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Icons & Innovators: Bulgari: Out of the Heavenly Blue

Laurie Kahle and Jill Newman

Only a truly incredible stone is given a name to mark its place in gemological history. Two years ago, a miner in Sri Lanka uncovered such a gem, a 600-plus-carat sapphire. Bulgari purchased the raw stone and delivered it to an elderly gem cutter, whose shop was by the banks of the Irrawaddy River in Mandalay, Myanmar. The old man studied the crystal for months before deciding how best to cut it. Ultimately, he selected the cabochon sugarloaf cut, named after Rio de Janeiro’s famed peak. He believed this smooth, unfaceted treatment, which was introduced during the maharaja era in the 19th century and favored by Mogul emperors, would enhance the stone’s remarkable light play and rich blue color. The resulting 144-carat gem was named Long Life in homage to the gem cutter and, some perceive, with the hope that it would endow its owner (and those who gazed upon it) with longevity and good fortune.

Brothers Paolo and Nicola Bulgari acquired the Long Life sapphire to help preserve their house’s heritage in exceptional gems. “Jewelry has attracted me since I was 5 years old,” says Nicola, vice chairman of the brand, who studied diamond cutting in Amsterdam and received in-house training from his father, Giorgio, and his uncle Constantino, both of whom were jewelers. “We have a feeling for this business from my father that is more than precious.”

Nicola explains that Giorgio’s first trip to Place Vendôme in 1908 was a turning point for the company, which Nicola’s Greek grandfather, Sotirio, a silversmith, founded in Rome in 1884. “My father nearly had a heart attack when he realized Paris was the world center for jewelry,” says Nicola. “But he got inspiration there, and that instilled what we have become today.”

The Bulgari brothers now supervise the house’s design team, which created a necklace comprising 17 carats of brilliant-cut diamonds and 34 carats of baguette-cut diamonds to showcase the Long Life sapphire. The $4.4 million piece is the latest addition to the Bulgari High Jewelry Collection, which includes more than 900 one-of-a-kind designs that are presented at special events worldwide, including April’s reopening of the brand’s Fifth Avenue flagship store in Manhattan.

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