Will there ever be a better brand ambassador for Bulgari than Elizabeth Taylor? That famous suite of emeralds, captured in a Helmut Newton portrait and currently on show in a special exhibition at the brand’s New Bond Street store; the lavish gifts from Richard Burton, including her emerald engagement ring; the snappy soundbites – “the only word that Elizabeth knows in Italian is Bulgari”… But Taylor’s longest-lasting legacy on the Italian jewellery house she frequented is perhaps her popularisation of its Serpenti bracelet, which she was photographed wearing on the set of Cleopatra in 1962.
Originally designed in the 1940s, the Elizabeth Taylor effect saw the Serpenti’s popularity rocket. Since the 1960s the snake has shed its skin several times, and this summer Bulgari unveiled its latest incarnation amid its High Jewellery presentation during Paris Couture Week. While previous versions focused on the reptile’s supple scales, carefully articulated thanks to Bulgari’s ‘tubogas’ system of flexible metal bands, now it’s all about the snake’s face, set into pendants for the first time.
Wider, flatter, cartoonish yet somehow more expressive: the new Serpenti’s face brings the creature to life. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a standout High Jewellery necklace in which the viper’s raised hood is recreated with marquise-cut emeralds and diamonds set at an angle to jut dramatically above the pavé-set face. Imbued with a sense of tension and danger, the design is inspired by pieces from the archive, including Taylor’s own famous Serpenti secret watch which also featured raised marquise stones. A calmer, more seductive version sees the head set in rose gold complete with hypnotising pear-shaped ruby eyes.
Elsewhere in the accompanying fine jewellery range, the snake is more benevolent, playful even: eyes set with amethyst, rubellite or malachite in everyday bangles, pendants and earrings. A long sautoir does away with the eyes altogether and intersperses minimalistic honeycomb snakeheads with hexagons of malachite, whose natural mineral patterns call to mind the reptile’s skin.
This hexagonal honeycomb pattern, a graphic representation of the snake’s scales, is explored further on the flipside of the new Serpenti range, in pieces which hint at its presence rather than anthropomorphise the animal. Here, the motif slithers around bangles and rings, pavé-set with diamonds and culminating in a flattened face set with emerald eyes. A less literal interpretation, it works particularly well in wide, flush rings which feel clean and contemporary.
Bulgari hasn’t abandoned the iconic Serpenti design altogether: it also showcased new versions of the famous coiled bracelet with scales formed from smoothly grained South American snakewood (yes, its official name), alongside a new bejewelled watch in which it wends itself around a circular dial. Whether staring you in the eye or shedding its scales, the latest Bulgari Serpenti is as much a snake as a chameleon.
Source: telegraph.co.uk Photos: Guido Mocafico