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Eternal glamour: Bulgari goes baroque

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The Fountain of the Four Rivers, smack bang in the middle of the grand Piazza Navona in Rome, is a chaotic mass of human figures, flora and fauna, set about an imposing obelisk. The sculpture, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, is typical of the expressive, overly decorative style of baroque that has shaped the Eternal City – from statues to balustrades to table legs.

Lucia Silvestri came across this scene one morning while searching for ideas for Bulgari’s latest high-jewellery collection. The creative director was drawn to the roughly hewn rock on which the figures sit, calling to mind the contrast between the uncut gems and the final, polished stones in each of her pieces. Among the commotion she also spied a snake, a motif intertwined with the house’s codes. She immediately pulled out her phone and sent pictures to her creative team. 

Etro cotton shirt, £305. Bulgari Barocko gold, amethyst, tourmaline, pearl, rubellite and diamond Gem Constellation necklace, POA 
Etro cotton shirt, £305. Bulgari Barocko gold, amethyst, tourmaline, pearl, rubellite and diamond Gem Constellation necklace, POA  © Alessio Boni
Dolce & Gabbana crêpe coat, £2,350, and cotton poplin tunic shirt, £695. Bulgari Barocko white-gold, Paraíba tourmaline, onyx and diamond Exotic Love earrings and matching Exotic Love necklace, both POA
Dolce & Gabbana crêpe coat, £2,350, and cotton poplin tunic shirt, £695. Bulgari Barocko white-gold, Paraíba tourmaline, onyx and diamond Exotic Love earrings and matching Exotic Love necklace, both POA © Alessio Boni

The resulting collection, Barocko, morphed into a celebration of the sumptuous curves, vivid hues and arabesques of the 17th- to mid-18th-century movement. Baroque as a style isn’t something Bulgari has frequently explored, even though it is as intrinsically linked to Rome as the jewellery house itself. “The theme was one that we had in mind a few years back, but we thought maybe it was too obvious,” says Silvestri. “But we are baroque, and we’ve never done something specifically on it, so it was a natural evolution.” 

Although it was conceived well before the turmoil of this year, the theme comes at a time when calls to support Italy and its craftspeople are more urgent than ever. The collection totals more than 120 one-off jewels (all POA) and spans three series: Meraviglia, Luce and Colore. It also pays tribute to the specific artists who shaped the baroque movement – Bernini, but also architect Francesco Borromini and painter Caravaggio. One necklace, the Chiaroscuro, is a geometric tiling of round, brilliant-cut and pavé diamonds punctuated with seven vibrant gemstones – including rubellite, green tourmaline and tanzanite – and is named after the technique employed by painters to contrast light with dark. Another piece, the Festa ring, features a 7ct mandarin garnet at its centre, designed to imitate the succulent fruit in Caravaggio’s still-lifes. And the Pink Twists necklace, a cushion-cut 58ct rubellite suspended on a chain of curling pavé-set diamonds, references the gilded frames and mirrors typical of the period.

Bulgari Barocko gold, 58ct rubellite, emerald and diamond Pink Twist necklace, POA
Bulgari Barocko gold, 58ct rubellite, emerald and diamond Pink Twist necklace, POA
Bulgari Barocko pink-gold, ruby, mandarin-garnet and diamond ring, POA
Bulgari Barocko pink-gold, ruby, mandarin-garnet and diamond ring, POA

In the Luce series, necklaces and earrings mimic the tapering shape of feathers – inspiration plucked from the plumage of peacocks. Such non-native plants and animals were a point of fascination after the Romans began trading with east Asia, and were often depicted in baroque paintings or represented as motifs in decor. The Wonder Peacock necklace is an ornate example, with teardrop tanzanites and circle-shaped emeralds studded with diamonds to mimic the “eye” of the feathers. This is one of Silvestri’s favourite pieces. “I love the combination of colours and the different shapes – pear, round, cushion. There is everything, but in a very harmonical way,” she says. “It was a piece that I followed from the very beginning of the process, and the craftsmanship took more than 1,500 hours.”

Bulgari’s iconic Serpenti is naturally present: a white‑gold and pavé-diamond bracelet coils around the wrist, with an elongated tongue that protrudes across the hand and connects to a ring. The snake’s head is also embellished with a mighty, 10.14ct teardrop diamond. 

Dior silk shirt, £1,503 and wool trousers, £1,093. Bulgari Barocko High Jewellery white gold, onyx, pearls and diamond Hypnotic Pearls’ earrings, matching necklace and bracelet, all POA 
Dior silk shirt, £1,503 and wool trousers, £1,093. Bulgari Barocko High Jewellery white gold, onyx, pearls and diamond Hypnotic Pearls’ earrings, matching necklace and bracelet, all POA  © Alessio Boni
Bottega Veneta teddy shearling coat, £6,545, cotton shirt, £750, and denim trousers, £905. Bulgari High Jewellery pink-gold sautoir, Roman bronze coin (c41-54AD), malachite and diamond Monete necklace (all one piece), POA
Bottega Veneta teddy shearling coat, £6,545, cotton shirt, £750, and denim trousers, £905. Bulgari High Jewellery pink-gold sautoir, Roman bronze coin (c41-54AD), malachite and diamond Monete necklace (all one piece), POA © Alessio Boni
Max Mara cotton shirt, £380. Salvatore Ferragamo wool/silk/cotton trousers with belt, £705. Bottega Veneta calfskin boots, £940. Bulgari Barocko white-gold,  rubellite, green tourmaline, amethyst, citrine, yellow-quartz, aquamarine, tanzanite and diamond Chiaroscuro necklace. Bustier, stylist’s own
Max Mara cotton shirt, £380. Salvatore Ferragamo wool/silk/cotton trousers with belt, £705. Bottega Veneta calfskin boots, £940. Bulgari Barocko white-gold, rubellite, green tourmaline, amethyst, citrine, yellow-quartz, aquamarine, tanzanite and diamond Chiaroscuro necklace. Bustier, stylist’s own © Alessio Boni

If high jewellery showcases the top tier of skills, gemstones and design a house can wield, then Barocko is Bulgari’s most impressive to date. “Value-wise, it’s probably the richest we’ve ever put together,” says CEO Jean-Christophe Babin. “If you look at the cost of the gems and of the craftsmanship, which we measure in the thousands of hours per piece, if we combine those two parameters, it is the richest we have ever displayed.” 

And demand for such extravagant pieces still exists. What has changed, Babin says, is the way in which their customers are buying such jewels. “The way to access luxury, to process luxury, to live it, is changing. The bestseller is the pendant – this has not changed. What has changed is the country where you buy and the channel you use.” This is in line with the LVMH-owned house’s new strategy to focus on selling in local markets – especially China – instead of relying on existing customers to travel to Europe for their purchases.

But that didn’t stop the house from launching Barocko with a suitably grand salon-style show and dinner in Rome in September, even if some of their usual high jewellery clients couldn’t travel to be there. The event, held in the privately owned Palazzo Colonna, was about painting the whole picture of the collection and bringing glamour back to a year in which such things have been lacking. “We need beauty after this time and to enjoy the quality of life, of course,” adds Silvestri. “I hope people wear the collection with joy.”

Casting, Cicek Brown. Model’s agency, Modelwerk. Hair, Sebastien Bascle at Calliste Agency. Make-up, Martina Lattanzi using Les Chaînes d’Or de Chanel and Chanel Le Lift Crème de Nuit. Nails, Martina Lattanzi using Chanel Le Top Coat and Chanel La Crème Main. Photographer’s assistants, Alessio Keilty and Andrea Luna. Stylist’s assistant, Marie Poulmarch 

 



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Armenia’s prime minister claims military is plotting a coup

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Armenia’s prime minister has claimed the country’s military is plotting a “coup,” and taken to the streets with his supporters after senior army figures in the former Soviet republic called on him to resign.

Nikol Pashinyan has faced months of protests demanding he step down after the defeat of Armenian forces in a six-week war with neighbouring Azerbaijan that ended in November.

The army weighed in on Thursday, calling on the prime minister to quit after he fired the first deputy chief of staff for criticising him.

A letter to the prime minister signed by 40 senior officers warned Pashinyan not to use force against demonstrators, but did not say whether the army would act to remove him from power.

“The current government’s ineffective management and serious mistakes in foreign policy have put the country on the brink of collapse,” the officers wrote on Facebook.

Pashinyan later fired the chief of the general staff, Onik Gasparyan, ordered police to secure government buildings in Yerevan and told his supporters in the capital’s Republic Square to avoid violent clashes.

Demonstrators at an opposition rally in Yerevan demand the resignation of Nikol Pashinyan. They cheered as a fighter jet flew overhead © Artem Mikryukov/Reuters

Describing the situation as “manageable” the prime minister denied he was planning to flee the country and said the army’s statement was an “emotional reaction” to a dispute over the defeat in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

“We have no enemies in Armenia. I am calling for calm,” Pashinyan said, according to Russian news agency Interfax. “Of course, the situation is tense, but we need dialogue, not confrontation.”

He later took to the streets with several thousand supporters and a megaphone — an echo of the 2018 “velvet revolution” that swept him to power following a march across the country that galvanised popular support. A few thousand opposition supporters gathered at a different square and cheered as a fighter jet flew overhead.

Pashinyan has fought off calls for his resignation since signing a Moscow-brokered peace deal in November that cemented territorial gains for Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. The mountainous enclave in the South Caucasus is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but is populated by ethnic Armenians who seized control after a war that broke out in the dying days of the Soviet Union.

Azerbaijan, a mostly Muslim country and a close ally of Turkey, launched an offensive in September with the aim of retaking the entire enclave. Armenia’s army was ill prepared for oil-rich Azerbaijan’s modern drone fleet and significant backing from Ankara.

More than 3,300 Armenian soldiers died in the conflict, with a further 9,000 wounded. Thousands of civilians were displaced, including some who set their own homes on fire as they fled land now under control of Azerbaijan.

Russia, the traditional regional power broker and Armenia’s most important ally, remained neutral even as several previous ceasefires failed and has deployed 2,000 peacekeepers to secure the region.

Pashinyan admitted the terms were “unbelievably painful for me and my people” but argued the concessions were necessary to prevent further losses.

The devastating defeat sparked fury among Armenians who stormed the country’s parliament and attacked its speaker, demanding the prime minister’s resignation.

Pashinyan backtracked on a pledge to step down after snap elections earlier this month and remained in office in the face of opposition from Armenia’s ceremonial president, three parliamentary opposition parties, and key church leaders.

The Kremlin said on Thursday it was “following events in Armenia with caution” but considered them “exclusively Armenia’s internal matter”.

Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, told reporters Russia was “calling on everyone to be calm” and said “the situation should remain within constitutional limits,” according to Interfax.



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German accounting watchdog chief to step down in wake of Wirecard

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The head of Germany’s accounting watchdog is to step down following mounting political pressure over corporate governance shortcomings exposed by the Wirecard fraud.

Edgar Ernst, the president of the Financial Reporting Enforcement Panel (FREP), said on Wednesday he would depart by the end of this year. He is the third head of a regulatory body to lose his job in the wake of one of Germany’s biggest postwar accounting scandals.

The collapse of Wirecard, which last summer filed for insolvency after uncovering a €1.9bn cash hole, triggered an earthquake in Germany’s financial and political establishment.

Felix Hufeld, president of BaFin, the financial regulatory authority, and his deputy Elisabeth Roegele were pushed out by the German government in January for failing to act on early red flags suggesting misconduct at Wirecard. Ralf Bose, the head of Germany’s auditors supervisor Apas, was fired after disclosing he traded Wirecard shares while this authority was investigating the company’s auditor, EY. The German government is also working to revamp the country’s accounting supervision and financial oversight.

Meanwhile, criminal prosecutors in Frankfurt are evaluating a potential criminal investigation into BaFin’s inner workings and on Wednesday asked the market authority to hand over comprehensive documents, the prosecutors office told the FT, confirming an earlier report by Handelsblatt. The potential scope of any investigation as well as the individuals who might be targeted is still unclear. BaFin declined to comment.

Ernst came under pressure as the parliamentary inquiry commission uncovered that he joined the supervisory board of German wholesaler Metro AG in an apparent violation of internal governance rules, which from 2016 banned FREP staff from taking on new supervisory board roles.

Last week, the former chief financial officer of Deutsche Post filed a legal opinion to parliament defending his move. He argued that his employment contract was older than the 2016 ban on board seats and hence trumped the tightened governance regulations.

The German government had subsequently threatened to ditch the private-sector body which currently has quasi-official powers.

In a statement published on Wednesday evening, FREP said that Ernst wants to open the door for a “fresh start” that would be untainted by the discussions around his supervisory board mandates. “FREP is losing a well-versed expert in capital markets,” the body said.



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Putin and Lukashenko’s ski fun shows cold shoulder to EU

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As news of new EU sanctions against Russia began to leak out of a meeting of bloc foreign ministers on Monday afternoon, Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko were discussing a different challenge to the Russian president.

“You can try to compete with Vladimir Vladimirovich,” Lukashenko, in ski gear, said to his son, Nikolai. “But you probably won’t catch up,” he added, with a smile to Putin as the Russian leader pushed off down the slope.

Putin and Lukashenko are the men behind Europe’s two repressive crackdowns over the past six months, who have both jailed or exiled their most prominent opponents and seen their security forces violently assault and detain thousands of peaceful protesters.

But in a summit in the snow-covered mountains of Sochi, on Russia’s southern coast, they revelled in their twosome of leaders shunned and sanctioned by Brussels, in a calibrated message to the EU that the cold-shoulder was mutual.

For foreign policy experts there were few details to digest, despite the complex negotiations going on behind the scenes as the two post-Soviet states seek to recalibrate their future relationship.

Putin is keen to deepen integration on Moscow’s terms. Lukashenko is desperate for Russian investment and trade co-operation but is loath to relinquish sovereignty. Yet in place of diplomatic negotiations and policy pronouncements, photographs and video footage of the two leaders enjoying each other’s company were in full display.

At the outset, Putin, in jeans and an open-collar shirt and blazer, greeted his guest with a handshake and a hug. “Even our appearance, clothes and so on, suggest that these are serious negotiations in ordinary clothes,” Lukashenko quipped. “It suggests that we are close people.”

Pleasantries exchanged, it was time for the salopettes and ski boots, and a shared chairlift to the summit. Putin, pushing off confidently, set off down the gentle slope, Lukashenko in his wake.

After a short ride on snowmobiles back to their chalets, discussions continued over more than six hours — and what appeared to be three different sized wine glasses.

“The optics for the international audience is that they have been able to maintain their positions and nothing can be done against them,” said Maryia Rohava, a research fellow at Oslo university specialising in post-Soviet relations.

“Now we’re talking not just about sanctions against Belarus but also against Russia,” she added. “And it seems like they look at that like, ‘Well, we don’t care . . . We’re just enjoying our winter break like autocrats do.’”

To be sure, the fun on the slopes was not wholly without power games. Putin was clear to underscore he was the senior partner, from wrongfooting his guest at the top of the ski lift to releasing photographs of their meeting showing Lukashenko scribbling notes as his host spoke.

But the mood music was in sharp contrast to Lukashenko’s last visit to Russia in September. Then, with protests raging and the Belarusian leader’s position looking shaky, Putin reprimanded his guest for mishandling the unrest and risking the toppling of an ageing post-Soviet regime that could weaken his own.

Then, in a businesslike and cold atmosphere, Lukashenko pleaded with Putin that “a friend is in trouble” and was granted a $1.5bn loan from Moscow — but not before his host remarked that Belarusian people should be given a chance to “sort this situation out”.

The absence of such language on Monday also sent a subtle signal to other illiberal regimes, particularly those on the outer rim of Europe who, like Belarus in the past, find themselves lured towards Brussels by economic opportunities but repelled by the reforms and democratic standards demanded in exchange.

The message to the likes of Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Turkey is that Putin, whose relations with the EU are at rock bottom, is always ready to talk.



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