As Bulgari‘s most recognizable symbols, the Serpenti remains a highly coveted jewel for today’s jewelry collectors. While a fair number of its original watch-bracelets have recently come up for auction or appeared on the market, the emergence of a Serpenti necklace-belt version is a veritable rarity in the world of vintage jewelry.
Developed on the heels of Bulgari’s innovative tubogas design that was used in the early snake watch-bracelets in the late 1940s, the more realistic varieties were produced in the 1960s. The intricate construction of the watch required every scale and coil to be made and assembled by hand. According to Amanda Triossi, author of Bulgari: 125 Years of Italian Magnificence, “the elements [were] handmade out of sheet gold and attached to each other by soldered gold pivots or, in the case of the enameled versions, screwed together.”
The first iterations of the Serpenti were made solely in yellow gold, their heads and tails coated with diamonds. Of these early examples, Elizabeth Taylor’s watch-bracelet, which she was famously captured wearing on the set of Cleopatra in 1962, is the most extraordinary.
The Serpenti’s popularity led Bulgari to produce a number of these watch-bracelets, eventually enlarging the scales to accommodate polygonal diamond accents or waves of colorful enamel combinations. Known for their vibrant use of color, Bulgari employed the same characteristic in its numerous enamel color combinations of the Serpenti creations. However, it is important to note that fewer than 100 of these Serpenti jewels were produced, rendering each one incredibly rare.
Moreover, there were even fewer necklace-belts created, with only a handful of known examples made in the 1960s. The most celebrated and widely known is the one once owned by the venerable fashion editor Diana Vreeland. Most likely a special commission, her Serpenti necklace-belt featured pink and white enamel scales and sapphire eyes.
Another known version, which first appeared in the pages of Vogue in August 1968, was made with black and white enamel with diamond eyes.
A third example of blue and white enamel and diamond eyes, circa 1965, is currently part of the jewelry collection at FD Gallery.
In 2010, a limited-edition series of the Serpenti necklace-belt were created for the Bulgari Heritage collection, and those examples include a yellow gold and diamond and a black enamel and diamond variations. A version of Diana Vreeland’s necklace was also replicated for the collection.
In the Magnificent Jewels sale at Christie’s Geneva, a fourth Serpenti necklace-belt from the 1960s will hit the auction block this month. With a color combination more realistic to nature than its more flamboyant counterparts, this rare gold serpent features golden brown and dark brown enamel scales and pear-shaped diamond eyes. The necklace-belt is estimated to fetch $200,000 to $270,000, though I am sure the winning bid will exceed the high estimate by a mile.
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