Bvlgari has a long-standing relationship with the snake, a motif that’s come to symbolise the power and allure of the women who wear them.
The snake has the ability to instil both fear and fascination, partly because of its venomous bite or deadly grip but also in part due to pop culture – to name just two recent culprits, we have JK Rowling and Snakes on a Plane to blame for the creature’s bad rep. But turn the clock back to antiquity and you’ll find that the snake has often been associated with positive things. For the Mayans, the Aztecs and the Ancient Greeks, not to forget African mythology, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism, the snake has variously served as a symbol for power and protection, fertility and rebirth, wisdom and medicine.
As it possesses such great talismanic powers, it’s small wonder that for as long as humans have worn jewellery, the snake has been an enduring motif, chosen by many divine kings and queens. The Egyptian pharaohs wore headpieces decorated with rearing cobras and serpentine cuffs that coiled around their arms and wrists, while Queen Victoria’s engagement ring was shaped like a snake, with ruby eyes, a diamond mouth and an emerald – the Queen’s birthstone – forming the serpent head. The Queen Empress was known for her profound love of jewellery: during her reign, not only did she popularise the wearing of engagement rings, but serpentine jewellery – an ancient Roman symbol for everlasting love – also became highly sought after.
Enter Bvlgari, which was one of the first 20th-century jewellers to fully embrace the snake motif. It created its first Serpenti collection in 1940, beginning with a watch that mimicked the look of a snake coiled around one’s wrist. It later debuted in a flexible tube of coiled gold called Tubogas or in gold mesh – the polished metal was a more sombre look compared to gemstones, and the watch was seen to be a more appropriately functional piece of jewellery in the post-war period.
Immediately popular due to its bold and distinct aesthetic, the Serpenti went through various iterations over the decades, sometimes more abstract in form, while at others more literal and extravagant. In the 1960s, Bvlgari designers interpreted the form of the Serpenti in more animalistic terms, turning the bracelet into the reptile’s scales and concealing the dial of the watch in its head. It was also during this period that the jeweller unleashed its creativity and savoir-faire in the form of gem-setting and enamelling, covering the snake’s body in a multitude of precious colours. The incredible popularity of the Serpenti during this period was partly due to screen legend Elizabeth Taylor, who was in easy reach of Bvlgari’s boutique on Via Condotti while filming Cleopatra at Rome’s Cinecittà studios and was spotted wearing a Serpenti secret watch alongside other serpentine jewellery in movie stills.
Snakes by nature are ever-shifting, and the Serpenti collection’s continuous transformations included a return to Tubogas in the 1970s, while the 1980s brought us versions of the Serpenti with the Bvlgari-Bvlgari dials, in response to the trending logo mania of the time. From the 2000s onwards, the snake has taken on many shapes and forms, from slimmer and more geometric silhouettes, to high-jewellery versions – more than just the watch, Serpenti pieces now encompass the entire range of jewellery, from bracelets, rings and earrings, to necklaces and even belts.
Bvlgari has continued to experiment with different shapes for the Serpenti, including a head-over-tail design reserved mostly for its pure jewellery pieces. In 2015, the design – it looks as if the snake has its tail clamped within its jaws – made its debut in high- jewellery watch pieces. This year it’s manifested in the jewellery Serpenti necklace, as seen on the swan-like neck of Blackpink’s Lisa, who wore the stunning gold, diamond and emerald piece to Bvlgari’s Avrora Awards, a night that celebrated inspirational women across various fields of endeavour.
This year, in its latest evolution, the Serpenti sees the collection at its most minimalist yet. Rid of any embellishments and stones, the new Serpenti Viper is the snake in its purest form, whose scales are referenced in a simple, no-fuss interpretation. The design comes in three golds – yellow, rose or white – and, for the first time, the pieces come with ethical-gold certification. A 1940s icon, propelled into the 21st century, just as magnetic and just as desirable as ever before.