A Conversation With: The Master Artisans of Bulgari - Neiman Marcus
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A Conversation With: The Master Artisans of Bulgari

Courtney Maldonado

December 14, 2016

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Founded over 130 years ago in Rome by Sotirio Bulgari, the precious jewelry house was inspired by the architectural beauty of the Eternal City. Known for its bold and unprecedented style, Bulgari jewelry possesses a fire and passion coveted around the world.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with the master artisans of Bulgari to learn more about the Bulgari woman, how the brand crafts each of its special pieces, and the creative process behind the latest Serpenti collection.

Courtney Maldonado: Who is the Bulgari woman? How would you describe her spirit?

Bulgari: The Bulgari woman has a strong personality and distinguishes herself with creative and contemporary style. She looks for exclusive creations, originality, and difference. In every culture you find women who mark their own choices and set themselves apart from the conventional—that’s who we appeal to. Women who don’t ask permission for what they want to wear—they just do it.

CM: Could you describe the evolution of the Serpenti collection from a designer’s point of view?

B: The origin of what we know as the Serpenti began in the late 1940s. The first watch was inspired by metal used for gas pipes, which led to its very literal name: Tubogas. The mid-1950s saw a change in style when Tubogas metamorphosed into the less abstract Serpenti watch and became the snake that we know today—with a recognizable design focus on the snake head and scales. The 1960s were an audacious period and, with this mood, many new bold and colorful Serpenti watches emerged and haven’t stopped evolving.

Today, Bulgari presents an almost individualized offer that meets the varied desires of contemporary and active women. With such a delightful palette of combinations, each watch becomes virtually one-of-a-kind. There are countless options to meet the expectations of the women who choose a watch from the Serpenti line. A choice guided by the wish to wear a precious, unmistakably recognizable watch, powerfully symbolizing the Bulgari style, while remaining modern and sometimes even romantic.

Recently we put all our effort into creating a new, more versatile Serpenti watch. Because jewelry is part of our DNA, we opted for a more conventional take on the serpent. We called it Serpenti Incantati, and it came from the world of jewelry watches—a truly endless source of inspiration. Moreover, we addressed the call by women for more mechanical watches with the introduction of the Serpenti Incantati Tourbillon Skeleton, which once again revisits the Serpenti theme. In 2016 jewelry journeyed to minimalism, and we began to work with the snakehead—whereas traditionally it had been all about the body. In necklaces, rings, and bangle watches the head and the hexagonal shape became the focus.

CM: How many steps does a Serpenti piece typically go through before reaching the hands of a customer?

B: There are a number of different steps—it’s impossible to exactly quantify them since they also differ according to the specific piece that is produced. However, these are the main steps undertaken for all Serpenti watches:

  • The creative process always starts with a sketch, which is then translated into a design.

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  • The mission of the technical office is to transform the original idea and design into a product that complies with Bulgari standards by paying careful attention to all creative parameters and targeting the highest level of excellence. The piece begins to take shape with the first 3D virtual proposal of the original inspiration.

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  • Once approved from a technical and aesthetic perspective, the product development enters into a complex of analysis, tests, and studies. The design is conceived to fully enhance the intrinsic characteristics of the stones.

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  • Expert knowledge of gems and cuts is fundamental to develop a fine jewelry watch. The in-house buyers and gemologists continually comb the international gem markets in search of the best quality stones.
  • The art of craftsmanship is of central importance for the brand. The jeweled elements in each of these watches are crafted in the Bulgari’s Jewelry manufacturer in Valenza, Italy, or in the High Jewelry atelier in Rome, depending on the product and its preciousness. The type of production carried out there is the traditional lost-wax casting technique. Expert goldsmiths clean, assemble, and finish all the metal elements, giving shape to the actual watch.
  • Special attention is reserved to details, since it is fundamental that every element perfectly interlocks with the others, following the natural movement of the wrist, and that the clasps and settings are expertly crafted.

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  • Great skill and long experience are necessary during the delicate phase of setting the gems, to ensure that every stone is firmly anchored in place.

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  • The final polishing gives the metal a mirror-like finish, which is followed by the final, rigorous aesthetic and functional inspection.
  • The watch is assembled and prepared logistically in Neuchatel, Switzerland, where the movement is encased and the final quality control is carried out. This is the additional step of the process for a timepiece versus a jewelry creation.

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CM: Tell us about the latest Serpenti collection. We would love to hear how you describe the pieces, shapes, and metals.

B: In terms of design, the new Serpenti Incantati watch introduces the reptile coils around the watch dial. The snake now appears in a new form by taking on the shape of a round watchcase. The primary source of inspiration for this new watch collection was a high-jewelry, diamond brooch finely set with baguette and tapered-cut diamonds crafted in the Bulgari Haute Joaillerie atelier and characterized by a strong geometrical design.

The creative force behind this collection is given by the combination of architectural proportions, Italian taste, and simple geometric shapes. The Serpenti Incantati line embodies all of these features and echoes the shapely lines of the snake through a number of simple geometric forms, further enhanced by exquisite gemstones.

Diamonds and rubellites are set with masterful skill around the cases and, in two of the four references, also along a bracelet. This will reward the wearer with very intimate skin contact that only truly specialized jewelry companies understand and are able to transfer to their watches. In this case, the credit must go to the artisans of Valenza who created the moving parts for each watch using lost-wax casting. The technique was essential here to give sense of a serpent actually twisting itself around the dial.

A special mention goes to the Serpenti Incantati Tourbillon Skeleton: It bridges the realms of haute Joaillerie and haute Horlogerie with an Italian twist. Its reptilian bezel provides a bejeweled frame for a skeleton-worked, in-house tourbillon caliber. It is pure horology, but at the same time it is purely Italian!

CM: Tell us more about the iconic Bulgari coiling process. How long does it take to create each coil? How does it keep its shape while remaining exceptionally malleable and comfortable to wear?

B: The structure of the Tubogas is created by first making a coiled form out of copper or wood and then tightly wrapping interlocking gold strips around the mold, so that soldering is not required in the process. After the entire piece is constructed, the interior form is either melted with acid or pulled out—leaving a perfectly formed coil that is incredibly resilient and strong.

CM: Bulgari is known for its exquisite taste in precious metals and stones. What other materials are being explored for future collections?

B: Bulgari loves to shift the lines and overturn established conventions. Our jewelry expertise enables us to constantly innovate in the field of watchmaking, in terms of design, and above all through surprising associations between different and new materials. For future collections we will keep being faithful to this typical feature of the Italian design culture, which is also at the basis of the Bulgari design.

CM: How has Bulgari been able to continuously reinvent itself from such a timeless inspiration such as the serpent?

B: My mission is to constantly reinterpret Bulgari’s rich, stylistic, and cultural heritage in a contemporary language in line with the brand’s DNA. The key issues when designing a product are to understand the design and aesthetic language that are behind it, the usage possibilities, the materials, and its history. In a few words, the “culture of the project.” Once you understand this, you can draw cars, watches, jewels, and other objects.

CM: Looking forward, what can the modern woman expect to see from Bulgari?

B: You can expect creations that will continue to feature the meticulous precision of Swiss savoir-faire, and the innovation of Italian creativity, blending these countries’ traditions to produce the pinnacles of their expertise!

Shop the Bulgari watch collection at NeimanMarcus.com.

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