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December 14, 2016

What Makes The Bulgari Serpenti A Heritage Icon

Text by Simone Louis

One of the most widely recognised motifs in the world today, Bulgari’s Serpenti is also a heritage superstar with quite a past. We trace its vibrant narrative

Throughout the course of history, in various cultures, the snake has been an all-encompassing symbol of strength, wisdom, reinvention, healing, seduction and power. Since the 1940s, however, it also became the epitome of luxurious panache; of state-of-the-art innovation and spellbinding design. What brought about the change was the Bulgari family’s introduction of their first Serpenti collection, which famously paid tribute to the company’s founder Sotirio Bulgari’s Greco-Roman lineage. Little did they know that it would become an intimate part of the brand identity.

HERITAGE PIECES

A LOVE AFFAIR

The Serpenti may have steadily gained admiration among the crème de la crème, but it wasn’t until Elizabeth Taylor flaunted one in a publicity shot for her movie Cleopatra that its eminence instantaneously skyrocketed.

The model, seen in the legendary photograph from 1962, featured a diamond pavé serpent’s head with emerald eyes and a crest composed of marquise-shaped diamonds. Unsurprisingly, several variations were produced soon after, including some without the watch. In her book titled My Love Affair with Jewelry, Taylor said, ‘Undeniably, one of the biggest advantages of working on Cleopatra in Rome was Bulgari’s nice little shop. I used to visit Gianni Bulgari in the afternoons and we’d sit in what he called the ‘money room’ and swap stories.’ Richard Burton — her co-star and controversial paramour — was also quoted remarking that ‘the only word Elizabeth knows in Italian is Bulgari’. The actor owned several serpent creations, many of them from Burton, but the one in that first snapshot is shrouded in mystery. The brand’s archives list the piece as having been purchased on January 30, 1962, but peculiarly don’t reveal the buyer’s name. Both actors were in separate marriages at the time, and Taylor’s then-husband Eddie Fisher also often bought creations from the brand for her. Even so, she was known for treating herself and could’ve been celebrating her million-dollar movie contract (the highest paid to any female actor back then)…unless it was a signing bonus. Regardless, there was no better ambassador the brand could’ve asked for, and the Hollywood queen inspired countless more opulent models.

Up next: The making of Bulgari’s Ultimate Temptation

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