The stunning boldness of Bulgari 

The fact that Roman jeweler Bulgari has a strong glitterati following becomes clear upon seeing the de Young's new exhibition "The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond, 1950-1990."

On view through February, "The Art of Bulgari" includes more than 140 lustrous lapidary masterpieces — necklaces, chokers, cuffs, bracelets, watches, rings, earrings, purses and more.

Organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in collaboration with Bulgari, the show again exemplifies the museums' dedication to the decorative arts, seen in previous exhibits such as "Cartier and America," "Faberge, Tiffany, Lalique" and the recent "Royal Treasures from the Louvre."

With many of the most dazzling items displayed in hollowed gem-shaped pedestals, allowing for 360-degree views, the exhibit progresses in chronological order, starting on a high note with Bulgari's midcentury creations and moving through the flower-powered 1960s to the 1970s, when long, sautoir pendant necklaces matched the elongated maxidress silhouette.

Five giardinetto (garden broaches) with sapphires, rubies, emeralds and diamonds are fine examples of Bulgari's color play, while a 1955 parure (jewelry set) is a subtle, nuanced instance of how rubies, sapphires and diamonds can complement each other to a muted, medieval effect.

Bulgari was not afraid to buck trends. The firm favored gold when most evening jewelry was set in platinum, revived the ancient cabochon (i.e., rounded) cut and juxtaposed different colored stones with a fevered relish.

Founded by Greek jeweler Sotirios Voulgaris in Rome in 1884, Bulgari came into its own when a generation of jet-setting celebrities became Bulgari devotees, among them Elizabeth Taylor, Gina Lollobrigida, Princess Grace of Monaco, Ingrid Bergman, Sophia Loren and more.

Jewels from Taylor's collection are displayed in a separate area. They include a diamond and emerald pendant she wore as a brooch at her wedding to Richard Burton in 1964.

Bulgari's most inventive craftsmanship shines in the design of necklaces, collars and chokers; their shape represents a reverential nod to ancient jewelry designs.

One necklace from 1989 has huge emeralds mounted nakedly on top of baguette and teardrop diamonds. Another jaw-dropping masterpiece, a 1979 choker, has ovoid lozenges created from tiered rubies, lapis lazuli and diamonds.

The jewels in the show are exceptionally well-mounted and displayed, but the accompanying wall text lacks important details such as cuts and carat information. Although visual collages of Bulgari creations and celebrities float slowly across dark walls, the real stars are blindingly obvious.

IF YOU GO

Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond, 1950-1990

Where: De Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, S.F.

When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; closes Feb. 17

Admission: $10 to $22

Contact: (415) 750-3600, deyoung.famsf.org

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Lauren Gallagher

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