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Vintage & Auctions

Getting emotional with the Bulgari Serpenti Collection

« The only Italian Elizabeth knows is Bulgari » said once the actor Richard Burton speaking about Elizabeth Taylor.

By Audrey Humbert

No jewelry house has as strong an association with the snake as Bulgari and so does Elizabeth Taylor with Bulgari.

In the sixties, when the Serpenti collection was launched, the actress fell in love with Bulgari and has then collected the famed Italian house founded in 1884 until 2011 when she died. Her collection was offered by Christie’s through landmark auctions that realized a combined total of $156,756,576.

Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra in 1962 wearing her Serpenti watch Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra in 1962 wearing her Serpenti watch

Her early adoption of the Serpenti collection as well as her celebrity are probably the two reasons why her name is so tightly associated with the brand.

With Hellenistic and Roman inspirations, the Serpenti collection was first interpreted by Bulgari with a flexible snake body in gold where the tail and head were adorned with diamonds. This soon evolved following the original concept of the brand that had started manufacturing custom made watches in the 1920s. The scales have been delicately decorated with polychrome enamel or precious stones. Each example is rendered unique through the colours used along with the choice of materials.

Bulgari Serpenti Elisabeth Taylor’s white and green Bulgari Serpenti that was sold by the London house Dreweatts & Bloomsbury on 27th Novembre 2014

The “Cleopatra”, named after the movie in which Liz Taylor played the role of Cleopatra and was photographed while wearing the snake on her wrist, is an early interpretation of the Serpenti collection. The item sold for $974,500 at Christie’s auction on 13th Decembre 2011 in New York and joined an important collection. However, according to our information a second example was sold in 1963 to an important Italian family and is the only other opportunity to acquire such an emblematic piece.

No matter where you look, it seems that the success for these snake watches is constant, mostly achieving results over high estimates. Such is the case for another of Elisabeth Taylor’s white and green Bulgari Serpenti that was sold by the London house Dreweatts & Bloomsbury on 27th Novembre 2014 shortly after that an impressive black enamel & diamond set example was sold at Christie’s London setting a new record at £662,500 more than doubling its initial £180k – 250k estimate.

Bulgari Serpenti £662,500, world record at auction for a Bulgari Snake watch !

The success of the collection is such that it led the brand to organise a major exhibition at its Fifth Avenue Flagship taking the opportunity to celebrate the Year of the snake. Client’s eagerness to discover more of these emblematic vintage models was fulfilled and thus feeding their endless appetite. This was the perfect occasion to illustrate the Bulgari Serpenti Collection in a book realised by Marion Fasel and available from Assouline and provide visitors with the perfect souvenir carrying over the emotion embodied through each work of art of the collection.  

A similar example to the one illustrated in the book sold  CHF 50’400  at Christie’s Geneva back in 2006 even before the publication of the book confirming once again the supremacy of the brand  over this segment of jewelry watches. This highlight is featuring a green, white, blue and black enamel set scales enhanced by two pear shaped emerald set eyes.

Bulgari Serpenti An eamel, diamond and gold Serpenti Necklace/Belt, by Bulgari, circa 1965 (FD Gallery)

Among this rich variety of pieces procuring the feeling that each piece is unique through the combination of material and colour, it seems very difficult to elect one’s favorite. And the limit to the creative spirit of its designers seems endless. However, my season’s favorite is lot 243 of the Magnificent Jewels & Noble Jewels Geneva auction that took place on 12th Novembre 14 for its dominant bright green coloured.

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