Charlize Theron attends the 91st Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California. Courtesy of Getty Images.

The Long Legacy of Celebrities and the Bulgari Serpenti

At the 91st Academy Awards, Charlize Theron's Bulgari Serpenti evoked Elizabeth Taylor.

by Nick Remsen
Feb 26 2019, 4:00pm

Charlize Theron attends the 91st Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California. Courtesy of Getty Images.

When Charlize Theron materialized on the Oscars red carpet Sunday she did so with a diamond-only, multi-wrapped, white-gold Bulgari Serpenti necklace (featuring over 75 carats) and a bracelet from the same collection coiled around her right wrist. Her frosty Dior dress provided the assist, but her icy Bulgari statement vipers scored the winning goal. She triumphed, thanks to those sparkling, expensive snakes.

Bulgari’s Serpenti motif has a storied history, and has, of late, come into fashion as a kind of "made it" statement for stars both young and established. A Serpenti item is considered by many to be a most coveted jewelry design staple, and though hardly discreet, it is surprisingly versatile. Wear it with a wetsuit while surfing, or a T-shirt going to get hungover coffee. A friend of mine, who is lucky enough to own one, told me: “It’s best when you wear it while naked.” I tried on a thick Serpenti necklace at Bulgari’s headquarters in Rome that was scaled with not only diamonds but also rubies and sapphires. It was heading to Moscow. I wanted to follow it.

The Serpenti motif was born in the late 1940’s out of a post-war push for modernism in design within the Italian capital. Its first iteration was as a watch made of linked-together metal in a method called “tubogas” (watch versions of the Serpenti still exist today). But as the decades progressed, the line expanded: the 1960’s saw Serpenti designs with colorful enamel insets. The watch design slithered back into fashion in the 1980’s. The asp’s head was introduced as an accent on a Serpenti handbag in 2011.

Arguably, until post-2000 digital consumption took over, the Serpenti’s biggest marketing coup came thanks to Elizabeth Taylor. The actress was a documented Bulgari fanatic. Her two-time husband, Richard Burton, was allegedly quoted as saying “the only Italian Elizabeth knows is Bulgari“ and "I introduced her to beer, and she introduced me to Bulgari.”

A publicity still of Taylor, snapped on the set of Cleopatra in 1962, sprang the Serpenti into the zeitgeist. She would wear the bracelet in the film (released the following year). In fact, an unverified report claims that Taylor bought it for herself in celebration of her $1,000,000 paycheck for the movie—the most ever for an actress at the time. Taylor also had jewelry as a perk written into her contracts. Whichever way it came into her possession, she was its harbinger, like Lady Gaga with Alexander McQueen Armadillo heels or Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen with Birkins, Starbucks and cigarettes.

There are many more recent examples of celebrities wearing pieces from Bulgari’s Serpenti nest. We’ve picked some of our other favorites, here:

Jamie King
Jaime King attends the 'Schiaparelli And Prada: Impossible Conversations' Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2012 in New York City. Courtesy of Getty Images.

Here’s Jamie King in 2012, at the Met Gala in New York City. She wore a Serpenti necklace backward, so that the snake’s body almost looks like a choker.

Jessie Biel
Jessica Biel attends the Premiere of 'Inside Llewyn Davis' at The 66th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 19, 2013 in Cannes, France. Courtesy of Getty Images.

Jessica Biel was snapped with a Serpenti necklace inlaid with emeralds at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. It should come as no surprise that the Serpenti is very popular in Cannes.

Naomi Watts
Actress Naomi Watts attends the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. Courtesy of Getty Images.

Naomi Watts at the Golden Globes in 2015.

Karolina Kurkova
Model Karolina Kurkova attends Madonna presents An Evening of Music, Art, Mischief and Performance to benefit Raising Malawi at Faena Forum on December 2, 2016 in Miami Beach, Florida. Courtesy of Getty Images.

Oh hello Karolina Kurkova, looking radiant in a Serpenti necklace, at an event thrown by Madonna at Art Basel Miami, 2016.

Kris Wu
Singer Kris Wu attends Bvlgari Festa high jewelry event at Bvlgari hotel on November 16, 2017 in Beijing, China. Courtesy of Getty Images

Nothing really better than wearing a Serpenti necklace as a fucking bowtie, like Kris Wu did here at a Bulgari event in China in 2017.

Laura Harrier
Laura Harrier attends the cocktail at the amfAR Gala Cannes 2018 at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc on May 17, 2018 in Cap d'Antibes, France. Courtesy of Getty Images.

The Serpenti, worn backwards once again, works perfectly here on the amazing Laura Harrier at Cannes in 2018.

Academy Awards
Charlize Theron