Pioneering Jeweler Marina Bulgari Has Died—A Look at Her Legacy

Marina Bulgari, a favorite jeweler of the Truman Capote-era social set, died at the age of 93 on Feb. 14 at her home in Rome. 

The founder of Marina B Jewelry famously left her family's business—jewelry and watch juggernaut Bulgari—to create beautifully crafted jewelry under her own name. Her collection, which was marked by constant innovation, was beloved by C.Z. Guest, Nan Kempner, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, and Sophia Loren in the 1970s and 1980s. Beyoncé is among the modern notables who've purchased Marina B pieces (without the brand's involvement).

Female-founded jewelry brands are common in 2024, but when Bulgari left her director role in her family's business, Bulgari SaS, in 1976, nothing was assured when it came to her success. The jeweler, a formidable artist and jewelry-craft pioneer, risked her position and security in the then-male-dominated industry to pursue her creative vision sans the Bulgari name.

Marina B with Princess Grace
Marina B (left) with friend Princess Grace

Her gamble paid off. Bulgari left her director role at Bulgari, which she shared equally with cousin Gianni Bulgari, because she felt boxed in creatively at the family firm. By establishing her own brand, she was able to dive into her passion for big, bold (yet gloriously simple and unfettered) designs utilizing colorful, semi-precious stones in unique cuts. The collection defied the day's norms, which were defined by delicate diamond, ruby, sapphire, and emerald jewels.  

Bulgari's innovative designs include the flexible Trisola collection (see at top and below), the pyramid-shape Triangoli collection (see earrings from the collection below), and Pneu and Gina style earrings. In 1978, Marina Bulgari opened her first boutique in Geneva on the Place du Molard using just the initial B, as legally she couldn't operate under "Bulgari." 

She was reportedly fine with that—the "B" liberated her to imagine designs without Bulgari's reputational shadow in mind. She teamed up with another pioneering female, Italian architect Gae Aulenti, to create her jewelry gallery, which was famous for its stark lack of ornamentation—an aesthetic that couldn't have been further removed from that of Place Vendôme's.

Marina B tubogas jewelry
Marina B Trisolina (tubogas) jewelry

The brand flourished until the 1990s, when it was passed through several investors; her nephew, Giorgio Bulgari, tried to revive the brand in 2014 with its archives of over 12,000 sketches. In 2017, Guy Bedarida, former creative director and co-owner of John Hardy (and former jeweler at Boucheron and Van Cleef & Arpels), became the majority owner in a somewhat full-circle moment.

"I have been admiring and loving the Marina B aesthetic since the 1980s when I used to see her mysterious ads in French Vogue, consequently absorbing it," he tells Gem + Jewel. "Still today, I am intimidated by her genius level." 

Marina B Triangolini earrings
Marina B Triangolini diamond earrings

Marina B ring
Marina B Tigella blue topaz ring

After acquiring the brand, Bedarida met Marina Bulgari in Monte Carlo, and was struck by her humble nature and practical, unfussy style. 

"She explained to me that her ease of dress was hardly a departure from her design philosophy. All of her iconic pieces, with their spring mountings, allowing movement with the body, smooth contours, and almost armorial qualities, had always been informed by a desire for comfort and empowerment, even in glamour," Bedarida says, adding that this very legacy—of empowerment, joy, and innovation—is Bedarida's mission for the new Marina B.

Bulgari is survived by her nieces Laura Colnaghi Calissoni and Francesca Calissoni Bulgari.