Leading fashion brand BVLGARI blends the styles of its Greek founder with the Italian city he found a home in says NIKI CHARALAMBOUS

BVLGARI is a globally recognised luxury brand known for its high-quality jewels, watches, fragrances, accessories and leather items. The Bulgari empire is synonymous with luxury and flawless service, as well as a reputation for Italian excellence, with hundreds of stores, hotels, and resort destinations across the world.

BVLGARI was founded in Rome by a Greek silversmith who moved to Italy from Greece in pursuit of a better future.

Bulgari’s humble beginnings can be traced back to 1857, when the ‘father’ of the now multi-billion dollar internationally recognised brand, Sotirios Voulgaris, was born in the Greek region of Epirus. He was one of 11 children and the only one of his siblings to survive the Ottoman conflicts that destroyed Paramythia, a town in Epirus, Greece.

Since his early youth, Sotirios proved to be lively and ambitious, showing a vision of artistic flair, as well as an inquisitive mind. He acquired a talent for working with valuable metals and stones which earned him a few profitable jobs before he opened his own jewellery store in 1884.

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Sotirios Voulgaris

Sotirios was motivated to succeed by his father’s suggestion, “to leave Greece and seek a country where he could work in peace and create his own hope.”

“When I was twenty-four years old, I arrived in Rome with only eighty cents in my pocket and a dream to create prosperity,” Sotirios wrote in his journal. “I was mesmerised by the sparkle and culture of this magnificent city, where I met people from all over the world.”

Sotirios’ work ethic enabled his business to grow. Although his early jewellery designs were inspired by ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine art, it was the brand’s small, trumpet-shaped ring that became a top seller in Rome during the 1920s and 1930s, allowing Sotirios Voulgaris to lay the foundations of the distinctive Bulgari style as more stores opened across Italy.

He realised the potential for seasonal stores to reach his clients abroad. The first stage in his European expansion was the opening of a shop in St Mortiz, a Swiss Alps resort popular with the European aristocracy. Sotirios happily agreed to an arranged marriage with Elena Basios, the daughter of a family friend, in 1888, at the age of 31. Their first son, Constantino, was born a year later, followed by Giorgio and four other children.

To meet the growing workload and expansion, he engaged both professional artisans from Greece and some of his relatives. “The Bulgari name appeared in the most prominent sales catalogues,” he noted in his journal. “I was building the prosperity I had envisioned when I came to Rome with only eighty cents in my pocket, and I had every intention of going far beyond.”

Thanks to his business vision and client understanding, Sotirios exploited the change in taste and demand. The signs of his new shops would incorporate both the Italianisation of his surname and the French design that was popular at the time. “My name echoed in various European corners. My know-how and entrepreneurial spirit were appreciated by so many clients all over Europe.”

Sotirios passed along his craftsmanship skills and business expertise to his sons Constantino and Giorgio in the early 1910s, who gradually took over his role. When Sotirios died in 1932, his sons inherited and expanded on his vision, elevating the BVLGARI brand globally.

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Famous fans

Both Constantino and Giorgio, as well as their descendants, continued Sotirios’ creative legacy by producing unimaginable jewellery designs that drew celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Anna Magnani, Ingrid Bergman and Gina Lollobrigida, who became some of the most famous clients of the BVLGARI brand.

In the late 1960s, Giorgio’s son Gianni would lead the Bulgari brand into an era of global expansion with stores opening in New York, Geneva, Monte Carlo and Paris. In the decades that followed, and as the brand was passed down from generation to generation, BVLGARI’s product line expanded to include – in addition to its jewellery – watches, fragrances, hotels and resorts, accessories and leather goods that are showcased twice a year at Milan Fashion Week.

BVLGARI has been setting the benchmark for Italian style in jewellery, fashion, and accessories for over a century. A forward-thinking, creative spirit that never ceases drawing inspiration from the timeless beauty of Greek and Roman art, while giving it a distinctive contemporary touch; Greek like its founder, Sotirios Bulgari, and Roman like the culture he embraced.