As one of the oldest and most widespread mythological symbols, it’s no wonder serpents (snakes) remain as popular in jewelry as they did back in ancient Egyptian times. What makes this creature so intriguing to mankind is its dual expression of good and evil, fertility and rebirth, poison and medicine. Throughout time, different civilizations have interpreted the serpent’s symbolism in different ways: the Egyptians saw it represent royalty and deity; in Rabbinical tradition and Hinduisim, the snake represents sexual passion and desire; while the Romans interpreted the snake as a symbol of everlasting love. While Cleopatra may be the most notable historic figure to espouse the wearing of snake jewelry, Greek, Nordic, African, and Native Americans have all celebrated this intriguing reptile in gilded forms with varying meaning.
The Victorian era incited the proliferation of snake jewelry after Prince Albert proposed to Queen Victoria with the very first engagement ring, which was in the image of a snake with an emerald-set head. For Victoria, the snake was an emblem of eternal love, making her betrothal ring the ultimate token of happily-ever-after. Peaking in the 1840s, the snake represented wisdom and eternity during this period and was a ubiquitous motif on rings, bracelets, brooches and necklaces.
An Antique Emerald, Diamond and Gold Serpent Necklace
Designed as a tapered coiled gold serpent, with sculpted gold scales, to the old mine-cut diamond and square-cut emerald head, with cabochon ruby eyes, mounted in silver and gold, circa 1860, 17 ins.
Despite the slight dwindling in popularity in times after Victoria, the snake enjoyed a brief resurgence during the Art Nouveau period with the help of the renowned French jewelers Jules René Lalique and Georges Fouquet. This elaborate period emphasized heavily on the essence of nature, in which the snake played a prominent role. Marie-Odile Briot put it best: ”The serpent is an archaic underworld god, chased out of the Christian Paradise. Just like a gemstone, its plastic perfection makes it a striking sign of the sacred in nature. The snake is the living abstraction of the line which Art Nouveau would see as the underlying ‘biomorphic’ structure of form,” (via New York Times).
Corsage jewel (1898-99) by Jules René Lalique
Whether coiled in a knot atop a ring or wrapped around the wrist as a stylish bracelet, the serpent remains a venerable favorite amongst jewelry motifs. Its colorfully textured skin and long, rope-like body make for a perfect model from which to mold a piece of jewelry. Malleable just like metal, the shapes and configurations of this mythic being serve to test a jeweler’s own creative talent. Several jewelry houses have even incorporated the serpent into their Maison’s identity, using it as the central theme in several of their iconic collections (Bulgari and Boucheron instantly come to mind). To that end, I’ve put together some highly creative and truly remarkable snake jewelry pieces that demonstrate why this slippery being continues to endure.
Gold, diamond and colored stone snake bracelet, late 19th century
Victorian Snake Earrings Bohemian Garnet and Pearl Europe Mid 19th century
Turquoise and diamond necklace, mid 19th century
18 Karat Gold, Emerald and Pearl Snake Ring, Last Quarter 19th Century
Gem-set, enamel and diamond bangle, mid 19th century
An Art Nouveau Enamel, Multi-Gem and Diamond Corsage Ornament, By Georges Fouquet
Art Nouveau Gold, Enamel, Blister Pearl and Diamond Serpent Pendant-Brooch
Platinum-Topped Gold and Diamond Serpent Brooch, Circa 1910
Snake necklace, Cartier Paris, special order, 1968, Platinum, white gold and yellow gold, 2,473 brilliant- and baguette-cut diamonds weighing 178.21 carats in total, two pear-shaped emeralds (eyes), green, red, and black enamel, Made as a special order for María Félix © Cartier, Photo by Nick Welsh from Cartier: The Power of Style (Paris: Flammarion, 2010).
A Ruby and Gold Ring, by Buccellati
PAIR OF OPAL, BROWN DIAMOND AND DIAMOND PENDENT EARRINGS, Lydia Courteille
A Colored Diamond, Ruby and Emerald Serpent Necklace, By Carvin French
ENAMEL, RUBY AND DIAMOND ‘SNAKE’ BANGLE, CIRCA 1980
Snake ear clips, Yellow gold, pink gold, turquoise-coloured enamel, two oval rubies and two rose-cut diamonds, Cartier Paris, special order 1971, N. Welsh, Cartier Collection © Cartier
Mother of pearl and diamond snake bracelet, Carlo Luca della Quercia Illario
Boucheron Python ring with a 15,64 carat aquamarines and 340 rubies set into blackened gold. Two emeralds are his eyes.
Boucheron Python Bracelet with 700 tsavorites, 440 sapphires and 120 diamonds in white gold.
Boucheron Serpent diamond, opal and rock crystal necklace
Boucheron bracelet 2008
Bewitching Snakes, Boa ring | Boucheron
Boucheron Adam bracelet set with 548 spessartite garnets, 248 red and pink spinels, yellow sapphires, 6 emeralds and 26 diamonds on pink gold
PAIR OF COLOURED DIAMOND AND TSAVORITE GARNET ‘SNAKE’ PENDENT EARRINGS, Michele della Valle
Lydia Courteille Green Snake-shape Earrings
Cartier White Gold Diamond and Star Sapphire snake ring
Cartier Platinum necklace with aquamarines, diamonds, and pearl
Cartier emerald drops and diamond serpents
Cartier Platinum ring set with a ruby and diamonds.
Cartier Eternity snake necklace
Cartier Serpent Ring
A Multi-colored Diamond and Gold Serpent Bracelet,
A Fire Opal and Multi-Gem Snake Ring,
by Lorenz Bäumer
Dior Antique Jewelry Ring
Wendy Yue Coral Birdcage Earrings
Wendy Yue Wood Snake Hoop Earrings
BULGARI Peacock Enamel Ruby Serpent Bracelet Watch
Bulgari Serpenti Haute Joaillerie
Elizabeth Taylor Watch Bulgari Serpenti
Bulgari Serpenti Watch
Lotus Arts de Vivre Pair of Gem-Set Snake Bangle Bracelets
David Webb Serpent Earrings | Jadeite, Diamonds, Rubies, 18 Karat Gold, Platinum
DAVID WEBB A Multi-Gem and Enamel Snake Bracelet
Gold, Blue Enamel and Diamond Snake Ring, David Webb
A Pair of Amethyst and Diamond Ear Clips, Aletto Brothers
Serpentine earrings in sterling silver with spessartite, rose-cut diamonds, rubies and 18-karat gold by Lotus Arts de Vivre
Nicholas Varney Snake Bracelet
The Cobra Royal necklace by Roberto Coin
Kieselstein-Cord Gem-Set Snake Bangle
A diamond and emerald snake ring
An emerald necklace by Shaun Leane.
Emerald earrings by Shaun Leane
Mimi So Couture Cleopatra Snake Ring
18 karat gold and diamond snake bangle-bracelet, Tiffany & Co.
The two-finger Temptation of Eve ring, made of rose gold and studded with rubies and black diamonds. Designed by Stephen Webster
A diamond, orange sapphire and green garnet snake ring
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