Let’s set the stage: It’s a chilly spring evening in Venice, Italy, the sun is setting over the horizon, streaking the sky with dramatic pinks against a vivid blue backdrop, and the Queen of the Adriatic is readying herself for a dazzling affair. Steps away from the gently lapping waves of the San Marco basin, the historic Palazzo Ducale was lit with a saffron glow, revealing just a hint of what was to come. The occasion? Roman jewellery house Bulgari’s presentation of its new high jewellery and high-end watches collection, aptly named “Mediterranea”, after the ancient sea that has connected cultures across the world since time immemorial.
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Founded in 421 AD, Venice was once a major maritime power, being situated at the European end of the Silk Road. Its advantageous location at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea ensured its cosmopolitan status, bringing Eastern and Western cultures together and melding them in grandiose ways—in architecture, art, music, and more. The influence of the East can still be seen today in the proud city: inspirations drawn from the Byzantine Empire and Islamic countries are evident in the façade of St Mark’s Basilica, the crenellations of the Ca’d’Oro and windows throughout the city’s historic palazzos.
Drawing on the city’s long tradition of welcoming rich cultures from across the world, Bulgari recreated the magic of Venice’s heyday, flying in its global ambassadors—Zendaya, Anne Hathaway, Priyanka Chopra, Blackpink’s Lisa, Hikari Mori Yang Yang and Crystal Liu—along with its top clients, and an exclusive clutch of press outlets to witness the unveiling of the its rarefied collection.
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“With Mediterranea, Bulgari unveils its new high jewellery and high-end watches collections by embarking on an epic and immersive journey that starts from Rome, the eternal city and permanent source of creative inspiration for Bulgari, to Venice, the major crossroad of Mediterranean influences where the Roman Byzantine Empire fused with the Roman Western Empire to give birth to inclusive and unrivalled arts and architecture…we celebrate the vision of the founder Sotirio Bulgari with magnificent creations that represent the pinnacle of Bulgari identity made of audacious creativity and exceptional craftsmanship,” said Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari.
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Adding to the momentousness of the evening, the Mediterranea event saw the grounds of the Palazzo Ducale being used for a commercial purpose for the first time. And trust me when I say the stately former residence of the Doge of Venice was transformed.
It started with the runway: a stunning, shimmering sea of mosaics handcrafted by Venetian artisans Orsini 1888 in every shade of blue—cerulean, turquoise, aquamarine, sapphire, navy—shot through with streaks of gold, laid down on the second floor hallway facing the San Marco basin, and echoing the marine inspiration of Bulgari’s high jewellery collection. As a keepsake, guests’ seat numbers were also marked with a simple gold mosaic square by the same craftsmen. Simply divine.
The show was equally breathtaking. Under the creative direction of legendary fashion editrix Carine Roitfeld, supermodels Jill Kortleve, Stella Maxwell, Blesnia Minher and Eva Herzigova slinked down the catwalk in pieces wrought with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, morganites, mandarin garnets, citrines and more precious stones.
For me, the standout pieces were undoubtedly the Oriental Fantasy necklace that Kortleve wore to open the show—a personal favourite of Bulgari creative chief Lucia Silvestri, too, as she admitted me to me the following day, “The mandarin garnets remind me of the desert of Morocco, and the spices and flavours of Morocco!”
Not forgetting the jaw dropping emerald necklace with a central stone weighing 218.53 carats dubbed the Muse of Rome, worn by Herzigova to close out the show.
And another piece of note included the Yellow Hypnosis necklace that adorned Zendaya’s décolletage for the evening, a sensuously curved piece that showcased a beautiful yellow diamond at its centre.
To cap off the evening, dinner was served in the Palazzo Ducale’s Sala dello Scrutinio, where, under portraits of the doges of Venice, we supped on a sumptuous meal dreamed up by Veneto-born chef Massimiliano Alajmo of the Michelin-starred Le Calandre restaurant. Taking inspiration from the cultures that criss-crossed the Mediterranean, highlights brought to us by Alajmo included a vibrant fresh tomato soup paired with aubergine ice cream, calamari, mozzarella and basil pesto, a hearty risotto with white and green asparagus sprinkled with licorice powder and tandoori, a scrumptious roasted golden grouper on a bed of courgettes, snow peas and fava beans with a Mediterranean reduction, finished with a decadent chocolate layered cake that referenced the Palazzo Ducale.
As a special musical guest for the evening, American singer Norah Jones enraptured the audience with a live performance of her top hits, closing out the gala dinner on a sweet (and, not to mention, high) note.