San Francisco Social Diary: The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond 1950–1990, at the de Young Museum

Jewelry, sketches, and archival materials are all on view at The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond, 1950-1990.

San Francisco—The de Young Museum launched The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond, 1950–1990 with a glamorous opening night party this fall. Featuring approximately 150 of the renowned Italian jewelry house’s creations, the exhibition will continue until February 17, 2014.

At the exclusive gala for only 280, the dinner guests went all out, with the fashionistas wearing beautiful evening gowns accented with their best Bulgari baubles. Flying in for the occasion was Bulgari VP Nicola Bulgari and his daughter Veronica, and CEO Jean-Christophe Babin.

The copper-clad de Young Museum building, designed by renowned Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron, is located in Golden Gate Park amid 1,000 acres of parkland.


Opening night celebrities included actresses Hilary Swank and Kate Bosworth, fashionistas China Chow and Jacqui Getty, and prominent members of the city’s Italian community, such as Counsel General Mauro Battocchi, Maria Manetti Shrem, and Daniela Faggioli, joined by trustees of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAM), which includes the de Young and the Legion of Honor.

The spectacular evening was co-hosted by newly appointed FAM Director Colin Bailey and FAM Board President Dede Wilsey, pictured here with Nicola Bulgari.

FAM Director Colin Bailey with actress Hillary Swank. Bailey, previously at New York’s Frick Museum, became director in June 2013 as successor to Director John Buchanan, who passed away in 2011.

Filmmaker Michael Polish and his wife, actress Kate Bosworth.

Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin and China Chow.

Jacqui Getty and Tatiana Sorokko, wearing her favorite designer, Ralph Rucci.

Nicola Bulgari, Catarina Riccardi, and Martin Chapman, FAM curator who collaborated on the show with Bulgari Heritage Collection curator Amanda Triossi.

Romana and John Bracco, Daniela Faggioli, Asher Berry, and Italian Consul General Mauro Battocchi.


The exhibition is inspired by a 2010 retrospective in Paris, timed to the 125th anniversary of the House of Bulgari. The firm was founded in Rome in 1884 by the Greek-born silversmith Sotirios Boulgaris, who later changed his name to the more Italian-sounding Bulgari.

The Bulgari store at 28 via dei Condotti, Rome, ca. 1900.

The current Bulgari store, at 10 via dei Condotti, Rome, reflects the same elegance.

During the post-war boom in Italy, Bulgari became a fashion leader when they created some of the most innovative jewelry designs in the world.

This is the first U.S. retrospective for the jewelry house, now owned by the French luxury conglomerate LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy). (What don’t they own?).

Known for boldly colored combinations of semiprecious stones and diamonds, a profusion of multicolored cabochon (rounded rather than faceted) gemstones, and heavy gold, Bulgari’s forms are inspired by Greco-Roman classicism, the Italian Renaissance, and the 19th-century Roman school of goldsmiths.

Keeping up with the times, Bulgari’s newly appointed face is Carla Bruni, the former first lady of France, who’ll be modeling Bulgari’s new Diva collection, inspired by Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry.

The exclusive exhibition highlights the opulent jewelry that defined a pivotal period in Italian design, the decades of the 1950s through the 1980s.

Once owned by Lyn Revson, wife of Revlon founder Charles Revson, this Bulgari yellow gold bib necklace from 1965 is set with 37 cabochon emeralds, 27 cabochon amethysts, 84 turquoises, and 937 brilliant-cut diamonds.

This 1974 “Tubogas” choker set with Greek silver coins on heavy gold chains is emblematic of Bulgari’s structured chokers.

The jewelry house’s signature rounded cabochon gems and vibrant use of color were also reflected in their “melone” oval evening bags, this one from the collection of Lyn Revson.


During the ’50s and ’60s, when Rome was one of the movie capitals of the world, Bulgari made news with distinctive designs for movie stars such as Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, and Elizabeth Taylor.

The brand’s bold and innovative style remained popular among celebrities and the jet set in the decades to come.

Legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland, in her snake belt worn as a choker, 1980.

Princess Grace of Monaco, wearing a Bulgari gold coin-set necklace in Monte Carlo, 1978.

Sophia Loren in a Bulgari set of cabochon sapphires and rubies highlighted with diamonds, 1960.

Marisa Berenson in a variety of Bulgari rings and gold chain necklaces, 1969.


Taylor reportedly said that as you age, you need bigger and bigger jewels to replace the sparkle of youth (and, no doubt important to her, to keep yourself in the spotlight). If you saw the Elizabeth Taylor sale last year at Christie’s auction house, you would have noticed her huge collection of pieces by Bulgari.

During cocktail hour, guests wandered the galleries to view the four-decade retrospective of Bulgari’s irresistible designs.

Elizabeth Taylor wearing a Bulgari snake bracelet-watch on the set of Cleopatra, where she first met Welsh co-star Richard Burton, who she later married, divorced, and remarried.

Elizabeth Taylor’s emerald Grand Duchess Vladimir Suite, a gift from Richard Burton, which she wore in their 1964 wedding.

Before the opening night dinner at the de Young, guests could ogle Elizabeth Taylor’s emerald suite, now part of the Bulgari Heritage Collection.

This diamond and platinum sautoir (a French term for a long necklace that suspends an ornament), set with a 52-carat Burmese sapphire, once belonged to Elizabeth Taylor.

The exhibit also included pieces from the private collections of prominent locals, including Dede Wilsey and Denise Hale.


Inspired by the jewelry house’s preference for mirrored rectangular tables when entertaining, Los Angeles decorator Ben Bourgeois filled the dinner tent with long rows of mirrored tables that appeared to be floating.

The tent’s lighting was brilliant: From the twinkling starry ceiling lit with tiny fiber optic lights, to the romantic candles and table settings, guests were bathed in flattering lighting.

The elegant floral table arrangements reflected the colors of the fall season.

Guests feasted on a four-course dinner prepared by the chefs of McCall Catering & Events, which started with aragosta (lobster) and gnocchi.

Second course was a roasted fig and citrus salad.

Following the main course of olive caponata crusted sea bass, guests were treated to a dessert of berries and sorbet.

The evening was lively and flawless in every way.


Nicola Bulgari said, “I’ve been coming to San Francisco to show jewelry for 51 years, so having our first retrospective here is very moving. I’ve attended many events like this, but haven’t ever experienced this kind of elegance.”

Dede Wilsey mentioned that she’d known Nicola for over thirty years (inspiring competitive guests to calculate how long they had known him).

Newly appointed FAM Director Colin Bailey gave a speech while surrounded by performers from the String Theory musical ensemble.


Kate Bosworth, Nicola Bulgari, and Hilary Swank.

Alberto Festa, SF Bulgari boutique director Daniel Diaz, and Barbara Brookins-Schneider, wearing a Bulgari necklace.

Ken Fulk with Yurie and Carl Pascarella, big supporters of the evening.

Timothy Morzenti, Giampaolo della Croce, Karen Sutherland, and Benefactor Circle member Dr. Alan Malouf.

FAM trustee Kathryn Lasater and her husband Bo Lasater.

Henry Gardiner and Benefactor’s Circle member Denise Fitch.

Patricia Ferrin Loucks, Ivan Bekichev, and Elizabeth Fullerton.

Maggie Rizer Mehran and her husband Alex Mehran.

Billy Getty with de Young board member Vanessa Getty, wearing Bulgari’s gold and diamond flexible serpent necklace from the Serpenti collection.

Barbara Brown, Daniel Diaz, and Jill Choze.

Nicola Bulgari, Maria Manetti Shrem, sporting her Bulgari jewels, and Jan Shrem.

Belva Davis and William Moore.

Phil Pemberton and Deepa Pakianathan.

Ann and Bob Fisher.

Carson and Suzanne Levit.

Paul Pelosi and Jeanne Lawrence.

John and Lisa Grotts.

Norah and Norman Stone.

Lonna Wais, Robert Girard, and Phoebe Cowles.

Mary Beth Shimmon, James Krohn, and Stephanie Ejabat.

Pam and Dick Kramlich with Veronica Bulgari.

Evie Simon, Lisa Podos, and Kate Harbin Clammer.

Joy Venturini Bianchi, Ben Bourgeois, Elizabeth Funk, and John Bradfield.

Doug and Lisa Goldman with Paul Pelosi.

Gregory and Charlot Malin with Dolly and George Chammas.

Elizabeth Varnell, Kate Harbin Clammer, and Evie Simon.

Owsley and Victoire Brown with Shelby Bonnie.

Joel Goodrich and Lisa Sardegna.

Flying in from LA were Susan Casten and Christine Suppes.

Deborah Minor, Jenna Hunt, and Allison Speer.

Suzy Kellems Dominik and Stephanie Ejabat.

Christian de Guigne and his daughter, Alyson.

FAM Trustees Trevor and Alexis Traina.


Photos by Jeanne Lawrence, Drew Altizer, Bulgari Historical Archive, Antonio Barrella Studio Orizzonte, Ron Galella, Jack Nisberg, Archivi Farabola, Gian Paolo Barbieri, and Umberto Salvemini.

*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.

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