The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita and Beyond, 1950-1990
San Francisco De Young Museum
September 21, 2013 to February 17, 2014
San Francisco’s De Young Museum offered its Members a Sneak Peak opening on Friday, September 20, 2013, for “The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita and Beyond.” Advance tickets for entry every half hour were distributed via De Young Museum’s website.
“The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita and Beyond, 1950-1990” showcases some of the most extravagant and exquisite collections of diamond and gold necklaces, earrings, brooches, and pendants studded with rich green emeralds, red rubies, blue sapphires, and other precious gemstones, all spectacularly spotlighted in three rooms on the museum’s second floor right before the African Art Gallery.
Upon entering the Special Exhibit rooms, painted floor to ceiling in black, one notices that the paint color allows the jewelry to gleam in their windows and pedestals under the spotlights, thus drawing viewer attention and focus. Taking a left, movie projectors display short videos on the black walls. One video shows famous movie actresses who wear Bulgari jewelry at award ceremonies, the jewelry highlighted in color against the black and white image of the actress. Another projector aimed at the opposite wall projects the history of Bulgari in large white text.
Most of the Bulgari jewelry stands on thin silver metal poles behind windows in the wall while the most illustrious pieces get their own free-standing gloss black plastic angled pedestal complete with clear faceted windows on top to allow 360-degree viewing. While no photography is allowed, jewelry aficionados could bring a magnifying glass to see the gems up close as the De Young Museum’s staff did a nice job of lighting the jewels against a white background to bring out their true dazzle and colors.
The first room houses collections from the 1950s, some from Bulgari and others from private collectors, and contains some of the grandest pieces. The window displays often have single pieces: platinum necklaces and earrings studded with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, bracelets made out of coiled gold and platinum inlaid with diamonds and the figurehead of a snake on one end and a tail on the other.
Pedestals in the center of the room contain the larger pieces and matching sets of necklaces and earrings laden with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds all around. White stenciling provides some brief information as to the creation date of the piece, the gemstone and precious metal composition, and who it is from (private collector, Bulgari, or an actress).
Against a wall, an overhead projector aims a digital library collection onto a large book with pages the viewer could turn-turn the page and the projector displays a new piece of jewelry onto those pages with text displayed in digital handwriting. Thus one could see dozens more jewelry pieces not shown at De Young Museum.
Walking west into the second room reveals Bulgari designs from the 1960s and 1970s. This second room has huge, thick, long gold pendants and chains with enormous pieces of emerald, ruby, or sapphire at the end that usually rest around the chest or belly, medallion-fashion. These long pendants are often seen on the necks and shirts of popes and Dons. The gold shines a gorgeous rich yellow under the spotlights as the precious gemstone blazes a rich blue, red, or green hue. The pendants display their strong Italian designs with ornate Greco-Roman etchings and flourishes.
The center of the room has free-standing faceted pedestals showcasing more unique diamond and precious gemstone sets for all around viewing while a few select pieces get their own special window display box. One select piece has the shape of Aces of Clubs, Spades, Diamonds, and Hearts inlaid on its diamond surface and a projected video then outshines the piece to show digital playing cards fluttering in the background.
Bulgari jewelry from this era came from the late Elizabeth Taylor, actress Jennifer Tilly (who bought some of the pieces that used to belong to Elizabeth Taylor), Bulgari, and some private collectors. Even the former De Young Museum director has a set piece of diamond-studded necklace and matching earrings on display.
The center of this room has another flip-book with a projector showing black and white images of Elizabeth Taylor and some of the Bulgari jewelry she wore in her films. The projector first displays the images onto the book’s pages and then moves the images from the pages and enlarges them against a curved arc wall for everyone in the room to see.
The third and final room has pieces created in the 1980s and 1990s with some of the pieces also from Elizabeth Taylor and Jennifer Tilly. A signature piece in this room is a brooch designed as a swan. The “Swan piece” has its own window display with a projector washing out the piece to show a digital animation of a swan with its “feathers blowing off into the wind.”
Some Bulgari wearers prefer having an ancient coin at the end of their pendant and Bulgari catered to those consumers by embedding gold and silver Roman and U.S. coins in its jewelry pieces. Whereas the necklace’s precious metals and diamonds blaze “Ring of fires,” the dull ancient coins appear in stark contrast, drawing the viewers’ attention to the focal object, the coins. A few pedestals house centerpieces which show a shift of designs as the 1980 and 1990 Bulgari jewelry here use other gemstones besides traditional emeralds, rubies, and sapphires. At the end of the room towards the entrance, a video shows how a handcrafted Bulgari pendant is made, the number of pieces crafted, the assembly steps, and the number of hours involved.
“The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita and Beyond” has some marvelous showpieces dating from the 1950s to the 1990s. One could see pieces that belong to the late Elizabeth Taylor, Jennifer Tilly, Bulgari, private collectors, and from video, pieces worn by famous Hollywood actresses on the Red Carpet. The (Italian) designs, glamor, elegance, and opulence titillate the senses and eyes, providing “glittering eye candy” to all who visit this special exhibit. “The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita and Beyond, 1950-1990” runs from September 21, 2013, to February 17, 2014 at the De Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.