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PARIS — Location, location, location — that was Bulgari’s main concern in bringing to Paris the giant jewelry retrospective it held to celebrate its 125th anniversary in Rome last year.
The luxury brand found the perfect setting in the Grand Palais, whose soaring steel-and-glass structure will house 603 vintage pieces for the “Bulgari: 125 Years of Italian Magnificence” exhibition that opens today and runs through Jan. 12.
“To have the exhibition in the Grand Palais, it’s the maximum you can aspire to,” said Bulgari chief executive officer Francesco Trapani.
With around 10 percent of the exhibit being made up of previously unseen gems, including a Seventies diamond-edge gold coin necklace that belonged to the late Princess Grace of Monaco, the display builds on the show originally held in 2009 at Rome’s Palazzo delle Esposizioni.
Organizers billed it as the biggest jewelry exhibition in Paris since Cartier staged a retrospective at the neighboring Petit Palais in 1989.
Seven rooms are laid out around a faceted black structure that will be lit at night to resemble a sapphire. The display runs chronologically from founder Sotirio Bulgari’s first silver creations to brand new pieces, and includes iconic Bulgari designs such as Tubogas coiled bracelets and watches.
Among the newly added items are a 1956 two-headed panther bracelet set with rubies, diamonds and emeralds; a 1969 sautoir bearing a Tutankhamunlike 300-carat carved emerald pendant, and a platinum and gold necklace set with turquoise and diamonds once owned by the late Begum Aga Khan, former Miss France Yvette Labrousse.
Known for her voracious appetite for jewelry, the grande dame is said to have had Bulgari alter the piece to add 20 more turquoise and diamond clusters.
Trapani declined to comment on the cost of the show, rumored to run into millions of dollars, but said moving the priceless baubles — half of which have been lent by private collectors — had been a logistical challenge.
“It’s a nightmare. The pieces are a nightmare and the vitrines are like safes, and very heavy,” he said, referring to the reinforced glass cases that are temporarily housing jewels worn by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Monica Vitti and Ellen Barkin.
As befits one of the world’s most famous gem collectors, Taylor gets an entire room. Emblazoned on one wall is an ironic quote from her husband Richard Burton: “The only word she knows in Italian is Bulgari.”
The exhibition is set to travel to Beijing in May and then Shanghai.
“It’s a fantastic tool of communication because it qualifies the image profile of the company,” Trapani said. “The only unfortunate thing is that it’s very complex and expensive.”
Tickets for the Paris exhibition will retail for 12 euros, or $16.