Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Snake charmer

Snake charmer

Bulgari’s new watch, the Serpenti Incantati, is a sparkling example of how designers can marry innovation with tradition

Bulgari’s new watch, the Serpenti Incantati, is a sparkling example of how designers can marry innovation with tradition

Melanie Grant | October 18th 2016

Bulgari’s Serpenti Incantati hypnotises the viewer like the python from “The Jungle Book”. Its ornate mechanism – an exposed or “skeletonised” tourbillon movement – is protected by a tightly coiled diamond-encrusted snake in a beguiling combination of high jewellery and high horology. 

One of Stigliani's sketches

The family company was founded in 1884 by a Greek jeweller called Sotirios Voulgaris, who had moved to Rome. His descendants adopted the snake motif as a reference to Greek and Roman mythology, where it symbolises healing and rebirth. In the 1960s, Bulgari made its first Serpenti watch, in yellow gold and diamonds. Elizabeth Taylor sported one on the set of “Cleopatra”, where her love affair with Richard Burton began. “I introduced Elizabeth to beer,” said Burton, “she introduced me to Bulgari.”

An obsessive collector like Taylor is exactly the kind of person that Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, Bulgari’s senior watch designer, has to keep happy. This means being in tune with the varying tastes of clients: some, like Taylor, prefer to flash their cash while others prefer low-key time-pieces. Stigliani must also balance the interests of Bulgari’s watchmakers, based in Switzerland, with the jewellery designers, based in Rome. “Bulgari is not an easy brand to manage as a designer,” he tells me. Who would win if the Italians and the Swiss couldn’t agree? “Bulgari is from Rome.” Case closed.

Good design is about restraint and consistency, and Stigliani admits one of his biggest challenges is knowing when to stop. With the Incantati he has succeeded in staying true to Bulgari’s style and also updating the Serpenti to meet the needs of modern collectors, an increasing number of whom are women. Gone are the days when women were fobbed off with a quartz movement with a flowery dial and pink strap. Buyers prefer mechanical watches because they are a better long-term investment. Here is a watch that takes female collectors seriously.

The pink gold version is limited to 50 pieces and the white gold version to 30 pieces. Price: POA

Readers' comments

Sign in or Create your account to join the discussion.