PROVENANCE, THE origins and history of a brand, is often easy to forget in the highly transient, mercurial realm of luxury and fashion where trends come and go and seasons pile on top of seasons. But provenance is nonetheless one of the defining characteristics of luxury and is what sets a truly high-end brand apart from the rest. Indeed, true luxury – that difficult-to-define sense of rarefied beauty, quality, and prestige – does not come from the age, price, or products of a brand; but rather, it comes from a compelling brand story, carefully told, combined with high-quality craftsmanship and exceptional customer service.
Nowhere is provenance more important than in the world of fine jewellery – and few brands do it better than Bulgari. Founded in 1884, Bulgari is one of the most prestigious jewellery houses in the world. The company had humble origins in a small jewellery shop started by a Greek migrant, Sotirios Voulgaris, in Rome, but later expanded greatly under the stewardship of the owner’s two sons, Costantino and Giorgio, and now stands as an iconic jewellery brand.
Communicate the heritage
Bulgari, like many brands, is proud of its history and is now working to preserve and communicate that heritage, thanks to the efforts of one woman, Amanda Triossi, who holds the somewhat unusual job as the Bulgari official curator. Educated in Classics and History of Art at Cambridge, Ms Triossi obtained a gemmological diploma at the Gemmological Association of Great Britain in 1988. She subsequently worked for Sotheby’s as a gemmological expert and auctioneer for 14 years.
Amanda first became associated with Bulgari in 1996 when she co-authored a monograph on Bulgari with Daniela Mascetti. From 1999 to 2003, Amanda collaborated with VBH Luxury on a high-end jewellery line. Since 1997, she has worked with Bulgari, first spearheading the creation of the Bulgari Corporate Historical Archives in Rome and now as Curator, working closely with the Bulgari family on the Bulgari Vintage Collection and curating major exhibitions for the brand around the globe.
The history of jewellery and jewellery design is a highly specialist profession. How did you get your start? What inspired you to enter this field?
I’m not exactly sure where I first got the idea. But I have always been interested in jewellery. In 1967, my mother gave me a copy of Italian Hello that had pictures of the coronation of the Shah of Iran, which contained photos of the most beautiful jewellery I had ever seen.
In Italy, jewellery is usually a family thing, inherited from generation to generation. But, this is was not the case for my family. While I was born in Italy, my mother was an actress and my father an architect and both were on rather indifferent to jewellery. That said, my father at one point had wanted to become a geologist, so perhaps some influence came from him.
You worked with Sotheby’s for many years as a historian and auctioneer. What was it like to work in this environment as both an expert and auction professional?
Sotheby’s was instrumental in leading me to where I am. When you’re dealing with art, working in an auction house gives you access to a wide range of jewellery and affiliated art much more so than any jewellery apprenticeship could. At Sotheby’s, I got to work all over the continent and to learn about a wide variety of art.
The most exciting collection I witnessed was the sale of the Duchess of Windsor’s jewels in 1987. It really was the most exciting collection on market in the past 150 years, even including Elizabeth Taylor’s collection that was recently sold. The Duchess was a connoisseur of jewellery in a way that few people these days are.
Through Sotheby’s, I gained access to a variety of opportunities, including valuations and lecturing on the history of jewellery and jewellery making. In due course, this teaching work led me to Bulgari.
Bulgari has a long and storied heritage dating back to the 1880s. What role does history play in the modern practice of jewellery making?
For high jewellery, the art of jewellery making has not changed much since the 18th and 19th centuries, though the cost of labour is very different. But, these handmade pieces are still created with the same types of tools, particularly for high art collections. It is, of course, a very different situation for the mass market, as machinery has made all the difference for large-scale production.
Interestingly, attitudes towards jewellery have changed significantly. In the 18th century, it was very common to have jewels remounted and restyle to keep up with current trends, whereas now that’s almost inconceivable given the cost involved.
One of the things I have tried to convey through my work and teaching is that jewellery is transcultural and transsocial: everyone at every level has interest in jewellery in one form or another.
What are some highlights of your career with Bulgari?
I came to Bulgari as co-author of its company history in 1994, which was challenging as the archives were not complete. After that project, I then proposed to Bulgari that I work with them to set up and maintain their archives. I eventually came to work with them to buy back significant pieces in the company’s history as part of an effort to build a physical archive in addition to the digital cataloguing that we already had been doing.
In 2009, Bulgari held a major retrospective exhibition for its 125th anniversary in Rome and Paris featuring major artifacts from its history. It was a really impressive show – so much so that it toured around the world, including China in 2011 and San Francisco earlier this year.
Much of Western aesthetics has been based upon the conception that art reveals the depth of our humanity. Jewellery, as personal decoration, is, like clothing, one of the most ancient forms of art. In your opinion, are people still affected by the concept of jewellery as art?
The vast majority of people do not perceive jewellery as art. Indeed, a lot of people that like art don’t really contemplate liking jewellery. For many people, jewellery takes the form of a diamond engagement ring but they don’t see how fun, interesting, and diverse jewellery can be. It is perhaps a bit stigmatised in this way.
For example, most publications do not make much space for jewellery and treat it as at best a supporter to the larger category of clothing. For me, I think that dress should be dictated by jewellery, rather than the opposite, to make a real statement.
I feel that jewellery is an essential art form. In reality, jewellery is very accessible, not as wildly expensive as expensive cars and infinitely more wearable and collectable. The history of jewellery is in no small way the history of society: jewellery and jewellery making are closely linked to economic history, the history of mining and materials, the history of technology, and, obviously, the history of culture itself. In this way, the objects that we wear and collect reveal a lot about who we are and what we believe.
by Jessica Quillin