Eternal Luxury: Visiting Rome to Discover the Bulgari Aeterna High Jewellery Collection

To mark its 140th anniversary, Bulgari has released a collection of high jewellery, watches and accessories that is its largest and most expensive to date. contributor Rachael Taylor travelled to Rome – the Eternal City – to discover the new Aeterna collection, speak to Bulgari chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin, and find out why now is the time for a €40 million necklace!

Stepping inside the Terme di Diocleziano, a historical monument that was once the largest baths in Ancient Rome, you instantly feel a permeating sense of history. The high vaulted ceilings, the stylishly crumbling brickwork, the statues and tombs left behind by a bygone era: all these markers of the past connect you to a lost world that our times can only imagine. This is a space meant to inspire, which is exactly why Bulgari chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin chose it as the venue for the launch of the jeweller’s Aeterna High Jewellery collection in Rome in May 2024.  

Models wearing new creations from the Bulgari Aeterna High Jewellery collection at the official launch event at the Terme di Diocleziano in Rome. Photo credit Gabriel De La Chapelle

“What we are crafting and proposing to our clients are discoveries, beauty, emotions, which is not only the jewel or the watch itself alone, but an overall experience,” he says. “Some entertainment that money cannot buy, and that without Bulgari they would never have access to.”

Sitting in the baths’ open courtyard later that night, watching models – including Carla Bruni and Isabella Rossellini – traverse the tiles under a darkening Roma sky, certainly felt otherworldly. As passion-rousing classical music filled the Ludovisi Cloisters, competing with the cawing of birds flying overhead, the models came close enough to show off the Aeterna jewels they had been selected to wear. Babin watched on, with Bulgari ambassadors Anne Hathaway, Priyanka Chopra, Liu Yifei, Hikari Mori, and Shu Qi by his side. The catwalk show was followed by an al fresco gala dinner, with guests coming together on one long table to eat and drink from Aeterna-themed dinnerware. 

Celebrities attend the Bulgari Aeterna High Jewellery collection launch in Rome, including (from left to right) French model Carla Bruni, Taiwanese actress Shu Qi, and Indian actress Priyanka Chopra

This evening of celebration kickstarted 10 days of Bulgari Aeterna at the Terme di Diocleziano, with clients flying in from all over the world to see what new treasures the jeweller had to offer. For those in attendance, it was a trip well made, as the high jewellery collection is the brand’s most spectacular to date. Bulgari is celebrating its 140th anniversary this year. The famous Italian jewellery house was founded in Rome in 1884 by Greek silversmith Sotirio Voulgaris (who would later change his name to Bulgari to make it easier for his clients to pronounce). It has called the city home ever since, and this latest collection is a celebration of all things Roman.

Weaving in amongst the vitrines, it was easy to pick out the classic Bulgari hallmarks: the richly hued cabochon gems, the fan shapes inspired by Ancient Roman floor tiles, the iconic Serpenti snake heads that have been synonymous with the brand since the 1950s. Aesthetically, there was nothing wildly new about this presentation – which was a conscious decision on the part of the design team.  

Bulgari chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin alongside Chinese American actress Liu Yifei and Indian actress Priyanka Chopra at the Terme di Diocleziano in Rome. Photo credit Gabriel De La Chapelle

“We need to be extremely consistent,” says Babin. “Trends are always a temptation, but we shouldn’t fall into the trap because [high] jewellery is stylish, it’s contemporary, it's timeless, but it cannot be trendy – if it is trendy, in 10 years you won’t wear it any longer. Our duty is to ensure you wear it forever, with pride.”

Guests attend the launch of the Bulgari Aeterna High Jewellery collection at the Terme di Diocleziano in Rome including (far left) Bulgari Jewellery Executive Creative Director Lucia Silvestri with actress Anne Hathaway

Babin admits that creating new high jewellery collections each year does present somewhat of a paradox, as his team is constantly trying to keep design codes classic enough to last, whilst simultaneously generating fresh excitement. For Aeterna, the boundary-pushing is less in the design than in the quality, for this is Bulgari’s most expensive and vast high jewellery collection to date. 

The chief executive estimates that there are at least 100 jewels within the Aeterna collection with prices that exceed €1 million, with a significant number priced around €5 million. The most valuable of the lot is a diamond necklace titled Serpenti Aeterna that has seven pear-shaped diamonds with a combined weight of 140 carats to mark 140 years of Bulgari. All seven stones were cut from a single rough, weighing more than 200 carats, that was mined in Lesotho, Southern Africa. They are attached to a serpentine wave of platinum, which has been filled with baguette-cut diamonds that took five months to set. By the time the first model steps on the runway that night, a client has already enquired about the flagship necklace, unphased by the asking price of $40 million. 

The Serpenti Aeterna necklace from the new Bulgari Aeterna High Jewellery collection contains seven pear-shaped diamonds, each cut from the same rough, totalling 140 carats to mark 140 years of Bulgari. Photo credit Simone Fiorini

Babin believes that the times are ripe for such creations. While he says that his top-spending clients are buying less often, when they do, they are looking to spend more and will take more time than ever during negotiations to ensure they get the very best. “It has to be extremely appealing,” he says.

French model Carla Bruni and actress and filmmaker Isabella Rossellini wearing new pieces from the Bulgari Aeterna High Jewellery collection at the official launch event at the Terme di Diocleziano in Rome

This is also true for high jewellery watches. Aeterna included many lavish bejewelled timepieces, each fitted with Bulgari’s tiny Piccolissimo mechanical movement to fuse haute joaillerie and haute horlogerie. The Fuochi D’Artificio watches used sprays of coloured gems and diamonds against dark onyx or aventurine backdrops to light up the night sky as fireworks would. The Fenice timepiece is a radiant phoenix with 160 carats of graduated pink-to-blue gems and a 9.78-carat Paraiba tourmaline that swings open to reveal the time. There were evolutions of the Serpenti watches with high jewellery twists. For the first time, a double-headed design combined both snake and lion heads. It is called Serpenti Misteriosi Chimera in reference to the chimaeras of Ancient Greek literature that were mythical beasts composed of the body parts of multiple animals. 

One corner of the Terme di Diocleziano was filled with objects you would not normally find at a high jewellery presentation – handbags, perfumes, sunglasses. These accessories have done well for Bulgari; indeed, revered fashion designer Mary Katrantzou was named the brand’s first-ever creative director of leather goods just weeks before the Aeterna presentation. Those on display at the event were not the standard fare, but high jewellery versions: the Serpenti clasps of the bags were set with precious gemstones; the temples of the sunglasses crafted in gold and diamonds; special scents were trapped in precious bottles that costs tens of thousands of Euros. 

This amplification of the everyday is an alluring piece of theatre. And that sense of discovery was to be found in every other enclave throughout the ancient monument; be it a rich emerald, bold sapphire, or glowing ruby in unimaginable proportions, or a barely visible micro watch dial nestled in a cornucopia of diamonds and Paraiba tourmalines. The art of the high jeweller is, at its essence, wonder making, and Bulgari Aeterna is an exercise in awe that is befitting the very special anniversary of the Eternal City’s premier magic maker. 

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