Hubert Burda Media

Secret Gardens

Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin shares how Italian Renaissance gardens have inspired the house's latest HJ line.

Secret Gardens

The art of landscaping blossomed during the Italian Renaissance, when architects and artists the likes of Raphael and Michelangelo redefined popular notions of culture and beauty. Remarkable examples of Italian gardens include the Belvedere Courtyard in the Vatican, Villa Lante in Bagnaia and the Boboli Gardens in Florence, where landscape architects steered away from the traditional and simplistic imitation of nature, reinterpreting it instead by giving it structure and transforming it into a man-made work of art.
Echoing the great Renaissance architects, Bulgari's designers did not aim to replicate nature, but rather derive unexpected shapes and patterns. These designs marry nature with art, the former being evoked through the precious metals and stones; and art, through the work of the brand's designers, gemmologists and jewellers. Taking about a year to fully develop and produce, Bulgari's latest Italian Gardens collection comprises 100 unique pieces inspired by these blossoming gardens. Imagine geometrical hedges and flowerbeds forming straight or curved lines and diagonals that mark out avenues along which to stroll or mazes in which to get lost, or shimmering fountains and cascading brooks — all translated into high jewellery.
Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari, says: “We thought that gardens would be extraordinary for designing a new high jewellery collection, because it would lead to very geometric jewellery with a lot of nice edges. In addition, since gardens are composed of fruits and flowers, the collection allows us to work on motifs, which are part of our DNA. The theme of most of the pieces is the geometry and colours of gardens. We played a lot with lozenge shapes, which are the most emblematic. In this collection, we have a lot of pieces combining diamonds with one precious stone; we also worked with a colourful palette because this is the brand's signature and it also pays tribute to the flora and fruit trees that you find in these gardens.”
Inspired by the festoons found in the Roman caves of the Domus Aurea in the 16th century, which were restored by artists such as Raphael, the Blue Iridescence necklace in white gold was an exercise in patience as Bulgari acquired the extraordinary set of seven cushion-shaped blue sapphires (187.48ct) from different locations around the globe and set them aside for years, waiting for the right moment to turn them into a one-of-a-kind piece of jewellery. Large pink spinels (81.13ct) complement the sapphires, featuring a shimmering azure hue that maintain colour and shine even in the dark, which paired with delicate festoons of round brilliant-cut diamonds (24.75ct) and pavé diamonds. Babin states: “It took five years before we could have the ideal pairing for the seven sapphires taking into consideration the way they are shaped and their colour intensity. It's a really unique piece because it is so challenging to find seven stones of this quality together. It's also elegant and not too show-off because it shows a very good balance between the huge stones and a good design. This is one of the simplest pieces but one of the most astonishing.”
In homage to the Allegory of Spring, artist Sandro Botticelli's masterpiece on the eternal rebirth of nature, the beautiful and romantic Spring Encounter necklace evokes the intimate and poetic beauty of flowers and recalls a historical Bulgari necklace from 1969 in yellow gold, pearls, corals and diamonds. It showcases 16 round brilliant-cut diamonds (7.17ct) forming the pistil at the heart of each flower, while pavé diamonds envelop the petals, which look like they could break off at the slightest touch. “We pay tribute to flowers and we wanted to do it in a very simple way — just using gold and diamonds in a shape that we've never ever designed. It's still very Bulgari because the designs are three-dimensional and we play a lot with volume,” says Babin. “Another typical Bulgari feature is movement and you can see that in this necklace because the flower petals dance in the wind. This is one of the key pieces in the collection and it's probably one of the most beautiful pieces we have this year.”
Concealed in most Italian Renaissance gardens is an intimate and private area where the most beautiful flowers bloom and where lovers whisper sweet nothings in each other's ear. Inspired by these cosy corners discreetly kept away from prying eyes, the Secret Garden necklace in yellow gold and pavé diamonds is an explosion of colour, creatively blending a tourmaline, a blue topaz, rubellites, a tanzanite, a citrine, an amethyst, an aquamarine and emerald beads, which have been given volume and movement, thanks to their special fancy cuts and mounting on light claws that appear to hold them aloft in the air, like multicoloured flower petals blowing in the spring breeze. Here, the trademark Bulgari technique of imposing geometry on natural forms has given birth to two unusual flowers that resemble four-leaf clovers, symbols of good luck.
Mirroring the geometric designs of sculpted evergreens, the stunning Hidden Treasures earrings in yellow gold are formed from four fancy-cut Zambian emeralds weighing a total of 143.1ct, which were extracted from a single 400-ct raw stone. Bulgari boldly incorporated an unconventional cut to bring out a more intense colour and enhance the extraordinary brightness of the emeralds, while platinum claws and diamonds (2.86ct) embrace the stones, which are separated by two round brilliant-cut diamonds (2.02ct). Other remarkable pieces include a necklace in yellow gold with mother-of-pearl elements, 40 round rubellite beads (217.94ct), 28 pear and round peridot beads (184.03ct) and pavé diamonds (5.33ct); a necklace in platinum featuring a 17.87-ct pear-shaped Colombian emerald pendant, 26 round brilliant-cut diamonds (13.79ct) and round and fancy-shaped diamonds (12.84ct); and a choker in white gold set with round brilliant-cut diamonds and pavé diamonds (21.76ct).
Babin concludes: “The biggest challenges were to be surprisingly creative, to create a big wow effect and at the same time, to be consistent with Bulgari's DNA and last but not least, to remain commercial. High jewellery pieces are unique masterpieces on the edge of art. You have to bear in mind that you have to find people to buy them so they need to be wearable, even when you have big pieces and different from anything created before, so that people who love high jewellery will desire and eventually appropriate them.”
On the new collection's target audience, Babin shares: “People who are already quite knowledgeable about high jewellery are ready for daring volumes and combinations that embrace Italy and the Rinascimento (Italian Renaissance). [Those] who are deeply cultured can value how our creative team has transferred this theme into high jewellery that is timeless and combines very precious stones in an unexpected way.”