For a figure as powerful in the jewellery business as Nicola Bulgari, it might come as a surprise that he doesn’t wear any jewellery. “The only accessories I wear are pink gold cufflinks. Simple ones. I like them plain,” says the 74-year-old ex-vice chairman and great-grandson of Sotirio Bulgari.
He does, however, profess a love for sapphires. “The beauty of sapphires is that the spectrum of colours is endless,” he says.
These aspects of Nicola’s personality are revealed to The Peak during a recent trip to Rome to witness the launch of Roma Passion Jewels, a book on the House of Bulgari. Around 50 members of the international press have gathered for the launch in the anteroom of Domus, a small, by-appointment only museum that recently opened on the second floor of the brand’s Via Condotti boutique.
After a 27-year reign, Nicola and his brother, Paolo, the ex-chairman, sold their controlling stake in the family business to LVMH for 4.3 billion euros (S$6.5 billion) in 2011, a deal that made them instant billionaires. Today, Nicola maintains a non-executive role in the company. He is the more entrepreneurial of the two – it was he who took the business to the US in the 1970s – whereas Paolo is the creative force behind many of Bulgari’s designs, and remains so today.
“A lot of the things you’ll read in the book are about our lives, my brother and myself. It helps you understand how we’ve come a long way,” says Nicola, who speaks with a slight American accent, thanks to his years of living in the country. Home is an 8.5ha estate in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which is also where his 100-odd collection of vintage American cars is kept. The book, says author Vincent Meylan, is “also about wine, art, architecture, music and everyday life on both sides of the Atlantic”, in reference to the fact that Nicola lives in Allentown while Paolo lives in Rome.
This diversity of influences has contributed to the richness of the Bulgari universe. “We can take inspiration from anything,” explains Paolo. “You can get inspiration looking around. There are no rules.” While Nicola is a car and jazz enthusiast, Paolo is a renowned art lover whose collection encompasses works by Jacob Jordaens and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, among others.
Bulgari’s jewels are a celebration of bold colours and sumptuous shapes. This distinct identity was forged in the 1960s, when Bulgari made a pronounced departure from the dominant French school of design. Its artisans took inspiration from antiquity, infusing Greek and Roman influences into confections that displayed a striking but harmonious balance of classicism and modernity, a keen sense of volume, and a penchant for rhythmic colour combinations.
Nicola attributes Bulgari’s extraordinary success to a number of reasons. “I think our jewels are extremely wearable, extremely tailored, and irresistibly attractive. Very special, balanced, elegant, not over-the-top, with lots of colours. They also don’t make women look ridiculous. The (challenge) now is to make things as immortal as possible,” he says, referring to timeless designs and heirloom pieces.