Lucia Silvestri: «I can use my position as Creative Director to share my experience, but I don’t consider myself a role model: my story proves that following real passions is rewarding»
Mrs. Lucia Silvestri – Bvlgari’s acting Creative Director and Chief Gems Buyer. Throughout her long career at Bvlgari – over forty-two years – she has travelled the world in search of stones to be made into state-of-the-art jewels. Initially joining the company as a young biology student, Mrs Silvestri was taken in and mentored by Paolo, Nicola and Gianni Bulgari, grandsons of the founder Sotirio Bulgari, who spotted a fervor for colored gemstones. From Jaipur to Bangkok to Sri Lanka, Mrs. Silvestri rules from a rare position as a leading female gem buyer in a largely male-dominated industry.
Bvlgari’s colored gemstones sourcing
The sourcing of colored gemstones has been under scrutiny in light of ethical developments in other areas, such as diamond and gold industries. Due to a challenge with tracing the stones and the fact that only ten percent of the industry is regulated, there has been an effort to enforce a systemic change within the industry. There are roughly 200 varieties of natural gemstone knowing the world today and it’s estimated that 40.5 million people were directly engaged in small-scale mining in different parts of the world in 2017. As a class of naturally occurring objects, gemstones are rare. «Nowadays gemstones are getting rarer and the demand is getting higher. Bvlgari has worked to ensure the entire supply chain uses responsi- bly-sourced precious metals, with proper considerations for ethics and environment», Mrs. Silvestri comments. Bvlgari emeralds are sourced in Jaipur, India, known as the leading producer of cut and polished emeralds, tanzanites and morganites, processing more than ninety percent of the world’s emeralds. The last collection features tanzanites, aquamarines, rubellites and emeralds that are complemented by diamond-set gold.
The global gemstone market
The demand for vibrancy and color may prove a lucrative affair. The global gemstone market is worth approximately twenty three billion dollars, with rubies, emeralds and sapphires making up only two billion dollars. The prices have been climbing up in the last decade, but so has the demand. With the diamond category facing turbulent times, many are turning towards colored gemstones for investment. From two billion dollars, if trends continue and strengthen, colored gems could displace diamond’s market share and reach ten billion dollars in the next decade. Establishments such as Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC), of which Bvlgari has been a member since 2006, are working towards improving the colored gemstone supply chain having recently included rubies, emeralds and sapphires in their revised Code of Practices Standard. This advancement is driven by a shift in the consumer’s concept of luxury, where younger generations are growing more conscious about the ethical impact of their purchases. As Bvlgari persists with innovation and modern-day momentum, all aspects of the brand are still informed by its heritage and legacy. «Since the beginning, and since my appointment as the Brand Creative Director, my goal has been to innovate while still highlighting the Bvlgari DNA. During the research phase, I consult Bvlgari archives from a contemporary perspective», says Mrs Silvestri. Bvlgari’s love affair with colored gemstones began in the beginning of the twentieth century, a time when few jewelers would use them as central pieces, opting for diamonds instead.
Sotirio Bulgari’s Old Curiosity Shop
The first boutique established by Sotirio Bulgari in Rome – evolved from selling precious artifacts (most notably ornamental silver goods) to jewelry-making in the early 1900s, the family business began its journey towards the global brand that exists today. Via Dei Condotti 10,remains the company’s heart in Rome while the jewelry reflected the styles of the day, the pieces on display were unusually rich with color. A signature style that features the cabochon cut (a gem cut with a flat bottom and domed top) applied to colored gemstones thus originated, reforming the use of gems within high jewelry. A ring of this cut was gifted to Elizabeth Taylor by Richard Burton as a birthday gift. La Dolce Vita, and mid Sixties. Allowed for design to become daring and bold, giving birth to combinations of sapphires, rubies, emeralds and semi-precious stones – tourmalines, garnets, amethysts and citrines. This led to the international ‘rainbow revolution’, a term coined in the Seventies as the demand for a wider range of colored gemstones skyrocketed. Some archival pieces from the brand’s heritage collection were showcased at the Master of Colors Heritage & High Jewelry Exhibition held in Hong Kong in August, proving the artistry of the gemstones. The discovery of South African diamond mines in the 1870s forced sapphires, emeralds, and rubies into temporary obscurity, as the diamond became the common symbol of love, beauty and wealth. Steeped in deep cultural and historical significance, precious and semi-precious minerals have inspired exploration, conquests, culture and traditions in nearly every part of the world. In some cultures, gems were used as decorative ornaments, religious symbols, amulets and good-luck charms. In ancient Egypt and Rome, stones like lapis lazuli, opal, turquoise and quartz were used as a way of reflecting status and wealth. Lapis Lazuli is said to have been used by Cleopatra in powder form as an eye adornment. Obtained from the oldest mines in the world from around 4000 B.C., some of them are still in use today.
Birthstone trend – gemstones’ energy
The latest jewelry ‘birthstone trend’ sees an increasing number of brands cashing in on the notion that gemstones can bring luck. It goes beyond general fascinations with personalization and marketing ploys – the belief in the significance of birthstones dates back centuries. In Ancient China, gems were paired with animals on the zodiac. It was believed that jade conferred immortality and could ward off evil spirits. In medieval times pharmacists sold powdered gems as medicine, favoring rubies for bleeding, emeralds for eyesight and cobalt for its anti-microbial properties. During the Renaissance in Europe, women wore sapphires as a sign of truth and commitment, several centuries ahead of Princess Diana’s infamous twelve-carat midnight-blue sapphire engagement ring. Hindu teachings say that those offering emeralds to the god Krishna will be rewarded. According to Greek mythology, a young maiden called Amethyst was turned into a stone by the goddess Artemis, in order to protect her from the wrath of Dionysus, the god of grape cultivation and winemaking. The name ‘amethyst’ derives from the ancient Greek word amethustos, meaning sober. It was said that an amethyst had the power to prevent the bearer from becoming excessively drunk and to promote sobriety and a clear mind. Regardless of whether one believes in these tales or not. Although Bvlgari’s gems are selected based on their aesthetic qualities, rather than those of a spiritual nature, Mrs. Silvestri acknowledges the gifts of nature that are colored gemstones. «I work with them and respect them and their complexity». In saying that, Mrs. Silvestri acknowledges the energy of the stones: «If I have to choose one, it is the Sapphire because of the many colors it has». Although many associate them with the color blue, sapphires come in many hues, including rare color-changing varieties. Ceylonese blue sapphires over one carat are highly sought-after, however, they appear in nature in shades of yellow, orange, green, pink and purple. Both sapphires and rubies belong to the corundum mineral family, made of alumina and oxygen, sharing phenomenal durability, but differing by gemological definition. When a corundum is red, it is classified as a ruby, and when it is blue, we have a sapphire.
The four C’s of the gem grading standard
Most gemstones are minerals or rocks that develop in specific sites in the earth’s crust or in the gravels that result from the weathering of rocks. Rubies are red colored because of the presence of a chromium element, emeralds are green as a regular crystal of beryl, and sapphires vary in coloration due to small amounts of iron, titanium, chromium, copper, or magnesium. There are four C’s in the gem grading standard, standing for cut, color, clarity and carat (weight). Only very few stones make the cut – they are also judged upon durability, size and rarity. There are also hoaxes to look out for, as many gem species are heated, irradiated, oiled, dyed and plasticized to improve color, appearance and durability. Before any gemstone or diamond is sold, it has to be certified from a government laboratory. When selecting a gem for a jewelry creation, Mrs. Silvestri is looking beyond the certification – firstly, at the color, then the cut, and lastly, the clarity. She recalls her recent finds as an example – a 66-carat Sapphire and a 93-carat emerald. Almost any colored stone can have a significant value and brilliance when cut well. Historically, Bvlgari prefers unusual cuts to customary ones (such as cushion, pear-shaped, brilliant and step cuts), reviving the use of calibré cut stones, which is a complicated and expensive process. With this method an additional depth is added to the color contrast.
Bvlgari’s approaching conscious young customers
The blue sapphire has become emblematic of the house. Opting for rarity, rather than trends, red, purple and green sapphires have been mounted as center-pieces. The same treatment is offered to other lesser-known stones, such as corals, pearls, garnets and rubellites, by juxtaposing the gemstones. «If I imagine the Bvlgari women, I care for her strong character: the self-confidence, the femininity. All women with something to say». Mrs. Silvestri is conscious of gender inequality within the industry, when it comes to working rights. She points out that «today sixty-two percent of Bvlgari’s worldwide managers are women and thirty-eight percent are men. Jewelry gives women the possibility to find the piece to empower their personality. I can use my position as Creative Director to share my story, but I don’t consider myself a role model: my story proves that following real passions is rewarding». This message could be relevant to the next generation: the Gen Z. Let us be introduced to a more conscious young client who is coming with ethical demands. Nine in ten Gen Z consumers believe companies have a responsibility to address environmental and social issues. Numbers released by Sotheby’s in 2020 show that twenty-five percent of their online jewelry auction bidders between January and July were under the age of forty. Jewels today can act as smart money, a portable store of wealth and a long-term investment. Gems such as pink sapphires used to be ignored in the past but now, as the prices of white diamonds are flattening, colored gems offer a combination of rarity that’s not matched with a steep price.
According to Gemfields, a world leading supplier of responsibly sourced gemstones, the price of emeralds has increased by 500% since 2010. Knight Frank Luxury Investments Index found that colored gemstones have outperformed the rest of the jewelry categories over the past ten years. Colored gemstones are and have been a universal status symbol but at this point in time there is a good chance they could become as valued as rare, collectable pieces of art. Current trends are pointing towards pink sapphires, tourmaline, morganite, and yellow gemstones as the next big thing. Offering the freedom to create personalized pieces, colored gemstones can provide better margins and an unorthodox approach to creative design. With an elevated spotlight on a more ethical and responsible supply chain, gemstone provenance has the potential to become a driving factor for a systemic change when it comes to sustainability and global awareness.
Bvlgari’s acting Creative Director and Chief Gems Buyer. As this interview is taking place, Mrs Silvestri and her team are working on the new collection which is set to launch in the summer of 2021. Regardless of the world’s turmoil, jewelry will always remain a safe haven to an extent, representing security, longevity and a touch of much needed joy. The human factor and the emotional essence cannot be taken away from it. When the pieces you are wearing have fascinating origins and history, it adds narrative to the experience.