Like the snake seduced Eve, the Bvlgari Serpenti collection has entranced jewelry-lovers for decades. The serpent’s coil first took hold of the jewelry industry in the 1940s when Bvlgari produced its first line of serpentine bracelets, but the design skyrocketed to fame and triggered widespread lust when Elizabeth Taylor modeled one during a publicity shoot for her 1963 film Cleopatra. Channeling the original snake charmer, Taylor’s image and well-documented loyalty to Bvlgari as her jeweler of choice helped boost the popularity of the Serpenti line into icon status.
Since ancient times, the serpent has been a common trope in jewelry, and it’s easy to understand why. Not only is it a popular symbol of protection, fertility and eternal life, the snake’s physicality lends itself perfectly to metalwork — with its winding movement and overlapping scales, it translates seamlessly into an organically inspired timepiece. Combining the allure of ancient folklore with chic Italian artistry and unparalleled Swiss craftsmanship, the Bvlgari Serpenti is a juggernaut of haute horology.
Available in myriad bracelet designs, there’s a Serpenti watch to suit any style from the sleek Spiga to the most glamorous version, the Scaglie. With a name that literally translates to flake, the Serpenti Scaglie’s links separate like a snake’s scales, imitating the sinewy reptile’s slithering movement and flexible contours. The style is so coveted that in 2014, the same year as Bvlgari’s 130th anniversary, a rare 1965 Serpenti Scaglie watch sold at a Christie’s auction for $1,107,038 — roughly three times its expected price, setting a new record for auctioned Bvlgari snake watches.
This past March, the heritage jeweler celebrated its signature collection with the SerpentiForm exhibit at the Museo di Roma-Palazzo Brashi, showcasing high jewelry designs from the archives alongside artistic interpretations of the serpent from the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe, Keith Haring and Alexander Calder. The display has drawn so much attention that Bvlgari has extended the exhibit another month, keeping it open until May 8.
With all the mystique and intrigue surrounding the storied collection, we asked our resident watch expert, Fine Jewelry and Watch ManagerNathan Hall, to take us through the process of authenticating a Bvlgari Serpenti watch.
What are the tell tale signs a Bvlgari Serpenti is fake?
Often times fake versions have excessive or redundant wording and complications. The Serpenti should be a time-only watch, with just “Bvlgari” engraved on the dial, though “Swiss Made” can also be included on the dial at the 6 o’clock position.
The caseback also has a few tell tale signs that often differ on inauthentic versions. We expect to see a very specific representation of the logo as well as the model and serial numbers. Many fake versions either leave this information out, or indicate “Made in Italy” rather than “Fabrique en Suisse,” or they may add extra information such as water resistance.
Additionally, we are looking for the caseback to be held in place by three screws properly placed with two at the bottom, and one at the top. On many fake Serpentis the casebacks are either a snap caseback, similar to what is used on the Tubogas, or they will use Philips-head screws, as opposed to the standard slotted screw heads that are used in authentic Serpenti and other Swiss Made watches.
And of course, the iconic wrap bracelet on a real Serpenti should rest in the fixed wrap position but remain easily manipulated to wear on the wrist; this design is not easy to replicate and many fake versions are stiff, inflexible, or are resistant to returning to the original shape after removing.
What are the distinguishing elements of a Bvlgari Serpenti?
The overall design is modeled after the original Tubogas watch and little has changed since the design was first launched in the 1940s. The Serpenti specifically remains an iconic representation of the spirit of Bvlgari. Over the years the line has evolved from smaller designs to larger, longer wrapping bracelets to align with the style of the day; we can find everything from Tubogas style bracelets with separate serpent heads to anatomically representative bracelets with a hinged serpent head that opens to reveal the watch dial, as with the Serpenti Secret.
Bvlgari Serpenti watch on display at the SerpentiForm Exhibit
What elements of craftsmanship do you expect to see in a Bvlgari Serpenti watch?
The Serpenti models have very high-quality bracelets and the individual links fit together perfectly. We expect to see the highest quality when closely examining the crown, crystal, case, dial and bezel. A fake watch can actually be quite accurate in these areas, but often they use inferior materials and cut corners, such as using glass instead of synthetic sapphire for the crystal or poorly printed dials. Of course in any jeweled Serpenti, we look for only the highest quality diamonds or precious gemstones; the setting of these stones should be consistent and with very little tolerance.
Today’s technology allows for most of the external components of a Serpenti to be replicated quite well. However, the Swiss Made movement of these Bvlgari timepieces is always the last and most decisive way to authenticate and confirm the craftsmanship. The Serpenti watch will only use Swiss Made movements, containing multiple synthetic jewels. Modern day versions utilize very well-finished Bvlgari movements which are designed in a manner very unique to Bvlgari.
Ready to start your own Serpenti collection? Invest in the classic with our authenticated selection.