Few countries can actually claim they have mastered the art of celebrating. One of them is Italy. It is a country that tempts you with clichés — such as the countless pizzerias dotting the cities, the Fontana di Trevi, gondola rides, and chiselled men in well-tailored suits — but, at the same time, also beguile you with picturesque islands, labyrinthine medieval alleyways and fascinating works by Roman artists who have channelled their genius into sculptures, palaces, churches, gardens and frescoes. Italy’s ornate architecture, which adds a baroque flourish to its streets, is a real spectacle, and the same can be said about its elaborate celebrations.
Grand festivals such as Carnevale di Venezia — where masked merrymakers and flag throwers transform the campanile of the Church of San Marco into a vast alfresco theatre — and the Palio di Siena — a 75-second horse race, which involves a dinner the evening before at long tables that run the entire length of each district’s main street — anchor the social calendar of Italians who live la bella vita, the “beautiful life”.
Like the scene of diners quaffing cocktails and people-watching on trendy terraces overlooking sun-soaked piazzas in To Rome With Love, the Italians truly know how to enjoy themselves — be it over a fashionable aperitivo gathering or a beach bonfire under a moon-lit sky where pizzica, a compelling rhythmic dance accompanied by an ensemble of tambourine, accordion and violin, lasts until dawn. There is no doubt that Italians love a good festa. And make no mistake, partying is just as much a full-time job as toiling away in one of the many prized vineyards.
Festival of style
It seems almost natural for Bulgari, the opulent Italian jewellery house that has been blazing a trail for coloured gemstones since the 1950s, to tap into the pomp and pageantry of Italian festivals for its Festa collection. Last June, CEO Jean-Christophe Babin hosted a glittering launch party at the elegant Scuola Grande della Misericordia in Venice, which drew a modish crowd, including brand ambassadors Bella Hadid, Lily Aldridge, Alicia Vikander, Shu Qi and Jasmine Sanders. The celebrities, adorned with shimmery necklaces and matching bracelets crafted from pink gold, amethysts and diamonds, sashayed down the red carpet to classic Italian tunes performed by a live orchestra.
Although we were not part of this star-studded affair that saw model Hadid make a splashy entrance in her dramatic Alexandre Vauthier dress and emerald Bulgari neckpiece, we still managed to get a taste of the Italian art de vivre (art of living) at the Festa press launch in the sumptuous Bulgari Resort & Spa, next to surfing mecca, Uluwatu, in Bali. We were not sure which shone brighter — the blanket of stars illuminating the jet-black sky or the 90 gleaming pieces of jewellery and 40 watches on display.
There is no doubt that Italians love a good festa. And make no mistake, partying is just as much a full-time job as toiling away in one of the many prized vineyards.
Extravagance has always been part of Bulgari’s lexicon and the opening sequence — a surprise fashion show where prancing models in billowing dresses showed off the Festa collection — was a true testament to the brand’s penchant for over-the-top theatrics. At the end of the show, a cannon shot thousands of pieces of metallic paper into the air, as if it was raining gold on the runway.
Just when we thought the confetti marked the pinnacle of the event, we were whisked away to a swanky dinner curated by chef Luca Fantin, who helms the Michelin-starred Bulgari Il Ristorante in Tokyo, in a space swathed with flowers, dangling baubles and flickering candles that even Jay Gatsby would approve of. Italians are not ones to shy away from grand gestures. To cap off the night, a whopping fireworks display in shades of green, white and red — the colours of Italy’s flag — lit up the island.
Bulgari’s Festa collection
Over 100 pieces of jewellery and timepieces were designed for this collection, which are categorised into three themes: Festa dell’Infanzia, a series dedicated to childhood innocence and naiveté; Festa della Tradizione, inspired by the rustic and folksy festivals around the country; and the fanciest of them all, Festa della Principessa, an ode to the most resplendent balls, soirees and parties of the Roman aristocracy.
The Festa dell’Infanzia is an exercise of stylised nostalgia, in which each jewellery — made from gold, enamel, diamonds, tourmalines, coral and jade — evoke a sense of freewheeling happiness. The collection summons the spirit of childhood, a repository of innocent and pleasant memories where images of birthday parties, cakes with rainbow sprinkles and brightly coloured decorations immediately bring a smile to your face.
There are bejewelled versions of sweet confection like whimsical rings that depict pistachio, lemon and raspberry cakes, as well as a brooch of a diamond-sprinkled gelato with a raspberry ruby centre. For something even more playful, a clutch of pneumatic emeralds, amethysts, aquamarines and pink tourmaline cabochons is strung together to form a cloud of seemingly floating balloons, with a rivulet of sparkly diamond ribbons rippling behind them. Bulgari may have approached these adornments with child-like wonder but there is nothing jejune about them. In fact, these are pieces any adventurous grown-up can flaunt with pride.
To certain jewellery devotees, the blood-red hue of rubies quickens the pulse in the same way diamonds do for others. The Festa della Tradizione series is brimming with this fabled gemstone, especially in its Palio necklaces and bracelets. Taking a cue from the Palio horse race, Bulgari’s jewellery creation and gem-buying director Lucia Silvestri specially crafted a necklace from stone marquetry that mimics the 17 contrades (participating districts) and set them in Pop Art-esque motifs. She had worked closely with the authorities of Siena to get the emblems and colours of the contrades absolutely right.
In another show-stopper, a supple web of pristine white diamonds inspired by the frenzied Tarantella folk dance, which supposedly cures a person from the bite of a deadly tarantula, looks ready to accentuate a flowing georgette dress. But if one is looking for something with more character, Bulgari’s Peperoncini necklace, fashioned from chilli peppers carved out of green tourmalines, rubellites, amethysts and a generous smattering of diamonds, is an instant conversation starter.
The final part of Festa’s triumvirate is none other than the homage to Roman princesses — Festa della Principessa — a collection that hardcore Bulgari jewellery connoisseurs will feel most at home with. Bulgari has designed more than 30 jewels for this line, which allude to three grande dames from Italy’s pantheon of style: Maria Mancini, Principessa Colonna; Paolina Bonaparte, Principessa Borghese; and Margherita di Savoia, Regina d’Italia. These royal fashion ambassadors — with their sui generis personality — left behind a remarkable jewellery collection that has become a hunting ground for collectors and an evolving source of inspiration for designers.
To wit, Silvestri and her team travelled around the world for three months to source unique coloured gemstones to design a series that reflects the meeting of tradition and art. The crème de la crème of the collection is probably the Il Grandioso, an ostentatious necklace with a unique Colombian emerald that weighs more than 53 carats. “I first saw it in Hong Kong more than three years ago. It took some months to convince the seller of the stone to have it polished in the faceted shape,” recalls Silvestri.
Bulgari is clearly in its element, as evidenced by the Principessa bijoux that gives off a feeling of regal, historical splendour without deviating from modernity. Take, the Il Magnifico, for example. The objet d’art, a 180-carat sugarloaf cabochon sapphire set on a chunky diamond chain devoted to Princess Paolina Bonaparte, is practically a wearable sculpture.
In keeping with Bulgari’s aesthetic and overstated finery, the brand has also upped its horological game with a few watch novelties, namely the Serpenti Regal Festa, a feminine bangle-watch that debuts with a double-headed snake design, which is also the maison’s trademark symbol; Monete Regal Festa, a geometric pendant with BVL Calibre 208 movement and a silver tetradrachm depicting the profile of Alexander the Great; and the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon Monete Regal Festa, the thinnest of its kind embellished with an authentic Roman coin portraying Emperor Constantine the Great.
The Italian decadence
The highly covetable Festa collection, which stimulates and surprises with its top-notch craftsmanship and technical ingenuity, truly embodies the dolce vita spirit that has long pervaded the brand since it was founded in Rome in 1884. The kaleidoscopic juxtaposition of colour, pattern and shape — with a spontaneous burst of diamonds — goes to show that the quintessentially Italian heavyweight still peddles a certain playfulness behind its commanding historic façade.
“The main inspiration of the Festa collection is happiness. This is something you can find in Rome, Venice, Tuscany, Puglia, and everywhere in Italy. The Festa runs deep in our way of life. The theme is closely linked to Bulgari, as one of the purposes of our jewels is to give joy and happiness to the women who wear them. A woman who wears Bulgari is also a woman who has a grasp on her life,” says Silvestri.
One of Bulgari’s tenets is to draw on Italy’s rich lode of heritage to innovate for the future. Maintaining a 133-year legacy will not be easy in a fiercely competitive haute joaillerie industry where everyone strives to outshine each other. But you can always count on Bulgari for one thing — it will never hold back on the bling.