Sotirios Boulgaris (Greek: Σωτήριος Βούλγαρης, pronounced [soˌtirʝos ˈvulɣaris]), born in an Aromanian village known as Kalarites began his career as a jeweller in his home village Paramythia (Epirus, Greece), where his first store can still be seen. In 1877, he left for Corfu and then Naples. In 1881 he finally moved to Rome, where in 1884 he founded his company and opened his second shop in Via Sistina. The store in Via Sistina was then replaced by the current flagship store in Via dei Condotti opened in 1905 by Bulgari with the help of his two sons, Costantino (1889–1973) and Giorgio (1890–1966).
During the Second World War, Costantino Bulgari and his wife Laura hid three Jewish women in their own Roman home. They were strangers to them; the Bulgaris opened their doors out of outrage for the raid of the Roman ghetto in October 1943. For their generous action, on 31 December 2003, they were awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
After Giorgio's death in 1966, his son Gianni led the company as co-chief executive with his cousin Marina. As chairman and CEO of Bulgari in the early 1970s, Gianni initiated the internationalization of the company by opening shops in New York, Geneva, Monte-Carlo and Paris. For many years the company maintained a showroom in New York's The Pierre Hotel. In the late 1970s, Gianni led a complete overhaul of the company, establishing a new watch business and focusing on product design. In 1985, Gianni resigned as CEO and in 1987, he left the family business after selling his one-third stake in the company to his brothers Nicola and Paolo.