Ru Az
Interview by editor-in-chief

A Gem of a Woman

Her story is nothing less than a fairy tale. Once upon a time, a shy young girl saw the gemstones, begging her to pick them, on the table of Paolo Bulgari – and when she touched them, there was no way back. Lucia Silvestri was just 18 years old when she found herself in gemology, instead of becoming a biologist. Now she is the jewel in the Bulgari’s crown – a strong woman whose name is widely known in jewellery business, Bulgari’s jewellery creative director.

How did your journey at Bulgari begin?
At the time, it was a family company with only five stores in the world, located in Rome, Paris, Monte Carlo, New York, and Geneva. And it’s kind of a long story. They understood my passion. They trusted me, they invested in me, and they became my mentors. I was very lucky because they saw something in me. I was so smart to follow my path and not the path of my family or my friends. I said, this is my dream, and I don’t want to leave this. I started in a very beautiful way because I started travelling with Mr. Bulgari, we always made trips to the best places and hotels.

Can you tell me more about the Bulgari brothers? What are they like?
They are very different. Such a good balance and a good mixture. One is very passionate; the other is very shy and doesn’t talk at all – he talks with his eyes. And they love the beauty in any sense, from women to flowers and gems. So, I understood the sense of beauty because of them. They played an important role in my professional as well as personal life.

They have big emotional support for you.

Are the Bulgaris nice people?
Yes. Not easy, but nice people.

Usually, nice people are not easy.
True. But they are very passionate.

Are they close to each other?
Yes. And I worked very well with them. One is crazy about travelling, so I got the passion for travel from him. The other is more stable, and we worked on solving problems together.

Have you been at the same office from the age of 19?
No. We changed four places.

And how did you change as a person? From the start until today?
I gained a lot of experience, and I became more passionate. If you ask me if I have the same passion I had in the beginning, I would say no. I have more because I really love what I do. I really love the idea of growing up within the company. We started from five stores, and now we have more than 200.

So, it is like your baby?
Yeah, I am a part of the family in some way. When the two brothers left the company, I knew I had to carry the responsibility and their legacy. So, for me, it is very important.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?
I suggest following your passion, following your dream, and having determination. If I didn’t have passion and determination, I wouldn’t have reached where I am today.

Did you face any challenges at the beginning as a woman in the maledominated gem business?
In the beginning, it was very difficult for me to work in a men’s world. I was 20 years old when I started dealing with gems. The suppliers did not want to negotiate with me. They told me many times, “I don't want you. I want Mr. Bulgari."

How did you react to this?
I said, “No, Mr. Bulgari said I have to do it." So, I was determined to do it. Of course, Mr. Bulgari helped me a lot. He told me I had to be passionate.

And today, is it still a very male-dominated business?
It is a little better now. There are more women in the business, but it’s still male-dominated, for sure.

So, a woman’s team needs male support?
Yes, and I’m very proud to be in this position where I can decide. I’m a big boss. I’m very well-known in the business, and I am very tough.

this 1965 Bulgari gold, diamond, and emerald Serpenti bracelet-watch have been sold by Christie’s for about 310.000 pounds (380.281 US dollars). Due to their increasing prices, Bulgari vintage pieces are currently perceived with high interest as many people continue to invest in them

You are, I can see that, but also very feminine. Just like Bulgari jewellery.
Yes, my soul is divided into two parts. One part is very creative and feminine: I play with gems, talk with them, sing, and make different combinations of colours; and the other part is very business-oriented. Everybody knows that I’m very tough, and I’m very proud to be. I hope that you can feel this and also the passion that is behind the jewels. For me, it’s a piece of art.

What is your favourite stone?
It is a sapphire.

The blue one?
Yes. Because when I started working with Mr. Bulgari, I found a large number of sapphires. I discovered that sapphire was not only blue but also yellow, pink, green… So, for me, it was amazing to discover all these rainbow colours. I think that I have a very colourful female side. So, I thought this stone represented the story of my soul. But I love all the gems! The last gem that I bought for myself was a garnet. I was coming to New York to meet a dealer, and I saw this gemstone in a small corner. It was difficult to understand which gem it was. While my team was negotiating, my eyes were always on this gem. The stone was talking to me, saying "Take me, take me!"

I met some of the staff and they told me it takes about nine months to make one choker…
Yes, of course. The process is quite long. We start creating a high jewellery collection one year before the launch. Now we have already started working around the new collection. So, a choker could take nine months, ten months, it depends. I usually start collecting gems two or three years before the start.

For them to be all the same colours?
Yes. You saw the beautiful necklace with diamonds. I found three stones, they were nice, but I had to be passionate because I wanted to do something special with them. I collected three stones, put them aside, and started researching new gems. "Never buy a stone if you don't know how to use it" – one of the first lessons I learned from Mr. Bulgari.

Do you prepare a design first, then buy the stones?
No, the opposite. I have an idea in mind, but I have to find the stones. Then, I can make the design. So, if I don’t know how to use the gem, I would never buy it because it’s beautiful or because of the good price. I do not purchase gems without an idea. It is possible to change the idea, but at least I know I have a basic one. I started developing my creativity from the beginning. For this reason, in 2015, the company appointed me as jewellery creative director.

And what is your favourite Bulgari jewellery?
Oh, that’s so difficult!

You can pick three.
Of course, my last collection (Eden: The Garden of Wonders – Bulgari’s new high jewellery collection presented on June 6, 2022 in Paris). Also, I love a piece from Elizabeth Taylor's collection. Elizabeth Taylor’s collection is amazing.

Where is it now?
It’s within our heritage pieces.

But it’s not for sale?

That’s good. Could you elaborate on what piece you are talking about?
Elizabeth Taylor’s necklace with a fantastic sapphire. It’s so modern, you can even wear it today. It’s really amazing, and the sapphire is 66 carats, sugarloaf. When I held the necklace in my hands for the first time, Mr. Bulgari closed the door, and we spent one hour just talking about the gem: "God, look at the colour! There is velvet! There is ocean, water!" We discovered a world inside of it. Serpenti is also a gorgeous collection. When I started as a creative director, the Serpenti collection already existed, but I did a lot of work around it with my team.

this iconic emerald and diamond necklace was given to Elizabeth Taylor by her then husband Richard Burton. In 2011, Bulgari acquired this and other pieces back at Christie's sale of the actress’s legendary jewels

How do you manage the team?
I can generate ideas, but it's teamwork. Without the team, we cannot do anything. So, my team is very important. There are eight designers, all women, and they are gorgeous. I can talk with them just with my eyes.

How long have you been together?
Within my team, I'm the oldest one. I have worked with them for 35 to 3 years, so they are at least two generations.

Are they mainly women or men?
Women. The buyers of stones are two women and two men.

Do you find it easier to work with men or women? Because, for me, it is much easier to work with women. When a man does something wrong, I don't feel comfortable telling him. I think they have a big ego. So, as a woman, I don't want to break them, even if they are my workers. With women, you can tell everything the way it is, they are very strong. So, for me, it is harder to work with men.
At the beginning, for me, it was also harder. Now, I think it’s easier to work with men.

Are they more responsible?
No, but I love to be tough with men. When you are tough, they respect you more.

Can you tell me what is your first Bulgari jewellery that you own?
It was a Serpenti ring with a sapphire that my parents gifted me when I turned 18.

Do you still have it?
Yes. But I have changed its stone. I put a diamond because I broke the sapphire.

Do you think gemstones bring luck?
For me, all stones bring luck.

Which coloured stone is most difficult to find?
If you’re talking about coloured gems, then rubies are very difficult. I mean the top quality of rubies – from five carats and up. It’s very, very difficult. Of course, there are also coloured diamonds, but those are diamonds.

You mostly buy your coloured stones from India, right?
Depends. Coloured gems like tourmalines, amethysts, and aquamarines, yes. But rubies, sapphires, and emeralds I get from New York, Hong Kong, and Sri Lanka.

Do you like India?
Yes, I love India because of my incredible memories created there and the atmosphere, the colours and the brightness. Even poor people wear jewels on the streets of India. They wear bracelets in lots of colours.

Is Indian jewellery heavy? Because when you look at Bulgari, you think it must be something very heavy. But when you put it on, it gives you so much freedom!
The distribution of weight is balanced. We have quite heavy products, but if you wear them, they don’t feel heavy.

It is amazing! What does the balance depend on?
Craftsmanship. We study a lot for the designs, but mostly the craftsmanship. We are very proud of it. Especially here with high jewellery but also in Valencia with the production. When I create something for a woman, I like to give her a dream, and a jewel has to feel like a second skin. That’s why it’s very important to find the perfect balance when I start creating a new collection.

Can you tell me about the Eden collection? Where did you get the inspiration from?
I imagined a Bulgari garden, but instead of flowers I imagined gems. Flowers are a gift from nature, and, for me, flowers and gems are the same. Colours of flowers, colours of gems… And our Eden collection is a mix of gems, nature, and culture. So, it’s not just a garden. Have you been to Villa Borghese? It is my favourite place of inspiration because of the monuments. There is a lake and flowers, and I could imagine a garden full of gems.

the new Eden Gardens of Wonders watch is one of the most incredible jewellery watches made by Bulgari: 4000 hours, 6500 stones, 70 different petals, and more than 200 carats with a manually wound skeletonized turbillon movement. This is when high-end jewellery meets high-end horology

What is your favourite flower?
Peony. From light pink to hot pink.

And what do you think jewellery should be for a woman?
It shapes a woman’s personality. I can see your personality through the jewels you’re wearing.

And if a woman does not wear any jewellery?
For me, it’s strange. It’s possible, of course, but jewels make a difference. I think, in general, it’s like you have to wear it to announce your beauty.

What do you want to tell your Azerbaijani fans?
My dream now is to go there. I’d love to visit you. Now Azerbaijan is on my list.

Ms. Silvestri is a leading female gem buyer in a male-dominated industry, and her resume becomes all the more impressive.

In 2017 she won the prestigious Gem Award for Jewelry Design at the 15th Annual Gem Awards held in New York.

Lucia was born in Rome, where she lived all her life. This city is, therefore, her greatest muse.

She filmed a series of “Masterclasses” throughout the two years of the pandemic. This is how she introduces the first one: “I am fortunate to combine a job I’m passionate about with my biggest passion, that for gemstones.”

Stones are her devotion, but which is her favourite? “If I have to choose one, it is the sapphire because of the many colours it has,” says Lucia.

To mark the 70-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II Bulgari has created the Jubilee Emerald Garden high jewellery tiara, which took more than 1,500 hours to make. The piece is adorned with emeralds and diamonds set in platinum, with a 63,44-carat Zambian emerald in the centre, carved with a blooming lotus flower. “I was inspired by the Queen, a strong and powerful woman, an icon of our times, and by her historic admiration of emeralds,” says Ms. Silvestri.