In the glistening jungle that is the jewellery world, every maker has its mascot. Cartier is ruled by the panther. Tiffany & Co has Elsa Peretti’s scorpion. Chanel has claimed the lion, as chosen by Coco herself. And over the past century, the snake has become emblematic of the Roman house of Bulgari.
“The serpent should be on every finger and around all wrists and all everywhere… We can never see enough of it,” the fashion editor Diana Vreeland said of Bulgari’s stylish Serpenti. She was often photographed wearing her own 30in-long white enamel and gold snake belt wound around her neck, rather than her waist.
As editor-in-chief of American Vogue in the Sixties, she peppered the magazine with photoshoots featuring the jewels, including a legendary image for the September 1968 issue of the Italian model Benedetta Barzini with Serpenti bracelets and necklaces coiled around her shoulders and in her voluminous updo.
Benedetta Barzini with Serpenti bracelets and necklaces in the September 1968 issue of American Vogue
Just six years earlier, Elizabeth Taylor had propelled the design to international attention when she posed on the set of Cleopatra wearing a gold and diamond Serpenti watch. A potent combination of spiralling production issues and Taylor’s scandalous affair with her co-star Richard Burton ensured her portrait — and her watch — made global headlines.
“There was definitely a seismic Elizabeth Taylor effect for us,” says Laura Burdese, Bulgari’s vice-president of global marketing and communications. “She was one of the first big stars to buy her own watches and jewellery and, with that image, her charisma, power and sensuality became for ever entwined with our Serpenti. It created a lasting legacy for us.”
That legacy can be traced back to the late Forties, when creative director Giorgio Bulgari, son of the house’s