Portofino Italian Riviera diva central haunt of Hollywood stars

Jewels for divas | Portofino posh | Bulgari or bust

Sexy and glamorous. Red carpet ready. Did someone say 'rescue fantasy'?

Making a statement with fabulous jewellery is as much about attitude as bank balance. When Bulgari launched a new collection in Portofino, referencing La Dolce Vita and its movie-star divas, Susan Skelly discovered that a little bit of audacious goes a long way.


Elizabeth Taylor knew how to rock a rock. She wore statement pieces around her neck, on her fingers, dangling with chandelier chic from her earlobes, fixed in her hair, and pinned on sashes and frocks. Often, all at the same time.

These days, the Hollywood star’s jewels would have their own Facebook page: the 33.19ct Krupp diamond ring; the Taj Mahal diamond necklace; the King Farouk bracelet; the La Peregrina pearl; the 69.42ct Taylor-Burton diamond. Taylor ordered from Bulgari, Boucheron, Chopard, Cartier, Tiffany & Co, Asprey, Van Cleef and Arpels, and adored nothing better than a gift of jewellery.

Her love affair with jewels was not frivolous. She had a depth of knowledge to back up her addiction. Demanding, discerning and often a hard bargainer, she was a true connoisseur who took endless delight in the sight of a beribboned box. (“Any box can be interesting to me!” she once said.) Jewels arrived for birthdays, engagements (yes, she had a few), anniversaries, in apology (lots of making up) and for no reason at all.

As she explained in her 2002 book, Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair With Jewelry, “I can’t deny that Richard [Burton] gave me some spectacular gifts on birthdays and Christmas, but in truth he was so romantic that he’d use any excuse to give me a piece of jewelry. He’d give me ‘It’s Tuesday, I love you’ presents. ‘It’s a beautiful day’ presents. ‘Let’s go for a walk, I want to buy you something’ presents.” As it turns out, Taylor herself is the gift that keeps on giving for Bulgari, whose artisans made many statement pieces for her (the association no doubt nurtured by Burton’s killer line: “The only word Elizabeth knows in Italian is Bulgari.”)

21st century divas

Fittingly, the event held to preview the premium Italian brand’s Diva Collection – inspired by the movie stars who wore Bulgari jewels during the Dolce Vita years – was as overflowing with surprise and spectacle as Taylor’s jewellery boxes. Brand ambassador and muse Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, chic in navy cocktail silk and up-do, chatted easily with media and guests. She made the interesting observation that the modern celebrity cannot be a diva. Divas had an air of mystery, she explained, because you never really knew what they did all day. Whereas today’s technology – the smartphone – notes their every foible, their every move.

Adrien Brody added a nice, dissolute touch to proceedings, and the surprise entertainment was another diva, Diana Ross, taking to the stage enveloped in a shimmering white tulle cape, shrugged off to reveal a snug white and gold sequinned gown.

The Diva Collection reflects if not the actual pieces then the flavour of Elizabeth Taylor’s most celebrated jewellery. A notable innovation is a kinetic conical design feature inspired by the eye make-up Taylor wore as the passionate and imperious Cleopatra, in the movie that, 50 years ago, triggered her hot love affair with her serial jewel-buying husband Richard Burton.

La Cervara 14th century Benedictine abbey Italian Riviera

The impeccably-kept gardens of the 14th Century Benedictine Abbey, La Cervara.

The glittering launch event took place in a spectacular 14th-century Benedictine abbey, La Cervara, perched above the sea between Santa Margherita and Portofino on the Italian Riviera, long the playground of the jet set. Its fragrant gardens were a study in gemstone hues – emerald hedge mazes and quirky topiary, ruby and amethyst bougainvillaea entwining arches and columns, pink tourmaline hydrangeas, table centrepieces of citrus fruits the colour of yellow diamonds, and a sea turning inky sapphire blue as day became night.

Gliding through nature’s colour-matched stage were 25 glamorous models channelling stars of the silver screen – Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn – in costumes courtesy of the Micol Fontana Foundation. Bare backs, sculpted arms and flawless decolletage were a lustrous backdrop for the jewels. The big-ticket items included a 43ct pendant with a cushion-shaped sapphire (and a $2.5m price tag); a necklace of pebble-shaped rubellites with peridots, spessartites and pav diamonds; a voluptuous Takhti-cut emerald ring inset with rubies and brilliant-cut diamonds. And, totally lust-worthy, a bracelet of six lozenge-like emeralds separated by spinels, rubies and diamonds.

Bulgari Diva Collection La Cervara Italian Riviera Portofino Hollywood glam

Models channel the stars of the silver screen at the Diva Collection launch. Photo Davis Atlan

The models, though, had met their match. The guests, most of them the jeweller’s big-spending clients from around the world, were decked out in their own high-wattage jewels, all with fabulous stories to tell.

Related: Portofino posh

Salute to the semi-precious

Bulgari is famous for its colours and cuts, for its daring and seductive combinations of rubies, spinels and rubellites; peridots, tourmalines and amethysts; pearls, turquoise and aquamarines; emeralds, diamonds and sapphires. The pieces employ 360 degrees of creativity, from the ground to the red-carpet gala, playing with shape, cut, colour and design. Semiprecious stones are as saluted by the house of Bulgari as are their precious brethren. These are jewels, mused Mauro Di Roberto, head of Bulgari’s jewellery business unit, holding court ahead of the festivities, for women who are bold, audacious and self-confident.

Indeed, he confesses to feeling at times despondent when the jewellery fairs he attends so frequently offer up endless takes on the predictable: a precious stone encircled by diamonds. He sees his artisans as curators of a gallery of gemstones. “Rubellite and peridot, for example, give out the most beautiful light depending on the way they are cut,” he explained. “Semiprecious stones can give you a lot more to play with. They have an identity, an emotion. Each stone has to talk.”

Bulgari Diva collection Portofino semi precious jewels

Bulgari jewellery in the making, shaping up to the covetable pieces that will comprise 2013’s trailblazing Diva Collection. Photo courtesy Bulgari


Related: Tiffany Blue Book

Those two, in particular, are starting a conversation. In 2013, rubellite’s cost by carat had grown by more than 200 per cent in the previous two years due to its scarcity; while peridot, extracted mainly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been difficult to bring to market.

Jewellers sell dreams. And dreams need stories with strong characters, which is why Elizabeth Taylor, who died in March 2011, remains such an icon. It’s a tough call as to what her greatest love was – men or jewels.

“Elizabeth Taylor represented an era,” said Di Roberto. “She was a rare woman in the sense that she was very strong, knew exactly what she wanted. The way she wore jewellery was not traditional, not formal. She had a way of wearing jewellery as if it were part of her. It reflected her lifestyle and personality, and it complemented what she was wearing. You can see how safe and strong she felt in wearing whatever she put on.”

Yet not all of Taylor’s most cherished pieces were door-stoppers. Along with the famous Bulgari cabochon sapphire and diamond sautoir, and the much-photographed emerald and diamond suite, were sentimental favourites such as the first brooch she bought for her mother when she was 12 or 13; a gold charm bracelet with medallions for each of her children; a diamond and emerald monkey necklace with matching earrings from Michael Jackson; and yet another necklace made of ivory, turn-of-the-century theatre tokens, willed to her by Hollywood costume supremo Edith Head.

“I’ve never, never thought of my jewelry as trophies,” Taylor wrote in Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair With Jewelry. “I’m here to take care of them and to love them.” She just hoped that when she died and they went to auction, whoever bought them would give them a really good home.

Source Qantas The Australian Way October 2013



Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab. susan@excessallareas.com.au

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Copyright © Susan Skelly 2020.