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Founded in 1884, Bulgari has been setting the pace for Italian jewelry styles for more than a century, drawing inspiration from the timeless beauty of Greek and Roman art, while lending a contemporary edge to the innovative pieces. The Bvlgari family is descended from an Ancient family of Greek silversmiths from a small village called Epirus. In 1879, founder Sotirio Boulgaris immigrated to Italy and began to sell original silver ornaments in the streets of Rome. Five years later, after successfully displaying his objects in a corner window of a Greek merchant’s shop, he was able to open his first shop in Rome, selling silver belts, buckles, bracelets, tableware, and antiques. By the turn of the century, the enterprising businessman had established outlets across Italy. At this time, Sotirio Romanized the family name, which was changed to the present “Bulgari.”

In 1905, Sotirio sold off his chain shops to concentrate on a single jewelry and silver business, and he and his sons, Costantino and Giorgio, opened a new store, which remains the Bulgari headquarters today. Offering an upscale selection of goods from embossed and engraved silver serving pieces to gold and silver jewelry, the Bulgari brand began to cultivate a cosmopolitan air, and the shift to pricier bejeweled pieces began.

After Sotirio died in 1932, his sons continued helming the business, with Giorgio's global gem-sourcing travels exposing him to the latest fashions in the then-Paris-based jewelry industry, and Costantino's penchant for collecting ancient silver wares later becoming a source of inspiration for the company's adaptation of classical themes. Having latched onto style trends emanating from Paris, Bulgari continued to follow the lead of what was then the world's jewelry capital throughout the first half of the century. The store's marble-decked façade would be the backdrop of many a paparazzi photo in the postwar era, as celebrities from around the world were drawn to the Bulgari shop. The expanding clientele, which prior to the 1960s included Italian nobility; South American political figure Evita Peron; American businessmen like Nelson Rockefeller and Woolworth's founder Samuel Henry Kress; and U.S. Ambassador to Italy Clare Boothe Luce, reflected Bulgari's growing stature among the world's high-class jewelry houses. In the 1960s, the Bulgari brothers in particular began to break away from France's fashion dictates to establish their own recognizable styles. The Bulgari mode of design that emerged over the ensuing decade departed from the French in several respects. The family's third generation, represented by Giorgio's three sons, Paolo, Gianni, and Nicola, took the helm in 1967. The brothers established their first international outlet in 1970 in New York's upscale Pierre Hotel. By the end of the decade, they had launched locations in Geneva, Monte Carlo, and even Paris. Bulgari's jewelry designs of this decade were strongly influenced by the exhibitions of the treasures of Tutankhamen's ancient Egyptian treasures. Though the company had made and sold pocket, lapel, and wrist watches throughout its history, Bulgari did not introduce a major collection of timepieces until the late 1970s.

The 1970s were a period of great success for the company, a time when Bulgari enhanced its ranking among the world's greatest jewelers through innovative designs. The firm's patronage grew accordingly, expanding to include celebrities like Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, and perhaps the house's best-known client, Elizabeth Taylor. Royalty from around the world shopped at the company's showcases. The company remains under Bulgari family ownership today, and has branched out into other endeavors such as a perfume and fine Italian silk scarves. Quality and excellence continue to be the basis of the Bulgari brand.
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