Anybody who considers herself a serious jewelry person is already well-versed in the legend of the Serpenti. But we’ll gladly tell it again. Bulgari’s slithering mascot was born in abstract form in 1948, as a gold bracelet-watch featuring the Tubogas coil technique that brothers Giorgio and Constantino Bulgari (sons of the maison’s founder Sotirios) began using in their designs after World War II, modeling it after flexible gas pipes. By 1950, the Serpenti made its debut in all of its fully realized splendor, its scales sculpted in gold, or studded with diamonds or other gems, its eyes aglow in sapphires, emeralds, and rubies. Over the next two decades, the snake’s star would continue to rise to cult status, thanks in part to the style icons it held in its thrall, from Elizabeth Taylor to Diana Vreeland.
For 75 years the Serpenti has fulfilled its destiny as a symbol of metamorphosis and rebirth, shedding old skins for new ones, sometimes crafted in enamel and turquoise, or in a suppler design for everyday wear, or dangling with tourmalines, or coiled around a 93.83-carat cabochon Colombian emerald (see: Zendaya at Dune‘s Venice Film Festival premiere). For this milestone birthday, Bulgari is celebrating its resident ophidian all year. There was a dedicated pop-up in Beverly Hills in February and a strong showing during awards season (see: Angela Bassett, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and Cara Delevingne at the Oscars, Julianne Moore at the BAFTAs, J.Lo at the Grammys, Julia Garner at the Critics’ Choice Awards).
Now, the party has come to New York. Until July 16, the Serpenti is being feted in the Meatpacking District, where a space has been transformed into an immersive exhibition, featuring an installation by new media artist Refik Anadol, that charts the history, inspiration, and craftsmanship behind the motif.
But of course the true stars of this show are the bijoux. Twenty-five rare Serpentis will be on display, along with 7 one-of-a-kind High Jewelry pieces created exclusively for its 75th anniversary. How many ways can an icon be reborn? As you’ll see for yourself—a necklace embellished in malachite and onyx and wrapped around a 10-carat cabochon emerald; a 12.89-carat pear-shape tanzanite surrounded by a coil of lapis lazuli and onyx; 30 cabochon emeralds sparkling in between twists of diamonds—the possibilities are endless.
“Bulgari Serpenti 75 Years of Infinite Tales“ is on view through July 16 at 70 Gansevoort Street.
Leena Kim is an editor at Town & Country, where she covers travel, jewelry, education, weddings, and culture.