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Richard S. Cunanan
December 22, 2016     |    

The Snake Resurrected

Bulgari's Serpenti watch is now available in an updated form.

With a new form of clasping the piece around your wrist, Bulgari revisits and reimagines the union of the snake. At the heart, though, it’s still the same beautiful and tempting creature, albeit a little bit reconstructed these days. Psychology warns us about the danger of anthropomorphism; literature, instead, celebrates it. Anthropomorphism is the tendency we humans have to assign human feelings and motivations to things that we see. We dress up dogs and think they’re cute; we see human faces in cloud formations. It’s a natural tendency, perhaps, although one shouldn’t take it too far. We look at the world and see ourselves in it, and thereby strive to understand ourselves a little bit better. Or else to just impose our will upon, say, a pile of rocks that was just sitting there passively until we decided they looked like our mother-in-law or something.

Still, there it is, our tendency. “Man is the measure of all things” we say to ourselves, forgetting that this only applies if you are a man. Or a woman.

But it IS true — you can learn a lot about nature simply by stepping outside yourself.

No creature takes that lesson more completely—and literally – than the snake, which takes this transformation as part of the life cycle. Every so often, the snake sheds its skin, emerging as from a chrysalis made of its own body. It leaves the old part of itself behind, and comes forth shiny and new. One can risk anthropomorphizing, if you assign meaning to this, but it’s hard not to think of the snake’s emergence as a rebirth. One can imagine sliding forth from the body of your old life, leaving all your old worries and problems behind you in the dust. You see these snake skins left behind in the wild, if you know where to look. Old lives, left behind, with a new one taken on as easily as breathing. It’s an attractive concept.

To some Western thinkers, the snake symbolizes evil. Others see it as an icon of wisdom. Perhaps that’s not a coincidence: certainly much of the world’s population has come to disparage knowledge, preferring instead… well, it’s tough to say what they’re discarding it in preference of. But the old saying comes to mind: If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

As Bulgari entered this new era, they presented to their customers a reinterpretation of an old favorite of theirs, and indeed of ours. The Bulgari Serpenti watch has a long and successful history with the company, and it comes to life anew, shiny and fresh. And we see it now with fresh eyes.

The Serpenti is a twining example of Bulagri’s skill as jewelmaker and watchmaker both. The original watches were small timepieces secreted in the head of a gem-inlaid snake. The body of the snake twisted around the arm and wrist of the wearer, and the watch, discreetly concealed, helped tell the time for this timeless creature and its erstwhile master.

Bulgari has had the Serpenti on its catalogue pages for a long time. In older versions, the snake locked around the wrist by use of an internal spring. Nowadays, the Serpenti makes use of a double-pressure button. This more intimate model has adjustable links (and what links, as we will see!) The watch is therefore more exactly fit to the arm of the wearer. The old Serpentii watches (the name used to have a double ii in it) trailed halfway down the forearm; the new watches are shorter, more intimate and perhaps more intricate… but get a good look at the timepieces and their serpentine bodies, and you will see that the snake is no less striking than it used to be.

The Serpenti is a twining example of Bulagri’s skill as jewelmaker and watchmaker both.

Where once the Serpentii was a forearm decoration, the new Serpenti with a single i is more of a wrist-borne wristwatch. The new configuration, called head-over-tail with no small sense of humor, adheres more closely to the classic wristwatch’s location. It’s still wrapped lovingly around its mistress, but it’s a little more discreet now, as these things go.

Where the tail meets the head is where the bracelet joins together and clasps hands with the wearer; but it is in the head itself that the watch can be found. The previous Serpentii models had a snake’s head, which served as a cover that would snap up to reveal the time. In the modern Serpenti watch, the time is always on display, no bones about it, but it is so tastefully done that it in no way interferes with the appearance of the snake.

In its new form, the Serpenti watch comes to life in four different models. The four versions of the new Serpenti all have articulated bracelets, with the time display residing in the head. Quartz movements, all of them – those snake heads are pretty small, after all.

The pink-gold model and the white-gold model both have inlays of diamonds along each scale, as well as diamond insets on the hour indices. These versions do a fine job of capturing the essence of the snake, with their metal-skin bodies sporting a single row of diamonds at every point of articulation. The sleek metal is offset by the insets, as it were, and the diamonds serve to highlight the smooth clips of metal that layer over each other to form the body.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the beauty of the diamond-paved model. This is probably the flagship new Serpenti – often, it happens that fully paving a watch model in diamonds is the way of creating the collection’s top of the line. And so too it is here. The gemstones really make the serpent come alive, with the segments of the body each catching the light at a slightly different angle. In pink gold the gems contrast beautifully against the precious metal, making the patterns more distinct, whereas in the white gold fully-paved model, the house went all out in completely covering the dial with diamonds, and the pattern actually becomes more of a seamless flow.

The fully diamond-set Serpenti watches are lovely, to be sure, and for many Bulgari fans that would be considered the best the watch model had to offer.

The fully diamond-set Serpenti watches are lovely, to be sure, and for many Bulgari fans that would be considered the best the watch model had to offer. But my favorite of the new Bulgari Serpenti line is the one rendered in red lacquer. The striking red of the lacquered version is just too eye-catching to ignore. It may not be the priciest of Bulgari’s new nest, but to me this model is the one that makes me take a step back, not in fear but in appreciation.

With the new model Serpenti watches, Bulgari is poised to set another generation of snake-worshipers up for the coming years. In the garden of Bulgari, the Serpent’s temptations are still well worth listening to.

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