Bulgari’s Serpenti Design – Counting 75 Years of Success

Bulgari is celebrating a decadent 75th anniversary of its iconic reptile – the Serpenti. Designed for the first time in the late 1940s by the brand’s Greek silversmith founder, Sotirio Bulgari, the bejewelled snake has lived up to its mythical representation of a wealth protector and brought consistent prosperity to the Italian jewellery brand ever since. Seeing the Serpenti’s ever growing popularity, Bulgari expanded the Serpenti line into jewellery and high jewellery watches and other fashion accessories. Today, the Serpenti collection and the associated high jewellery watches are the most important revenue streams for Bulgari says Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, Product Creation Executive Director (Watch Division) at Bulgari, who outlines the intricacies and complexities behind the success of the Serpenti line in an interview with Shilpa Dhamija in Geneva.

The primary aesthetic of the Serpenti that sets it apart from any other jewellery watch or jewellery piece is the twirl of the bracelet. How has the bracelet design and its wearability evolved over the years?

The origin for the Serpenti watch for us was a yellow gold watch with the Serpenti head and a watch-movement inside the head. The twirl was inspired by Tubogas (tube-of-gas) design. The Tubogas was made with two rows of gold that turned around a central spring, and for many years, we followed the same style of bracelet. But with Tubogas it was not possible for us to increase the thickness of the gold and add gems to it, because then turning the bracelet around the spring was not possible. We tried various ways to add gems to the bracelet and it became my obsession in the last 10 years. We had to eventually redesign the bracelet completely, to be able to add gems to it and make high jewellery, gem-studded Serpenti. Now, we are able to add different links to the bracelet one by one and add gems and diamonds to it.

Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani

Bulgari has visionary ways to use coloured gems in its high jewellery or jewellery watches. What is the provenance of these gems and how long or complex is the process to select and source them?

Gems are a very important part of our product development. When we make jewellery watches, the biggest part of the product development is built around the gemstones. If we are not happy with the quality or with the colour of the gemstones, we stop our product development till we find the right colour. For high jewellery watches we are often obliged to change some details because we didn’t find the right stones.

As for sourcing of gems, we have suppliers who have followed us for decades. Some of our suppliers are running very old family businesses. Sometimes we get emails from suppliers saying that their grandfather found an old letter from Sotirio Bvlgari, the founder of Bulgari. Also, we don’t buy raw gems. But we do check where they come from.

The eye of the snake, in particular, appears to be one of the most complex design aspects of the jewellery watch. Where do you source the gems for the eyes? What setting technique do you use for them because the eyes seem to define the majesty of the snake’s face.

We pay attention to all the details of the snake and yes, the eye is one of the most important parts from an aesthetic point of view. Now, the Serpenti design has evolved. We have a new watch-movement made for the Serpenti which is quite small. The movement is supposed to sit inside the head of the snake. With the new small watch-movement we can craft a smaller and thinner head for the snake.

The Bulgari High Jewellery Serpenti Tubogas Infinity is made from rose gold and features the iconic Serpenti snake-head silhouette. The bezel is entirely set with diamonds and the bracelet is lined with diamonds that extends all the way throughout the bracelet in a snake-like shape.

As for gemstones, the shape of the eyes is a drop shape, and we have the option of several colours to choose from. Coloured gems are a part of Bulgari DNA. We are well known worldwide for our use of the coloured stones because Bulgari was the first jeweller to play with precious-coloured gemstones and semi-precious ones in a certain way, in fine jewellery. Which is why we use coloured stones on the snake’s eyes and the bracelet.

The making of the Serpenti Tubogas Infinity watch.

Tell us about your craftsmen, the experts who bring to life your beautiful designs. How would you describe their expertise?

Before we made the Piccolissimo (small watch-movement) for the Serpenti watch, we had a certain way of producing it.

Earlier, the body of the snake was made at our design centre in Italy and the head came from Switzerland because it was in the head that we had to place the watch-movement. So, we had to prepare the movement with the dial and the hands in Switzerland, and then we had to wait for its body to come from Italy. Sometimes when we made the head in Switzerland and the body in Italy, we had to go back and forth with Italy for the body of the snake.

With the new Serpenti featuring the Piccolissimo movement, we changed the way of how to put the reptile together. Now we have all of the Serpenti coming from Italy from our facilities. At the end of the process, we place the new small watch-movement inside the container of the snake’s head. So we have both the head and body from the same craftsmen or supplier.  Which means that all the craftsmanship, the enamelling thickness on the whole body and technique of setting gemstones, etc., are all done by the one artisan for the whole snake. Still, the movement comes from Switzerland, but the composition of the full snake is done in Italy.

What is the future of design for the Serpenti? Should we expect interchangeable skins or straps for the Serpenti?

Yes, maybe. You could have 2 to 3 different bracelets. In terms of price, it may not be very easy to have. But it will be interesting and a different point of view.

What is still driving the Serpenti line even after 75 years of its existence?

Serpenti is a part of our history, and we love to change the way you wear a Serpenti watch. We have had Tubogas, Misteriosi Cleopatra, and so many different Serpenti styles. In the future we will continue to evolve the watch as we are never satisfied. We want to push the design for the future.

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