Rapaport Magazine

The Bold and The Beautiful

Part of a jewelry family dynasty, Marina Bulgari created “it” jewels for the rich and famous.

By Amber Michelle

The 1980s were all about big…big hair, big-shouldered suits and big lifestyles. It was the perfect backdrop for Marina Bulgari to launch her collection of big, bold gold jewelry under the name Marina B. Her jewelry immediately attracted the attention of socialites, movie stars and the jet set, all of whom wore her innovative creations that defined the over-the-top lavishness of the 1980s and 1990s. For two decades, she was the go-to jeweler for women-in-the-know, but in 1998, she retired and now, at 82, lives in Monte Carlo. The jewelry house was dormant until 2010, when it was acquired by New York City–based Paul Lubetsky, owner of Windsor Jewels, who plans to re-establish the brand. “Marina was ahead of her time. She was an artist and artists can see the future; they can innovate and direct the future of design,” comments Lubetsky.

Born in Rome in 1930, Marina Bulgari was part of the Bulgari jewelry family dynasty that remains hugely influential today. It was her Greek grandfather, Sotirio Bulgari, who founded the legendary eponymous design house. Marina and her parents traveled frequently between Greece and Italy as she was growing up and those influences are reflected in her later work. After studying architecture and engineering, Marina entered the family business when she was 21. She followed her passion for design and created many innovative new pieces for the firm. After the death of her father, Constantino Bulgari, in 1973, Marina became chief designer and took on a bigger role in the company, along with her sister Anna and other relatives. She left the firm in 1976. “Marina decided to go out on her own in 1979. She opened her business to instant fame. All the celebrities and jet-setters loved her designs,” says Lubetsky, chief executive officer (CEO) of Marina B, who notes that clients included movie stars Elizabeth Taylor and Julia Roberts.

With a degree in engineering, Marina made jewelry that flowed easily with the movement of the body. Using her engineering skills, she developed a spring mechanism for her collar necklaces that replaced the clasp and made the pieces easier to put on and more comfortable to wear. “Marina never let a piece out until someone in her office had worn it for a couple of weeks to make sure that it looked right and felt right,” explains Lubetsky.

Yet, it was Marina’s design aesthetic that brought her jewelry the most attention. Geometry and sailing, as well as the architectural facades of ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt all inspired Marina. She mixed unexpected color combinations to create bold statements in voluptuous gold pieces that broke the design mold of that time. And this is, perhaps, why her jewelry held such appeal for the glitterati. “Her jewelry is very bold and represents someone with a very strong personality,” remarks her nephew Giorgio Bulgari.

Many of Marina’s pieces were engineered in such a way that they could come apart, making them more versatile. A necklace could be made longer or shorter by removing a section, which then turned into a bracelet. Her iconic Pneu earrings, which were inspired by airplane tires, have a gemstone disc drop that can be interchanged with other gemstones, resulting in a number of color choices and creating the illusion of a new pair of earrings with each change. The disc could also be left off completely, revealing a diamond earring. At a time when most stylish women were wearing door-knocker earrings, Marina was creating cascade earrings — long, shimmering multistrands of jewels that were the epitome of glamour. “Marina B jewelry is artistic and bold. The jewelry celebrates opulence and high fashion,” says Mona Lee Nesseth of Laguna Beach, California–based Estate and Custom Jewels.

In reviving the Marina B collection, Lubetsky is using the original sketches from the archives to re-create the showstopping jewels originally designed by Marina. He returned to Italy and found the artisans who crafted the jewelry or who trained their sons to craft jewelry to the same specifications as the first pieces. “I made the decision not to compromise on the quality of the pieces. Even with the price of gold today, we are staying true to the look, we are staying true to the handcrafting,” says Lubetsky, who notes that he knew he had found treasure when he “stumbled” onto her archives.

“Marina B jewelry is all about retro chic, with its bold use of gemstones, bright colors and iconic designs,” concludes Rahul Kadakia, head of jewelry for Christie’s Americas. “With clients like Princess Grace of Monaco and Sophia Loren, to own one of her creations was the ultimate accessory.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - November 2012. To subscribe click here.

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