Gem whisperer
#NOFILTER - Chonx Tibajia (The Philippine Star) - October 15, 2015 - 10:00am

Lucia Silvestri tames the toughest stones for Bulgari

TOKYO, Japan — At Bulgari’s 10-floor boutique in Tokyo’s Ginza district, we are huddled around Lucia Silvestri, an Italian woman with a penchant for storytelling and a job nothing short of magical. She tells us the tale of the 25-carat sapphire, the centerpiece of Bulgari’s Giardini Italiani collection. “I saw the rough of this gem 10 years ago, but the cutters decided to cut this gem only three years ago. So for seven years, I saw the rough that was 400 carats in Sri Lanka. Every time I went, the supplier had the rough on his desk, and every time for me, it was frustrating because he hadn’t decided to recut. Mr. Bulgari would ask, ‘Why don’t you cut it?’ And he would say, ‘I’m not ready yet.’ For seven years. After seven years, he started to cut and finished only last year,” she says. “I asked the designer to work around this gem with important diamonds, like a cascade. The geometrical wings are emerald. It’s geometrical but at the same time soft.”

As the creative director for Bulgari Jewelry, Lucia’s life revolves around precious stones. She chases them. Tames them. And makes blindingly stunning works of art with them. During our meeting, she herself is draped in jewels. She wears a version of the Diva necklace and a spinel ring from someone special — a part of her personal collection. “This was a gift from a person very close to me. I bought this gem for this person 15 years ago. A few months ago, he gave it to me as a gift. It’s come back to me,” she says. She is in love with sapphires and spinels, as she is with her job.

We are in Japan for the “Bulgari Jewelry Tokyo Retrospective” exhibition at Tokyo National Museum, but before we get to see the pieces, including ones especially made for the exhibit and inspired by Japanese culture, we get to chat with her — the gem whisperer. Our jaws would drop later on, upon beholding sapphires and emeralds the size of Adrien Brody’s nose — he is here as well, in another room, as Bulgari ambassador. (He should really insure his nose, I read he’s injured it quite a lot. And it’s precious.) Knowing the amount of love and work put into every piece really puts things in perspective. We would appreciate them almost in the way that Lucia does, her babies.
Lucia joined Bulgari at age 18, when the company only had five stores. “I worked only with the family. I was very close to them. It was very easy to make decisions. But it’s like I changed many jobs, because the company is changing so fast. Now we have more than 200 stores. We are part of a huge luxury group.” From hunting down precious stones on her own, now Lucia and her team have to buy gems for 200 Bulgari stores.







The most difficult to source is the ruby, which is a precious stone Bulgari likes to use, along with emeralds, sapphires and diamonds, as well as semi-precious stones. The “pigeon blood ruby” commands the largest premium and originates from Myanmar, the world’s main source for rubies. As with diamonds, color, cut, carat and clarity are important. Lucia tells us another story: “I was in Istanbul for vacation. I met by chance a collector and he told me that he had a ruby. In the beginning I was like, ‘Sure, you have a ruby.’ I was indifferent. I was on vacation and I thought, ‘A ruby? In Turkey? And then he had a beautiful ruby! I told him to send it to Rome.” Lucia made a nice ring with diamond baguettes, the 75-carat ruby in the center.

Sourcing gems from places like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Brazil, Africa is an adventure for Lucia, but with a job that allows one to be surrounded by shiny objects laden with history, mined from the depths of the earth in the farthest corners of the world, every second is, well, precious. Bulgari Philippines country manager Mario Katigbak tells me that he’s seen Lucia at work in Rome, playing with gems, placing them on a clay mat, adjusting, designing, adjusting again. “It’s like she’s playing,” he says.

Lucia says, “With gems, I can pass hours without feeling tired. I play with gems and colors and, I know it’s not normal, but sometimes, I talk to the gems and say, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I mix it with other gems. It’s a job, but it’s also a pleasure.” Inspiration comes from everywhere, but heritage is always important. Bulgari is known for mixing precious and semi-precious stones. “I play with the gems thinking about the combination of color, the cut. Quite often we recut the gems because sometimes the cut is not Bulgari-style. I can see that the gems are talking to me, but it’s not the right way, so we recut. It’s like a love affair.”

Geometry is also a very important statement for any Bulgari piece, usually shapes drawn from its city. “It’s very important for me to travel and get inspiration from my travels, but the most important thing for me is to go back to Rome. Rome is my city, where my roots and the roots of the company are. It’s the place where I can collection all the inspiration from my trips. The colors of Rome, the windows, the monuments, are fundamental to our inspiration. I hope you can feel that behind this jewelry is a passion,” she says.

For Lucia, Bulgari has two souls: timeless and contemporary. Four factors are considered when designing a Bulgari piece: creativity, femininity, versatility and being contemporary. Because of the rarity of gems, having it in custody is a big thing, so when they have a gem — the gem — they design around it. The gem gives birth to the idea. “When we work with gems, we usually start from the gems. But when we work with diamonds, usually we start with the idea,” she explains.

Lucia shares that in the world of precious stones, “trends” are dictated by the availability of gems. Bulgari, on the other hand, has always mixed precious and semi-precious stones, such as amethyst and emerald, and this has enabled the brand to create unique pieces. “Now it’s quite a trend that everybody’s starting to copy us,” she says.

Diva, for example, was initially a high-end collection. It was inspired by the original diva, Cleopatra, particularly the winged shape of Elizabeth Taylor’s eye makeup in the 1963 film. (The actress also famously had a close relationship with the brand, and even wore a Bulgari Serpenti watch while filming.) “Diva is a collection that we created because of the demand of the market. Because the design is so nice and versatile, we started to work around the high-end design. The market was looking for something easy to wear, light and full of color,” Lucia shares. Who would deny divas of their Divas? Certainly not Bulgari.

Still, despite trends, certain things remain constant — man still mans the stones. “For these kinds of gems, it’s still the romantic old men doing the cutting. The antique way. I love to see how cutters cut, really, with love,” she says. “We have a workshop in Rome. We have our artistans in Valencia. For this reason, Bulgari pieces are pieces of art. It’s a mixture of what nature gave us, and the craftsmanship. You can wear the piece of art. You can feel the piece of art.”

The Bulgari Jewelry Tokyo Retrospective and our brief meeting with Lucia is a lesson in history, as well as a crash course on women. I’m pretty sure the men learned a lot about what women liked in the ‘30s, in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s… women in Japan, women in Greece, women in Rome…. I gazed for far too long into the abyss of that 25-carat sapphire, almost until it gazed back at me, and it told me that we’re all the same — slaves to arresting, shiny things.

* * *

In the Philippines, Bulgari is at the ground floor of Greenbelt 4, Ayala Center, Makati.


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