Designers / Industry

Acclaimed Designer Marina B Dies


Marina Bulgari, the jewelry heir better known as acclaimed designer Marina B, died on Feb. 14 in Rome. She was 93.

Bulgari was the granddaughter of Sotirios Bulgari, founder of the famed jewelry house. Growing up, she developed a passion for art, design, and mathematics—all of which fit in nicely with the family business.

In 1973, she succeeded her father to become Bulgari’s co-CEO. Yet differences within the family led her to strike out on her own in 1976. Her business was originally called Crisart, but that was soon changed to Marina B.

”I cannot use the family name on my own jewelry because of legal matters,” Bulgari told The New York Times in 1983. ”Frankly, that’s all right with me. The jewelry I make is different from theirs anyway.”

Marina B indeed forged its own identity—”the Christine McVie to Bulgari’s Stevie Nicks,” in the words of JCK’s Amy Elliott. The company’s Onda and Pneu collections were renowned for their bold designs as well as their innovative use of spring mountings, colored gems, and pavé diamonds.

“She was fascinated by engineering: preoccupied with the way in which a jewel was made, the way stones were set, the articulation, the clasp or fastening, the way it moved and worked with the body,” wrote jewelry historian Vivienne Becker.

In 1978, Marina B opened her first boutique, in Geneva, which was followed by stores in Milan, Rome, and Paris.

By the 1980s, her glitzy creations had become a sensation, “seducing the glitterati with transformable styles studded with candy-colored gems,” JCK editor-in-chief Victoria Gomelsky wrote in The New York Times in 2018. Celebrities who wore her jewelry included Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, and Grace Kelly. More recently, Alicia Keys, Faith Hill, and Jennifer Lopez have all sported Marina B pieces.

In 1999, Marina sold her brand to Saudi Arabian sheik Ahmed Fitaihi. Eleven years later, it was acquired by Paul Lubetsky, CEO of Windsor Jewelers.

It was purchased again, by John Hardy creative director Guy Bedarida, in 2017. By that point, Marina Bulgari had retired to Monte Carlo, though Bedarida made a point of meeting her.

“She came to the Hôtel Hermitage [in Monte Carlo] for our meeting and was wearing sneakers and a down jacket,” he told Gomelsky for the Times profile. “She said, ‘You know, Guy, I want to be comfortable now. I don’t want to wear high heels.’ That showed me this woman is really modern and knows the new way to live.”

Following her death, Bedarida—who remains creative director of Marina B—called Bulgari “an amazing woman of courage, an advocate for all women, a groundbreaking creative force in her time, and an immensely talented designer. We will never forget her.”

An Italian press account said Bulgari was predeceased by her husband and is survived by a brother, Alexis Bulgari, and nieces Laura Colnaghi Calissoni and Francesca Feroldi Calissoni.

(Photo courtesy of Marina B)

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By: Rob Bates

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