Tag Archives: Fine Arts Museums

Bulgari Jewels at SF’s de Young Museum

Bulgari CataloguebulgaripressThey are like beautiful candy but without the calories! Those were the perfectly descriptive words of wisdom of Mrs. Diane B. Wilsey, Pres. of the Board of Trustees, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, in introducing the exhibition to the press. There was a movie star atmosphere at this press preview. Reporters for print, tv, and online outlets rushed to find seats. There were no seats. There were Very Special people in front of the room. The reporters trailed nearby hoping to understand whatever was being said whether in Italian or English or both. One or two individuals were checking out shoes in order to determine who was someone Very Special from Italy. The theory, usually sound, would be that the Very Special Italians would be wearing Very Special Italian shoes. While the chattering continued, some of the press decided to take the opportunity for just one more bite of goat cheese quiche. The Museum Director and others who had been seated rose to join the chattering class. Mrs. Wilsey had to repeat, “Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen,” three times before the press, perhaps not used to being called with those titles, came to attention. Mrs. Wilsey recalled the time when she was a little girl living in Rome with her family and, age 11, received the gift of a Bulgari ring from her father. She wore the ring that day. The history of Bulgari (accent on the first syllable) presents a fascinating relationship to the history of European and American culture. In the early 1950s, there were those who considered it bad taste to wear yellow gold jewelry at night. Mixing colored cabochon stones was not done. Bulgari revolutionized jewelry by freeing designs from the formal restraints of platinum and white gold. Bulgari works were the favorite of international stars like Elizabeth Taylor. Her husband, Richard Burton, claimed the only word Elizabeth knew in Italian was Bulgari, that “nice little shop.” Andy Warhol considered it the most important museum of contemporary art. The design collections reflected the era of flower power, changes in hem lengths, and many threads through which art created the wider culture. Jean Christophe Baban, Bulgari director, explained that Bulgari respects the difference between luxury items and art. The master jewelers of Bulgari find ways to glorify particular stones which nature created over millions of years. He said that diamonds are an “easy way” to sell jewelry, but it takes more to use different stones and turn them into something rarer still. ┬áThe exhibition includes 145 objects; two thirds of them are from Bulgari’s heritage collection. The visitor will find brilliant colors and surprising shapes in jewelry often combining precious and semi-precious stones. The design of the exhibition itself engages the eye with dramatic lighting and appropriately jewel-box like display cases. For this visitor, the watches made to resemble bejeweled serpents were a favorite. Did we misunderstand the true story of Cleopatra and the asp? When Cleo lifted the slender snake to her throat was she thinking of personal adornment, not death? Was the asp anxious to assert its own splendor as a natural jewel? Did it strike out of rivalry with the Queen’s beauty? Here we have proof that Shakespeare was not the pen name of a woman; his sister might have thought this through more carefully. See The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond, 1950-1990, at the de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. It opened Sept. 21 and stays through Feb. 17, 2014. Remember: Christmas is coming! Photos at top: Snake bracelet watch in gold, enamal, rubies, Bulgari heritage collection; Bulgari bib necklace, 1965, gold with emeralds, amethysts, turquoise, & diamonds, formerly in the collection of Lyn Revson.