Bulgari’s Serpenti totem has taken many forms in the 74 years since its debut in post-war Italy. The jeweler’s first snake-inspired pieces tended towards abstraction, referencing ophidian sinuosity by means of a wavy gold bracelet – based on the articulated flex of gas piping – that slid down the wrist. More recent designs, such as jeweled crowned watch faces shaped like the triangular head of a venomous serpent, more directly mimicked the slinky form of the creature. But it was the Italian house’s bold creations of the 1950s and 1960s, those with the most recognizable reptilian features, that influenced its new collection of women’s watches.
The most famous example from this era became a worldwide phenomenon in 1962 at Cinecittà, Rome’s film studio, during the filming of the epic “Cleopatra” by American director Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Its star, Elizabeth Taylor, was captured on set wearing her diamond-headed Serpenti wristwatch, and the resulting widely publicized image helped transform the Roman store into an international brand – and the Serpenti into a metonym for boundless Italian glamour. .
The new limited-edition Serpenti Misteriosi high jewelry collection retains many of the aesthetic signatures of those scintillating ’60s designs: pear-shaped gemstones for the eyes; hand-engraved hard stones such as turquoise for the inlaid scales; a diamond-paved case and dial nestled beneath a hinged jaw, the flicker of a forked tongue testing the air. The main developments are technological: an ultra-thin mechanical watch movement the size of a sunflower seed allows for a lighter and thinner body, while the case itself can be removed from the snake’s mouth, transforming the bracelet into a stand-alone jewel.
“Today we have the opportunity to make a beautiful Serpenti with the right proportions because we have different technology and materials,” says Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, executive director of product creation for Bulgari watches. “But we can never reinvent a piece more beautiful than the original.” Instead, the house will forever return to its most alluring creation, every time, like a snake biting its own tail.
Photo assistant: Antoine Siboun