I t is easy to include all the colours of the rainbow to a painting or on a garment and considerably harder to do so for a piece of high jewellery, but you wouldn’t have thought so when seeing all the spectacular pieces that Bulgari has created over the years.
In addition to its iconic Bulgari Serpenti collection, the Roman jeweller is famous for its mastery of using colourful precious stones in its high jewellery creations. When Bulgari combines the two, it results in Bulgari Serpenti designs that are eye-catching for both its vibrant colours and technique.
Bulgari started using gemstones in its designs in the 1950s and it was during that time that the brand’s signature cabochon cut was born. With the cabochon cut, the gemstone is rendered fully smooth and curved, resembling one half of a ball or oval, a style that brings to mind the stately domes that mark Rome’s skyline.
The colours in Bulgari’s high jewelry came from gemstones such as emeralds, rubies and sapphires, and also from lesser known but just as intriguing stones such as rubellites, chalcedony and Paraiba tourmalines. However, the Bulgari brand is indelibly linked to emeralds, in part because Elizabeth Taylor was such a fan and would regularly visit Bulgari’s flagship boutique on Via Condotti in Rome when she was filming the movie Cleopatra. Richard Burton, her co-star in the 1963 film, gave Taylor a 23.44-carat emerald brooch as an engagement present, followed by a diamond and emerald necklace featuring 16 step-cut emeralds that total 60.5 carat as a wedding present. Subsequently, the brooch can be worn on its own or attached as a pendant to the necklace.
Taylor also has a Bulgari en tremblant brooch featuring a floral design set in diamonds and emeralds that was given to her by Eddie Fisher, her then husband when she began her affair with Richard Burton. En tremblant is French for “to tremble” and is a term to describe jewelry that flutter gently while being worn.
Bulgari’s magic with emeralds was even captured in a documentary. Titled Inside the Dream, the movie charts the entire journey of how the Magnifica Hypnotic Emerald necklace was created — from the beginning when it was a sketch to the end when actress Zendaya wore it to the premiere of Dune at the 2021 Venice International Film Festival. Part of the Magnifica collection of high jewellery that was unveiled the same year, the necklace features a 93.83-carat emerald from Jaipur, India, in the house’s signature cabochon cut. The necklace resembles a snake and is set with diamonds and emeralds, perhaps as a homage to the Bulgari Serpenti line, with the star emerald nestled between the head and tail of the snake.
Bulgari also developed expertise in using turquoise inlays, a particularly impressive technique when used for a Bulgari Serpenti creation, as each piece of turquoise had to be consistent in colour and tone and cut precisely to fit each of the scales that make up the Bulgari Serpenti body. The striking blue hue of the turquoise inlays make for an effective counterpart to the sparkling white diamonds.
Some of the Bulgari Serpenti pieces defy tradition by featuring gemstones that were cut and polished into beads, instead of the tubogas coil from the very first Bulgari Serpenti pieces, or the intricate scales from the later designs. One such design features more than 300 carats of rubellite beads, with each bead cut and polished till glossy and consistent in colour – further proof of Bulgari’s expert craftsmanship with gemstones. The Bulgari Serpenti rubellite, diamond and ruby necklace sold for about $1.3 million in 2023 and is one of the most expensive Bulgari Serpenti necklaces every sold at Sotheby's.
Another one features chalcedony beads, with the light pastel blue of the chalcedony matched with red tourmaline beads and amethyst beads. The necklace stretches longer than the usual Bulgari Serpenti creation, so long that it can also be worn around the waist, with the serpent head and tail of the necklace set with diamonds and mother-of-pearl. Bulgari showcased a similar piece at the Biennale des Antiquaires 2012 in Paris, featuring equally glossy beads of emeralds and turquoise discs.
With its reputation cemented by both its Bulgari Serpenti collection and its expertise with coloured gems, particularly the emerald, a high jewelry piece that combines both strengths are especially valuable to a connoisseur.