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Handbag History: The Bulgari Serpenti

A look into the incredible past of the House's most important motif

Founded in Rome by Sotirio Bulgari, a Greek silversmith, in 1884, Bulgari was established on the Greco-Roman heritage of its namesake founder. Recognized first for its exquisite jewelry, the Bulgari family has defined a distinct aesthetic and an unparalleled reputation of Italian craft in its 140 years in business.

The brand’s early days were defined by Bulgari’s approach to retail and the art of selling, which evolved in the House’s first boutique on Via Sistina in Rome and later boutiques around Italy. Sotirio Bulgari’s vision was to curate a unique Italian experience through his work, which blended Mediterranean style with Sotirio’s attention to craft.

The Beginning

In the late 1940s, Bulgari’s most defining House motif was conceptualized, marking a new Chapter for the House. Enter: the Bulgari Serpenti.

An emblem of transformation, the mythology of the Serpenti began long before its ties to Bulgari, with roots in both Greek and Roman mythology; the Serpenti’s connection to the House of Bulgari is innate. Believed to possess transformative and regenerative powers, its spirit symbolizes renewal and rebirth.

Benedetta Barzini by Gian Paolo Barbieri for VOGUE US 1968
Benedetta Barzini by Gian Paolo Barbieri for Vouge US, 1968

Since its first use in 1948, the Serpenti has been integral to Bulgari’s DNA, and having been used for over 75 years, it has seen many versions. In those early days, the Serpenti was highly stylized, first appearing on intricate watches meant to be wrapped around the wrist.

The uniqueness of the shape was achieved through a technique called Tubogas, creating a unique flexible band of precious metal obtained without soldering. It was representative of Bulgari’s commitment to craft and innovation, which remains still to this day.

The Evolution

While the Serpenti will forever remain an integral part of the brand’s DNA, its use has significantly evolved. In the 50s and 60s, its usage saw further evolution by introducing precious stones like ruby, emeralds, and diamonds embellished onto the Serpenti head as its eyes, and later colored enamel was introduced.

Serpenti bracelet watches
Serpenti bracelet-watches, Vogue US, April 1971. ©️ Irving Penn
Bulgari advertising campaign from the 1970s. BulgariHistorical Archive Gaio Bacci
Bulgari advertising campaign, 1970s. ©️ Gaio Bacci

The 50s and 60s were some of the most inventive and transformative years in the Serpenti’s history. During this time, Bulgari created the first hybrid jewelry watch, with the dial concealed by a bejeweled Serpenti head.

Bulgari Takes Bags

Over its 75+ years in existence, the Serpenti motif has been integral to the House’s jewelry and timepieces. Still, it wasn’t until 2008 that small leather goods with the Serpenti motif were introduced, and later, in 2011, handbags.

Like Bulgari’s exquisite jewels, the House’s bags hold tight to their roots, handcrafted in the brand’s Florence Atelier with the unique attention to detail and craft that comes with being a jewelry-first House. Traditional techniques are combined with new construction methods, drawing on the House’s heritage.

Bulgari Exotic Serpenti Bag
BVLGARI SERPENTI FOREVER TOP HANDLE BAG, $5,500, available in boutiques

The Serpenti remains at the forefront of Bulgari’s leather goods offerings and has quickly become the brand’s signature bag line. From the brand’s emblematic snakehead closure that acts as a functional adornment to handles in the shape of a serpent, these details make Bulgari’s bags some of the most unique in the handbag world.

The Serpenti line offers a rich heritage, incorporated into designs that can be worn day and night. Ever-evolving, just like the Serpenti itself, Bulgari is one to watch, and now, under the direction of Mary Katranzou, the next chapter of its ongoing metamorphosis begins.


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20 days ago

Thank you. Articles like this are why I come to PB daily. Love learning about handbag, and in this case, watch and jewelry, history.

19 days ago
Reply to  Lori

I absolutely agree. To add, I love the vintage ads. There’s something sentimental about seeing favorite pieces through the ages. Plus, as a collector of vintage Tiffany advertisements, I subjectively find vintage luxury marketing campaigns to be incredible.

Megs Mahoney Dusil
Megs Mahoney Dusil
19 days ago
Reply to  jiljenner

I love it too!! So glad you both enjoyed this!

18 days ago

I’ve never seen Bulgari bags, jewelry, etc. until I had a layover in the airport in Japan. I walked by and was stunned by the quality of the leather and beauty of the bags! Also, the jewelry (Serpentine diamond bracelets and necklaces) were gorgeous! I feel the brand is grossly underrated! If I didn’t have a limit of $800 before Duty I would’ve been tempted to buy, but the 4% Duty was offputting! Well, that and I’m on a no bag purchase for this year.

14 days ago

The Serpenti bags are extremely attractive but don’t seem to do all that well in the resale market (good news for preloved bag shopping). However, were I to buy a Bulgari bag, it would be the Roma. Elegant and sophisticated.

13 days ago
Reply to  Passerine

Thank you, indeed it is elegant and sophisticated. Thanks for the share.