Taking their lead from Rome’s rich jewellery-making history, contemporary Italian jewellers are keeping the spirit of opulence alive in the most thoroughly modern way, as Lucinda Turner discovers
From Gregory Peck taking Audrey Hepburn for a spin around the Trevi Fountain on a certain Roman holiday to Federico Fellini capturing the city’s indescribable dolce vita on film, Italy’s capital is a beacon of glamour throughout the world. Look even further back, to the height of the Roman empire, and you will find that the women of Rome defined new fashions by adorning themselves with jewels in a way that had never been seen before. Moving jewellery on from the ancient Greek affinity with intricate metalwork, Roman women favoured brightly coloured gemstones set in rich yellow gold, and this was one of the first civilisations in the world where people made a bold, colourful aesthetic statement with gems. Today, modern Rome’s dedication to glamorous jewellery shows no signs of waning. From globally famous jewellery houses to smaller Italian ateliers, the Eternal City remains a hotbed of creativity and a constant source of opulent jewels.
However, despite the city’s longstanding jewellery-making tradition, an industry cannot survive on history alone. How do houses, both emerging and well-established, navigate the ever-changing jewellery market and ensure that customers who come to appreciate Rome’s majestic past leave with a piece of its bright future?
One house that has embraced the city’s past, present and future when it comes to jewellery making is Bulgari. The international luxury goods label was founded in Rome in 1884 and its headquarters remain here to this day. The brand’s logo even replaces the U with a V as a nod to the ancient Roman alphabet. The art, architecture and quintessential essence of Rome have always been of great importance to the brand, serving as muses for some of the its most famous collections, including the Diva’s Dream range, inspired by ancient Roman mosaics, and the B01 ring, based on the Colosseum.
‘Bulgari is Rome. We were born here and it is our first source of inspiration both for high jewellery and watches,’ says Vincenzo Pujia, the brand’s Europe managing director. ‘Our design and creative teams are based in Rome. When commuting to the office every day, they walk through the most amazing architecture, design, colours, lights and voices of the city.’ The label’s connection to the Italian capital runs so deep that in 2014, to celebrate its 130th anniversary, Bulgari donated €1.5 million to restore the iconic Spanish Steps.
While some consider Bulgari’s heyday to have been the glamorous 1950s and 60s, when stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and Ingrid Bergman would parade through Rome wearing the brand’s magnificently colourful designs, the label is far from stuck in the past. Bulgari’s innovation sets it apart, from being the first to use cabochon-cut stones, at the end of the 1950s, to its contemporary high jewellery collections, which Pujia describes as ‘the peak of the pyramids.’ Bulgari’s ranges use the most contemporary techniques and spectacular stones to attract the purchasing power of modern-minded Millennials.
Indeed, Bulgari prides itself on catering to the exacting demands of its customers. ‘What our customers today ask us is to have something very feminine but also easy to wear both for formal and informal occasions,’ says Pujia. When designing for such a discerning audience, a key part of Bulgari’s approach lies in its Italian roots. ‘Thanks to our very Italian aesthetic, our collections are timeless. We respect the past, we leverage the success of our history and our new collections embody the real Roman brand DNA and joy of life,’ Pujia explains.
Pasquale Bruni, which launched a new store concept in Rome in 2018, is another Italian brand that understands the needs of the modern jewellery customer. ‘Women are ever more confident, they know what they want and they buy for themselves,’ says creative director Eugenia Bruni. ‘Women are aware that they can change the world and I have always created jewellery meant to highlight a woman’s personality, a sort of talisman to encourage self-discovery.’ Eugenia Bruni took over the creative output of her father Pasquale Bruni’s eponymous line in 2001, injecting a contemporary and highly female-focused edge to the line.
Eugenia Bruni is inspired by nature and the contemporary way that women wear jewellery, designing pieces that perfectly complement the wearer, with classic Italian craftsmanship still at the heart of the brand. ‘There are goldsmiths today who started working under my father that I used to observe, enraptured, when I was a little girl,’ she says. ‘Daily contact with our artisans is paramount to our work. While a jewel is being created, many things might happen, and you keep learning from the craftsmen, perfecting excellence.’
One of the city’s most intricate jewellers is on a mission to make classic Roman glamour part of everyday life. Percossi Papi has been creating vibrant, colourful pieces for his eponymous brand since 1968 at his small atelier based near the Pantheon. ‘In those years there was a strong desire to come out of the conventions. The clientele required a unique object, with attention to detail and which emphasised its individuality,’ says Papi of his early customers. Now with the help of Papi’s wife and two sons, the brand is known worldwide and is renowned for its ornate and exquisitely coloured earrings. It is also popular with key figures in the international fashion set and has created pieces for major films, including Elizabeth: The Golden Age and the 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express.
Inspired by baroque and renaissance designs, Percossi Papi’s work draws obvious inspiration from the city that it calls home. ‘I live in the centre of Rome, the Rome of Alexander VII, Bernini, Borromini so obviously certain lines have become automatic in my designs,’ he says.
Unfailingly glamorous, part of the fabric of modern film and reconciling the old and the new for a discerning modern customer, the jewellery scene in Rome has come a long way from noblewomen coveting coloured amulets across an ancient courtyard. ‘We Italians have an education to beauty that is historical,’ says Papi. ‘Italy has an incredible artistic heritage and works of art known all over the world.’ Indeed, the spirit of pushing boundaries, respecting beauty and adorning women in new and innovative ways has endured. ‘Rome is a magic space where people can inspire themselves to create the most amazing collections,’ Pujia says, and we couldn’t agree more.