Tokyo had a distinctive way of welcoming spring when we were there last month. The drizzle was slightly heavy and the gusts of wind were strong enough to almost upturn the umbrella we were using, albeit in a futile manner, in Omotesando.
But after a day, the sun shone bright, and the sakura blossoms shone even brighter and were luxuriant enough to form blush pink canopies in the parks—a signal for the Japanese to spread out their picnic mats and make merry in early spring.
To us, however, the greater distinction of Tokyo spring 2013 happened in the tony Bulgari Ginza Tower in Chuo-ku, Ginza, the biggest Bulgari store in the world with 940 sq m retail floor space. It has an impressive 56-m-high façade, 11 floors, its structure inspired by a jewel box.
The spacious hall on the top floor was turned into a spring garden filled with lovely hydrangeas, in the most fragrant pastel hues of blue, lilac, pink and green, laid out at eye level. Amid these sakura blooms were propped up the real dazzlers—Bulgari’s High Jewellery Collection.
Unveiled in the world for the first time, the collection displayed—in the most intricate and creative settings you could possibly imagine—sapphires, diamonds (including pink and yellow), emeralds, coral, ruby. They were earrings, bracelets, brooches, necklaces whose designs were inspired by spring blossoms. They were a tribute to Tokyo spring.
“We don’t copy nature; we reinterpret it in shapes and geometry possible with the human hand,” said Bulgari’s Gian Paolo de la Croce.
As the media visitors walked around the hall following him, De la Croce would pick out a jewelry piece, display it on his hand and explain the laborious and ingenious process behind the making of each piece. The jewelry pieces were done over a considerable period—months or even more than a year.
Quite awesome was the necklace made of 10 big sapphires (55,79 ct) and smaller sapphires (24,87 ct), diamond pave (40,57 ct) and white gold. After holding it up before us, De la Croce turned it to show its back or what it was made of underneath—all diamonds. So you could wear it as a sapphire necklace, or diamond necklace.
Another was a brooch of coral and one oval-shaped blue sapphire (14,03 ct), 82 fancy-shaped cabochon-cut blue sapphires (13,63 ct). These color gems were set in two round brilliant-cut diamonds and pavé diamonds (6,38 ct), held in white gold.
There were emeralds, some of them sourced in Jaipur—a pair set in chandelier earrings shaped like turbans, inspired by the stone cutters who worked on them in India.
There were drop earrings of 12 pear-shaped diamonds (27,39 cts), six round brilliant-cut (1,78 cts), two round brilliant-cut (0.64 cts) and baguette diamonds (1,88 cts). There were also pink diamond earrings shaped into five-petal blossoms.
A wide cuff was made of 35 fancy-shaped cabochon-cut coral with a backdrop of pave diamonds (20,28 cts), set in pink gold and enamel.
We’ve seen significant Bulgari exhibits the past few years, including the milestone event in Rome marking Bulgari’s 125th year of Italian Magnificence, and always, each of these exhibits—from Europe to China—hewed to a unique theme that projected the heritage design and craftsmanship of Bulgari, whether it be the jewelry pieces once owned by its celebrated clients (Elizabeth Taylor or Princess Grace of Monaco, for instance) or its iconic designs that have prevailed through the century, such as the serpenti bracelets and watches.
This Tokyo exhibit, however, raised the bar yet again, because of how the collection showcased imaginative designs of spring blooms, the ingenious use of diamonds and precious stones sourced from far-flung parts of the world, from India and Sri Lanka to Madagascar, and painstaking craftsmanship achieved over a good period.
A few of the pieces, such as the brooch, employed the mechanism which creates the faint trembling movement that has become a Bulgari design trademark.
The Bulgari High Jewellery Collection was launched at dinner the night before the media preview, in the residence of the Italian ambassador to Japan, Domenico Giorgi. It was hosted by the Italian ambassador and Nicola Bulgari, the vice chair of the Bulgari Group.
Outside, the night was chilly and the cherry blossoms, the first week they were abloom, were like faintly lit fragile sculptures in the dark. Inside, the models wearing the Bulgari jewels formed a tableau in a retro ’50s setting in the living room. (The glamorous ’50s was closely associated with Bulgari, for it was in that decade that Bulgari celebrated the use of immensely colorful stones in intricate settings.)
The models then paraded their precious Bulgaris to a select crowd who had the chance to see the baubles up close.
However, the next day, we got to touch the collection in the hall-turned-spring garden of the Bulgari Ginza Tower.
Andy Warhol called Bulgari the “museum of contemporary culture.” The 20th-century icon—known to this generation for the phrase he coined (“15 minutes of fame”)—was, as usual, just describing the truth as he saw it.