An Italian luxury brand is known for its jewelry, watches, fragrances, accessories and leather goods. Currently part of the LVMH Group, Bulgari was founded in Rome in 1884 by the silversmith Sotirios Voulgaris (Italian: Sotirio Bulgari) as a single jewelry shop that has, over the years, become an international brand. The company has evolved into a player in the luxury market, with an established and growing network of stores.
The BVLGARI logo was used for the first time in 1934, when its gilded brass letters graced the central doorway of the Via Condotti flagship store. In reference to ancient Rome, the “U” was replaced with the letter “V”, and a logo was born. Since then, the trademark is written BVLGARI in the classical Latin alphabet.
While the majority of design, production and marketing is overseen and executed by Bulgari, the company does, at times, partner with other entities. For example, Bulgari eyewear is produced through a licensing agreement with Luxottica, and Bulgari formed a joint venture with Marriott International in 2001 to launch its hotel brand, Bulgari Hotels & Resorts, a collection of properties and resort destinations around the world.
The Voulgaris were a silversmithing family from the Epirus region of Ottoman Greece. Whether or not the Voulgaris family of Corfu and the Voulgaris family of the Italian jewelers Bulgari from Epirus share the same paternal line is unclear, but the count Stefanos Voulgaris denied that the Bulgari family of the Italian jewelers family is genealogically related to the Voulgaris family of Corfu. According to chronicles of the Voulgaris family written in Venetian Corfu, the “Voulgaris family of Saint Spyridon of Corfu” descend from the royal figures of barbarian peoples from the Volga river, who “finally settled in Moesia near the Haemus mountains, located in Bulgaria”, so the founding father of this family was described as the “Triballian” (de facto Bulgarian) Prince Stefan Lazarevic in the 16th-century testament of the family, becoming such by taking refugee in the Venetian island Corfu.
Aromanianmother Eleni Stronggaris. In 1881, Sotirios Bulgari moved to Rome and, in 1884, opened his first store on via Sistina 85. In 1888, he married Aromanian Eleni Basio with whom he had six children: Constantine-Georgios(1889-1973), Leonidas-Georgios(1890-1966), Maria-Athena(1891-1976), Sofia(1893-1908), Alexandra(1895-1984) and Spyridon(1897-1932); Leonidas-Georgios is the father of the current chairman of the company, Paolo Bulgari. In 1905, he unveiled the Via Condotti shop that would become the company’s flagship. In its early years, Bulgari was known for silver pieces that borrowed elements from Byzantine and Islamic art, combining them with floral motifs. At the time, Paris was the apex of fashion and creativity, and its trends influenced Sotirio’s designs for decades: jewels of the early 20s were characterised by platinum Art Deco settings while those of the 30s featured geometric diamond motifs—sometimes set in combination with coloured gemstones. Convertible jewels were also popular during the time, and one of Bulgari’s major piece was the Trombino, a small trumpet-shaped ring.
In 1932 Sotirio died, leaving the business to his two sons, Giorgio (1890–1966) and Costantino (1889–1973), who each had a keen interest in precious stones and jewels. During the Second World War, most new jewellery was crafted out of gold, as gems were scarce, and designs became more natural feeling. As the 1940s came to a close, Bulgari introduced Serpenti bracelet watches. In the 50s some of Bulgari’s best-known clients included Elizabeth Taylor, Anna Magnani, Ingrid Bergman and Gina Lollobrigida as Rome earned a reputation as “Hollywood on the Tiber” with the Cinecittà studios.
At the same time, Bulgari went to a new style. The post-war boom saw a return to precious materials, particularly white metals covered in diamonds. In the 50s, Bulgari launched its first floral brooches—called en Tremblant because of their trembling diamond corollas. At the end of the 50s, Bulgari began to establish its motifs, introducing structured, symmetrical shapes in yellow gold set with brilliant gems—chosen for their colour rather than intrinsic value. Among these multi-hued jewels, cabochon cuts were another innovation. These new pieces were a significant departure from classical Parisian design. After Giorgio’s death in 1966, his son Gianni led the company as co-chief executive with his cousin Marina.
During the 1970s, Bulgari stores opened in New York, Geneva, Monte Carlo and Paris. This era marks the beginning of the Group’s international expansion, with Gianni as chairman and CEO. A number of new motifs made their debut as well—jewels became recognisable for their angular forms, strong colours, oval elements with cabochons, chains and maxi sautoirs, whilst the predominant use of yellow gold made precious pieces feel all the more wearable, and became known as a Bulgari trademark. In 1977, Bulgari entered the world of horlogerie with the launch of the BVLGARI BVLGARI watch. At the time, Gianni led a complete overhaul of the company, focusing on product design.
In the early 80s, to oversee all production of Bulgari watches, Bulgari Time was founded in Switzerland. In 1984, Paolo and Nicola Bulgari, Giorgio’s sons, became Chairman and Vice-Chairman, respectively, while their nephew, Francesco Trapani, became Chief Executive Officer. In 1985, Gianni resigned as CEO and in 1987, he left the family business after selling his one-third stake in the company to his brothers Nicola and Paolo.
Bulgari diversified its brand in 1993 with the launch of its first fragrance, Eau Parfumée au The Vert and the founding of Bulgari Parfums in Switzerland to oversee the creation and production of all perfumes. In 1995, Bulgari pushed ahead with an aggressive program for growth, becoming listed on the Milan Stock Exchange for the first time. In 1996, the brand launched its first accessories collection, beginning with silk scarves before developing a range of leather accessories and eyewear. In 1999, the brand launched the B.zero1 ring.
The year 2000 was the beginning of an increasingly aggressive period of verticalization for Bulgari, with the acquisition of the luxury watchmaking brands Daniel Roth and Gérald Genta, followed by the takeover of the jewelry firm Crova and of other companies that specialized in leather goods and watchmaking. The opening of the first Bulgari Hotel in Milan in 2004 further confirmed the expansion strategy of the brand and was the result of a joint venture with Luxury Group, a division of Marriot International. In 2009, Bulgari celebrated its 125th anniversary with a retrospective of the brand’s history, held in Rome at Palazzo delle Esposizioni. That same year, the snake—a motif that appeared in Bulgari collections from the 1960s—re-emerged as the emblem of the Serpenti collection. In 2011, Bulgari signed a strategic alliance with LVMH Moet Hennessy, the world’s leading luxury group. The takeover doubled the size of LVMH’s watches and jewelry unit, which at the time of the acquisition included Tag Heuer timepieces and De Beers diamond necklaces. The acquisition concluded on 4 October 2011 as Bulgari was delisted from the Borsa Italiana.
In 2014, Bulgari celebrated the 130th anniversary of the brand. To mark the occasion, the shop at Via Condotti 10 was “reimagined” by the architect Peter Marino, and reopened. On the same day, the brand donated €1.5 million to the city of Rome for the restoration of the Spanish Steps. A few months after the Grand Opening, the DOMVS was inaugurated in the redesigned Bulgari boutique, creating a gallery space to the house of Bulgari’s Heritage Collection.
In 2017 Bulgari opened a new jewelry manufacturing headquarters in Valenza. The largest in Europe, with a total area of 14,000sqm, the Manufacture has been given a Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification for sustainability in its design. The facility was built over the former home of the first goldsmith in Valenza, Francesco Caramora. The buildings follow the model of a Roman Domus, and are built around a central courtyard.