Sotirios Boulgaris, 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.
In 1984, Sotirio's grandsons Paolo and Nicola Bulgari were named Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the company and nephew Francesco Trapani was named CEO. Trapani's goal to diversify the company was started in the early 1990s with the release of the Bulgari perfume line. Under his tenure the company has established itself as a luxury goods brand recognized throughout the world.
In 1995, the company was listed on the Borsa Italiana. The company has seen 150% revenue growth between 1997 and 2003.
On 6 March 2011 French luxury group LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA announced that it was acquiring Bulgari SpA in an all-share deal for €4.3 billion ($6.01 billion), higher than LVMH had offered for any other company. Under the deal, the Bulgari family sold their 50.4 per cent controlling stake in exchange for 3 per cent of LVMH, thereby becoming the second-biggest family shareholder behind the Arnaults in LVMH. The takeover doubled the size of LVMH’s watches and jewellery unit, which at the time of the acquisition included Tag Heuer timepieces and De Beers diamond necklaces. The acquisition concluded on 4 October 2011 as Bulgari was delisted from the Borsa Italiana.