Each of Bulgari’s High Jewelry pieces are created by a single dedicated craftsperson in their own workshops on the outskirts of Rome. The initial sketch to wax and stone selection process can take up to 6 months. The actual construction phase of each piece can take up to 4 months. Bulgari introduced its first serpent inspired collection of watches in the 1940s.
Original design sketch for Bulgari Serpenti watch from the 1960s.
A Bulgari amethyst, turquoise, diamond and emerald wrap around necklace.
An enamel Serpenti watch in yellow gold with two pear-cut emeralds eyes, circa 1965.
Each piece of jewelry is not only a work of art but also an engineering feat. Hundreds of gold “scales” are joined by cleverly hidden hinges giving each piece a fluid mobility and comfort to each wearer. Intricate filigree patterns on the reverse of each segment both lighten the load and add extra shimmer, allowing light to filter through the body of serpent.
The Serpenti style had a pop culture breakthrough in 1963, when Elizabeth Taylor, a huge Bulgari supporter, was photographed on the set of Cleopatra wearing one of the house’s first Serpenti watches. In 2011, the yellow gold, emerald and diamond watched owned by Taylor sold for $974,500 – nearly 65 times its pre-sale estimate – at a Christie’s auction.
Elizabeth Taylor’s Serpenti gold, diamond and emerald watch. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.
This diamond Bulgari Serpenti necklace from the High Jewelry Collection, wraps around the throat twice. Photo courtesy of Bulgari.
Diana Vreeland wearing her unusual Bulgari Serpenti necklace/belt. This necklace/belt was originally owned by fashion legend Diana Vreeland, Bulgari replicated this belt so it could have a permanent place in their Historical Archive Collection. This belt is made of pink and white enamel with sapphire eyes and was most likely a special commission by Vreeland. Photo courtesy of Jewels du Jour.
While a fair number of watch bracelets come up for auction or appear on the market, the appearance of the Serpenti necklace/belt version is a certifiable rarity in the vintage jewelry market. In November 2014, at the Christie’s Magnificent Jewels sale in Geneva, a Serpenti necklace/belt from the 1960s hit the auction block. The rare gold and dark brown enamel serpent had a more realistic look to it than most of its counterparts with its dark enamel coloring.
Designed as an articulated gold snake with golden brown and dark brown enamel scales and pear shaped diamonds eyes, the snake dates from the 1960s, and is signed Bulgari, no. 69.2. Photo courtesy of Christies. In November 2014, this belt sold for $228,805.