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From Rome with Baubles

The de Young is shining bright this month with a special exhibition showcasing the jewels of Bulgari over the years.

1950s: Bulgari popularizes the "Italian school" of jewelry design, marked by heavy gold and bold-colored gems. "There's a charm and a femininity to the jewelry," says Chapman. The it piece of the day? The flora-spray brooch. 

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1960s: Italian moviemaker Cinecitta Studios - nicknamed Hollywood on the Tiber - introduces ingenues like Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, and Ava Gardner to Bulgari's Rome boutique. "From the '60s on, Bulgari was the jewelry that the very rich wanted to have," says Chapman. 

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1970s: Bulgari opens its first United States store, and "the whimsy comes out," says Chapman - from playing card designs to solid gold tools. Cher wears the Americana-themed Star Spangled Banner series in a Vogue ad that reads, "Modern girl, modern jewels...real, but not too serious." 

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1980s: Large, vividly hued gems are mixed with colorful stones of little worth. "Think of Joan Collins in Dynasty," says Chapman. "Bulgari was the perfect compliment to all those power suits and big sleeves." 

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“I always visit Bulgari,” Andy Warhol once said. “It is the most important museum of contemporary art.” Apt, then, that the glitzy Italian jeweler will showcase four decades of bling at the de Young this month, from the fist-size emeralds of Elizabeth Taylor’s trove to diamond-studded ice cream cone brooches and gilded ashtrays. A collaboration between the museum’s curator of European decorative arts, Martin Chapman, and the jeweler’s archivists in Italy, the 145-piece exhibit primarily comprises pieces flown in from the Bulgari Heritage Collection in Rome, though locals like Denise Hale and Dede Wilsey also lent their own gems. “We have pretty spiffy security,” says Chapman, dryly. In the slideshow above, we asked the curator for a Bulgari primer.

“The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita and Beyond,” Sept. 21–Feb. 17,


Originally published in the September issue of San Francisco

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