor's exhibit . Photo: Reem Mohammed / The National (Journalist: Seline Denman) Section: Luxury

As well as supporting the Expo, Bulgari has also committed to helping regional artists, with its Contemporary Art Award that was unveiled in June in conjunction with Dubai Culture and Arts Authority. An annual award, it aims to provide unknown talents with support and exposure.

“We have always been inspired by art, from ancient, to Baroque, to Indian and now Islamic, so it is our duty to promote contemporary art. We owe, somehow, a tribute to the emergence of young artists, young talents, who in turn one day might become a source of inspiration for us,” explains Babin.

Such support was visible in the Bulgari Colours exhibition, held from July to September in Seoul, which invited artists to create works inspired by jewellery masterpieces, or October's Serpenti Metamorphosis by artist Refik Anadol. Realised as a series of screens in the Piazza del Duomo in Milan, these were filled with constantly evolving images generated by artificial intelligence. Named after one of Bulgari's most enduring motifs, the Serpenti snake, it was a discussion about the relationship between art and technology and, as such, was unsettlingly beautiful.

‘’When you are a high jeweller, most of what you craft and create is unique, and belongs, by definition, to art. What makes art unique is that it is usually not repeatable, and that is the same essence of high jewellery.”

History, too, plays an important role for the house.

The company name, for example, is stylised with a Roman numeral and one of its most famous rings, the B.zero1, takes inspiration from the curving walls of the Colosseum. Yet, Babin is adamant that Italian flair and style is part of its DNA, too.

“It resonates in the way we behave with our clients. There is an Italian empathy and an Italian sense of hospitality, which departs from the formality normally found in traditional jewellery.”

Being able to offer a warmer, less intimidating atmosphere is actually a benefit when looking to speak to the new generation of luxury customers, Babin explains. “They are more informal themselves, mixing Armani jeans with a Chanel sweater, and in that sense, our dolce vita, our Roman lifestyle fits very well with modern times for high jewellery.

“Maybe 30 years ago, we were a bit too advanced for the times, when you had to be very formal. Today, when you go to a Bulgari Hotel – the most expensive hotel in the world – the team is dressed in a pretty modern way. They are elegant, but they are not classically dressed, and people immediately feel more at home. We consider each store, each hotel as an Italian embassy. We are elegant and distinguished, but at the same time, we are warm and cheerful, and create an atmosphere that puts clients very much at ease.”

When asked who the Bulgari woman is, Babin says there is no stereotype. “When we talk about jewellery, it is anything from €1,500 ($1,720) to over a million. But this Jannah collection is for a lady in her late twenties to late thirties, who is working and independent. She is a lady who has very clear taste, who manages her life her own way and takes time for herself. She might receive it as a gift, but she might well gift it to herself, perhaps to celebrate the birth of the second child or a new job.”

The shift towards women buying their own jewellery has been a slow but fundamental one within the industry. It is not lost on Babin.

“The market has increased for brands that pay respect to women. In terms of gender diversity in the luxury world, we are champions, at more than 55 per cent. Jewellery is almost exclusively for women, and this pioneering spirit is very much in the company culture.”

Updated: November 15th 2021, 12:03 PM