The Bulgari Aeterna: 140 Years in 140 Carats
Jewelry

140 Years In 140 Carats: The Making of the Bulgari Aeterna 

Courtesy of Bulgari

In an exclusive interview with Vogue Philippines, Bulgari’s Fabrizio Buonamassa and Mauro Di Roberto talk about how an appreciation for craftsmanship and technique makes it possible to realize poetry in precious stones. 

For Bulgari’s heritage collection ‘Aeterna,’ creative director Lucia Silvestri found inspiration in the crests of the half-shaded rooftops and monuments of Rome, just as dawn began to break over the city, “when the warm reflections of the early hours of the day show me angles that differ from the ordinary ones,” she writes in its introduction. “The city is reborn and, together with it, my creativity is renewed.” 

The minds behind the Maison share an affinity for poetry found in the mundane: in nature’s coming into balance and the life that flurries within it. According to Bulgari product creation executive director Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani and jewelry managing director Mauro Di Roberto, achieving the look and feel of ease in high jewelry requires ultra-precise attention to detail, so much so that its beauty often comes through in the details. 

For one, the ‘Serpenti Aeterna,’ the collection’s 140-carat centerpiece necklace, curves along a wave-like path that feels effortless in effect but took over 2,800 hours of work to create; it was a painstaking process that Di Roberto says is required to achieve the balance and fluidity that the brand constantly seeks. “It is a flow,” he says. “Otherwise, you would see gray—gray areas between one stone and another if they’re not done well, or if one is not perfectly matching the next.” 

Courtesy of Bulgari

More than aesthetic references to the past, for their 140th-anniversary collection Bulgari emphasizes its values steeped in a commitment to precision and to achieving beauty in spite of that challenge in and of itself. “It starts to be very, very tough,” Buonamassa says on the process. “But I love these kinds of things. If the people on the other side of the table tell me ‘This is so difficult to do,’ I start to look them in the eyes and say, ‘That’s exactly what we have to do.’” 

They find what they’re looking for in that tension. “The constant tension toward the sublime, art, and beauty is expressed in forms that know how to restore the sense of transformation and flow of circular time,” continues Silvestri. “Our jewels are energy, pressure; they offer emotions not only for the eyes.” 

Below, lightly edited for clarity and brevity, is a conversation between Vogue Philippines editor-in-chief Bea Valdes and Bulgari’s Buonamassa and Di Roberto on the high jewelry and high-end watches of ‘Aeterna,’ the beauty that shines through elements hidden on the surface, and how creativity often comes from the process of making rather than ideation alone. 

Courtesy of Bulgari

Vogue Philippines: First, congratulations on the collection, because I think I saw last year’s in Venice as well, but this one is quite spectacular.

Mauro Di Roberto: This year was different. The inspiration [for last year’s collection ‘Mediterranea’] was more like a fusion of three continents, which had Africa, Europe, and Asia. That was the concept behind Mediterranea, not so much as a sea, but it was the embracing of different cultures and different influences from one culture to the other. This year is Rome. 

This year is Rome. I was thinking 140 years and 140 carats, like it’s a nice tie-in. 

Mauro Di Roberto: Actually, was the uniqueness about it. Because to be able to celebrate it [Bulgari’s 140th anniversary] in a unique way, more than having cut stones out of 140 carats, it’s the fact that for the first time in our history we worked with a rough stone—the rough diamond from the Lesotho mine, which is one of the most important mines certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council and to be able to work with the supplier in recutting. We thought it would be best [for the stones] to be cut both from an aesthetics point of view, guaranteeing, of course, the quality and the carat. And it’s the perfect stone to make flawless, 140 carats. 

And I think it’s important to know because one can ask, ‘Why do diamonds if you’re known as a master of colored gemstones?’ I think, first of all, because we used to always use diamonds in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Two, because diamonds, anyway, in our world, is the most important whether we like it or not. Diamonds are the most important stone that is in commerce. And three, because the project of going from a rough [stone] to recutting in this way was really unique. 

Courtesy of Bulgari

It is a sort of master cutting. I think that’s the thing that was, for me, so interesting. It’s that you have a mastery of cutting and then you have the lacework and tapestry-inspired techniques. So you have all of these artisanal techniques that are so diverse but to a level that is so very, very fine that you don’t see it unless, I suppose, you understand it. 

MDR: I think that’s important about jewelry. It’s to be able to make jewelry, which is a work of art, wearable. Wearable means also holding it in your hands. They’re like lace, you know, like a tapestry. Fluidity is quite important for us now, and that obviously requires a high level of craftsmanship, for sure. In many cases, we are able to guarantee the right weight. It’s a huge job to keep the weight, and it’s a bit heavy, but the work is fantastic. Behind it, it has been basically emptied out as much as possible to be able to allow, but each ball is connected to the other one with hinges. 

It’s the invisible technique you don’t see that makes it work somehow. And a lot of it is only the wearer knows, how flexible it is. So I think there’s the kind of expertise that is not for show but is so important as well. 

MDR: If you see this necklace, the ‘Serpenti Aeterna,’ which is basically the centerpiece, you will notice the perfection of the baguette cut, the setting, because you don’t see any shadow in order to cut different baguettes in that way and to be able to set it, you need to see a flow. And it is a flow; otherwise, you would see gray—gray areas between one stone and another if they’re not done well, or if one is not perfectly matching the next. So in reality, this was like a flow of water. 

I’m saying this as I see it from my eyes. Maybe some may not notice it, but the reality of it also, when you see that necklace, obviously you look at the pear shape, but the product is perfection. Because you are not able to notice anything besides the invisible. 

Courtesy of Bulgari
Courtesy of Bulgari

I know you do the watches we have seen. It’s quite spectacular. I love the fireworks, the phoenix motifs. I love the starburst—I think the combination of colors, and even the fact that the blues, the metal was also dyed the same way so it’s invisible. 

Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani: The idea for the fireworks [motif] was to start a discussion on the eternal way that we are in Italy, to celebrate with fireworks. We’d always have fun with outdoor living. And the idea, I start to make sketches about that… And when you make a sketch, it’s good, but then when you start to realize [that with] this kind of object, it takes more than a year to realize. At a certain moment, we changed the construction because, at the beginning, the idea was to have a rigid cuff and stones, but it was impossible to find huge stones to have just in one piece. And [at another] moment, I said, ‘But maybe it’s going to be super heavy to wear, and maybe it’s better if we try to have something that is smooth on the wrist.’ But when you start to have something smooth on this side, you have to start to cut the construction. And you have the fireworks that go in different directions, so [the process] starts to be very, very tough. But I love these kinds of things. If the people on the other side of the table start to tell me, ‘This is so difficult to do,’ I start to look them in the eyes and I say, ‘That’s exactly what we have to do.’ 

Yes, exactly. It’s a challenge. 

FBS: When you have to choose the stones for these kinds of pieces, it doesn’t matter if it’s the Phoenix [design] or the Fireworks or the other. When you have to choose the jewelry, it’s very tough find the right gradient of the color, and sometimes we are very picky. This was the problem. Sometimes we decided to change the stones because we don’t find the right size, or we don’t find the right colors. 

Courtesy of Bulgari

Does everything have to change a little bit to accommodate, then? Because it is tough to find all of those different colors, and then in the end, have it make sense. 

FBS: Exactly. Again, you have to manage these kind of things altogether. Yes, because we make 100 percent of our jewelry watches in our high-jewelry atelier in Rome. Sometimes, we spend months to find the right shades of stones. Because when they arrive with the combination [we asked for], [designers in the watches unit] start to say, ‘No, I don’t like this one, and this one, I don’t like the shades that go from the blue to the green. What’s going on here?’ And they start to find other stones. 

But this is the most important part of the job. You can make sketches, you can have ideas. But at the end, it’s about the actual evolution of it. 

Congratulations, because even we were talking about how some of the pieces tremble. It’s that sort of detail of magic. It changes everything. 

FBS: This was the idea, to have something that is not just a cold piece of jewelry. It’s difficult to say that it’s ‘cold’ when we talk about a piece of jewelry. Because when we talk about jewelry, we talk about emotions. But the idea with this, we started three years ago with The Garden of Wonders [collection], with the flowers that climb the wrists of the ladies, because they are part of the garden. This was the idea, not just to put a piece of jewelry on your wrist, but you are involved in the jewelry. 

Courtesy of Bulgari

That’s why it is not a rigid piece. [In this collection], you have the secret watch under these huge stones and the fireworks that you have to press, undercover. And we spend a lot of time on these details, because I think that the difference between a cold object and something that tells a story is just, sometimes, very few details. 

And you could have something in your mind, you could make the best sketches possible, but it’s something you have to discuss with the goldsmith—the people in charge of making the object. They are super important because when we talk about this kind of jewelry, it’s the sense of the aesthetic and taste. And if the craftsmanship is not the level of what you have in mind, you start to have a big, big distance that could be very far. That’s why we spend a lot of time discussing with these people. And always, we love to work with the same people each time because we know them. 

Courtesy of Bulgari

We love to hear all of this, the backstory of it, because that’s kind of a lot of where the magic is. Then you can understand the thinking and the challenges and the real craftsmanship. 

FBS: Exactly, exactly. This is my obsession. My big passion, biggest passion, is making sketches. And when I start to imagine a true piece of jewelry, it’s crazy because we start to draw with very small details. But even when you make the renderings and you have the object in your computer, and you can turn the object around, it’s not the same as when you are [holding the object]. And even for us, when we receive the watches just a few weeks before the event, the effect sometimes is wow. It’s absolutely unexpected.

Do you have a favorite definition of time? 

FBS: No. It is the most precious thing, because nobody can buy it. And I think it is very interesting because we are always looking for time, and even when I make sketches, I would love to have more time. Press the button to restart, otherwise the time is over, and we don’t have watches for the event. (Laughs) But it is that process that is always ongoing in my mind.

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