The founder of Bulgari, Sotirio Voulgaris, was born in 1857 and into a lineage of migrant Greek silversmiths. Sotirio wanted to put his talents to good use and forge his own path. Thus, he moved to Rome in around 1880-81 and sought to utilize his excellent metalworking skills to become successful. By 1884, he founded his shop in via Sistina. This store featured an assortment of goods, such as antiques, tableware, buttons, bracelets, buckles, and belts of silver. At around this time, he had married and had two sons, Costantino and Giorgio. The family name was also Romanized to Bulgari.
In 1905, with the help of his sons, the earlier flagship store in via Sistina was replaced by a store in via dei Condotti. This flagship store would become and remain the headquarters of the company throughout the whole of the 20th century. There would now be engraved silver serving pieces and decorative ceramics. Additionally, there would be silver and gold jewelry, with both often set with precious gemstones. The first two decades of the 20th century saw the company take on a reputation of worldliness and being fashionable and sophisticated. His sons took over after his death in 1932 and renovated the flagship and changed the logo to BVLGARI. Products were now being heavily influenced by Parisian style, with diamonds set in platinum. World War II led to a severe shortage of jewelry, but the postwar boom saw the re-usage of rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds set in platinum. Also, floral motifs with en tremblant designs that moved with the wearer proved to be popular.
The 1960s saw a departure from Parisian style and the adoption of a unique BVLGARI style. Diamond centerpieces were replaced with colored gemstones with a smooth, domed cut, known as cabochon. Diamonds were reduced to a supporting role. Rubies, sapphires, and emeralds were replaced with gemstones that provided a more artistic look. Smooth outlines and highly stylized forms in yellow gold rounded out the style. This style focused on art and architecture rather than nature.
Giorgio’s three sons Paolo, Gianni, and Nicola represented the 3rd generation within the family business. They took over starting in 1967. Paolo was the artist who was noted for his excellent ability to combine tradition and innovation in his designs. Nicola was the businessman, but also integrated his hobby of ancient coin collecting into the family business. “Coin Gems” were used in all kinds of jewelry and became a brand trademark.
The 1970s saw the introduction of wristwatches, the first of which was the most popular and highest selling. The company expanded internationally with stores in New York, Geneva, Monte Carlo, and Paris and attracted many celebrities, such as Elizabeth Taylor. Its innovations legitimized it as a trendsetter. The early 1980s saw stagnation, but Francesco Trapani replaced Gianni as chief executive and expanded the company further with stores in Europe, Asia, and the United States. New designers were hired and advertising was boosted. Designs incorporated new themes and became more wearable for everyone, not just the rich. Both low-end and high-end materials could be combined in an infinite number of ways to form various kinds of jewelry.
The 1990s saw the diversification of goods that were offered for the expansion of the audience and more growth. Fragrances, silk scarves, neckties, eyewear, and various leather goods were thus introduced to great success. 24 new outlets were opened, with expansion in former Soviet countries in Europe, more in the U.S. and Asia, and breaching new territory in the Middle East and Australia. All of this success established Trapani as the de facto leader of the company for years to come. Recently, the company was acquired by LVMH in exchange for shares, which has made the Bulgari family the second-biggest family shareholder in LVMH behind the Arnaults.
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