Richard Burton did a great job of branding when he said that his wife, Elizabeth Taylor, only knew one word in Italian: Bulgari. The anecdote has been repeated a lot in the last half century and has forever linked the destinies of the jewelery house to the passion of the sweet life. If ever the actress had dared to learn a second term in Italian, perhaps this would have been serpenti. Taylor, who used to negotiate her spousal pardons at the weight of diamond paves, posed in 1962 on the set of Cleopatra with a watch in the shape of a snake, its head and tail made of platinum and its eyes made of emeralds and diamonds. The jewel instantly became an object of desire, perhaps due to the indifference of the movie diva, who wore the piece with her street clothes, as if it was normal to go through life with hundreds of diamonds attached to her wrist. For once, it is believed, the jewel had been bought by herself. She did it at the beginning of the filming of the Cleopatra. She had yet to meet Burton, her co-star, who would soon become her lover and then her husband. Soon Burton would be a regular at the store Via Condotti, in Rome, where his pilgrimages in search of pieces to appease Taylor’s anger, highly sensitive to the jewels of the Roman house, ended up being well known.
The Serpenti line, to which the watch Taylor posed with belongs, has increased its sales 30 times in the last decade, as revealed by Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari, in a recent statement. If something has changed since 1948, the year it was created, it is its link with the famous. The stars of Cinecittà (or their lovers) bought the bracelets, necklaces and rings that they later exhibited as war trophies after a more or less intense matrimonial quarrel. However, now it is the Italian house that chooses the ambassadors who wear their jewels, without husbands or scandals involved. They are professional women working with one of the jewelery houses that has best known how to adapt to changing times. “There are no movie stars like before,” reflects Laura Burdese, director of marketing and global communication of Bulgari, adding: “But we continue to associate ourselves with charismatic and powerful women.” Zendaya and Anne Hathaway are two names that have brought the line back to the level of Elizabeth Taylor’s legendary pose.
“Zendaya loves Serpenti necklaces. After seeing it on red carpets, many young girls have been interested in a simpler, easier-to-wear version of that necklace. At influencers they love to wear our jewels…, another thing is that they like to buy them”, jokes Lucia Silvestri, creative director of Bulgari, by video call. In 75 years the business has changed. Now the great jewels are lent and returned, with insurance and escorts through, but the sinuous snake, capable of shedding its skin, is still very much alive. In 2023 he turns 75 years old. It’s a ripe age even for a jewelry line.
According to Lucia Silvestri, Serpenti’s longevity is explained by its symbolic power, which “has transcended the passage of time.” “It has allowed us to explore all the forms and possibilities of the serpent, which in turn works in all times because it is the symbol of change, of metamorphosis.” Silvestri and her team have studied the vintage pieces in the collection in depth and have created prototypes and more modern versions to win over a younger audience. “We have the high-jewelry line, bright and punchy, but we’ve created a lightweight wear-anywhere collection, smaller designs, no colors or gemstones, which are working really well,” she says. She refers to the Serpenti Viper line, almost minimalist, quite a design challenge for the Italian house.
Throughout its life, the presentation has evolved from the tubogas body, a gold mesh design created by Bulgari that gave the jewel rigidity and flexibility at the same time, to the restraint of the fifties or the experimentation of the sixties In the following decades, shapes, colors and materials have been innovated.
In the 1940s, the Serpenti were spiral wristwatches. In the following decades, necklaces, rings, belts and handbags were created. Starting in the nineties, handbags and sunglasses arrived. As if the snake was indeed capable of surviving in any habitat. In the second decade of the 21st century we have seen it in elegant and very expensive iPad cases. Laura Burdese says that it is “the infinite metamorphosis”.
The 75th anniversary party will be long and will cover half the world, from the Duomo square in Milan to the Saatchi Gallery in London. It has arrived in Madrid a few days ago with an exhibition that can be seen at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum until April 16. By the end of the year, it is expected that the sample will have toured 40 cities. The show includes the best Bulgari creations from 1948 to today and some of the most important campaigns and editorials of the last decades. A central piece is the new Serpenti Blue Heaven high jewelry necklace, a one-of-a-kind piece with two intertwined snakes and adorned with tanzanite and aquamarine stones that symbolize the good harmony between Italy and Spain. But the show also shows how the company is using smart machines to its advantage.
The Turkish-American artist and director Refik Anadol has created for the exhibition a piece of multimedia art generated by artificial intelligence, specifically by algorithms trained with data from 200 million images captured in nature that have been transformed by the artist into abstract and poetic visions. The multisensory journey ends with smell. The museum rooms are infused with the Rainforest Serpenti fragrance.
Throughout the year, Bulgari will make a grand display of the snake symbol. We’ll see her in her smaller, more accessible jewelry, bags, watches, and designs. You can get a Serpenti for 308 euros, the price of a key ring, and also for more than three million, which is worth a piece of high jewelry from the collection. The snakes shed their skin as many times as necessary for their survival. During the process it is convenient to leave them alone. The change is nothing more than a sign of your excellent health.
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