In 1958, 102 years after Eterna was founded, the Swiss watchmaker ventured into celebrity endorsement to launch the Golden Heart, a delicate 18ct gold cocktail watch boasting the smallest automatic movement in the world. Rather than soliciting the services of the reigning Hollywood glamour queens Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor as ambassadors, Eterna chose two “icons of world cinema for this ravishing and romantic watch”. Italian screen siren Gina Lollobrigida was a star of much greater stature than the newcomer French sex kitten Brigitte Bardot, but both ladies typified the sun-soaked glamour of La Dolce Vita and the French Riviera.

“La Lollo”, as she was affectionately known, was born in the Roman suburb of Subiaco in 1927. As a teenager, the dark-eyed, raven-haired beauty with bee-stung lips and a perfect hourglass figure, was a beauty pageant queen who worked as an extra in the burgeoning post-war Italian film industry centred on Cinecittà in Rome. In 1947 she entered the Miss Italy pageant and came third. But she had captured the attention of the wolves who directed the European and American movie business. Howard “The Aviator” Hughes invited Lollobrigida to Hollywood in 1950 but she decided instead to remain in Europe and would not make a Hollywood movie until 1959.

Hollywood dreams
Lollobrigida’s big break came in 1953 with her first English language film Beat the Devil, directed by hard-boiled American director John Huston. She played Humphrey Bogart’s wife and the film co-starred Jennifer Jones. Her first major award, the David di Donatello for Best Actress, was won for the 1955 film The World’s Most Beautiful Woman in which she sang arias from Tosca in her own voice. In 1956 Lollobrigida was the leading lady in the circus-themed film Trapeze with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. In the same year, she played Esmeralda to Anthony Quinn’s Quasimodo in a Technicolor remake of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Though many Hollywood leading ladies would make pictures in Europe, Lollobrigida was one of those rare talents who traversed the European and American film industries with apparent ease. She was one of the few actresses as comfortable sharing the screen with Yves Montand and Marcello Mastroianni as she was with Erroll Flynn and Peter Lawford. Her most successful Hollywood films were Never So Few (1959) co-starring Frank Sinatra, Solomon and Sheba (1959) opposite Yul Brynner, Come September (1961) with Rock Hudson, Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin for which she won the Golden Globe Award and Hotel Paradiso (1966) with Alec Guinness.

Behind the lens
Had Lollobrigida taken up Howard Hughes’s offer, her film career might have equalled Ava Gardner or Cyd Charisse. But by the time she arrived in LA, the Hollywood studio system was in terminal decline with the advent of television and subsequent closure of picture palaces across America. By the 1960s her voluptuous figure and Romanesque glamour was out of fashion as a more fresh-faced new generation of European actresses emerged led by Bardot and Julie Christie. La Lollo’s film roles slowed to a halt and by the end of the 1970s she began a new career as a photojournalist, a sculptor and, like fellow sex symbol Joan Collins, found new fans in the 1980s TV soap opera boom playing Francesca Gioberti in Falcon Crest.

However, Eterna certainly did choose wisely when Lollobrigida fronted print advertising campaigns for the Golden Heart in 1958. Her taste in jewellery – particularly her penchant for emeralds and pieces by the Roman house of Bulgari – was almost as legendary as her film roles. La Lolla famously bought her own jewellery and, in 2013, sold it all at Sotheby’s and donated over $5 million to benefit stem cell therapy research. She now lives in relative seclusion behind the gates of her ranch in Sicily, her apartment on the Via Appia Antica in Rome and her villa in Monte Carlo. Her name will forever be linked with the glamour of the Golden Heart and she may be justifiably proud that “her” watch was the company legend Eterna chose to revive for a limited-edition collection of 160 Golden Heart watches to celebrate the watchmaker’s 160th anniversary in 2016.