Serpents in jewelry, precious and sinuous symbols

today3 November 2023

Written by: Claudia Carletti


The intertwining of serpents with human culture and symbolism spans millennia, captivating artists, artisans, and scholars’ imaginations. As Gislain Aucremanne eloquently articulated in his presentation at GemGenève, serpent symbolism in jewellery is a testament to the intricate interplay between myth, art, and human perception.

Aucremanne’s talk began with a poignant reflection on the Laocoon, a renowned sculpture housed in the Vatican Museum. This marble masterpiece, depicting the entanglement of a priest and his sons with serpents sent by the gods, serves as a touching allegory for the complex relationship between humanity and divine forces. While superficially portraying serpents as agents of aggression and destruction, Aucremanne adeptly highlighted the more profound symbolism underlying this iconic artwork. The serpents, he explained, are not mere adversaries but divine messengers executing the will of the gods, challenging conventional perceptions and inviting a more nuanced interpretation.

Drawing parallels between classical art and contemporary jewellery, Aucremanne underscored the enduring influence of serpent motifs across different epochs. From Greco-Roman paintings to exquisite bracelets crafted by renowned jewellery houses like Bulgari, the sinuous forms of serpents continue to captivate and inspire artists and collectors alike. Far from evoking fear or malevolence, these serpents exude a sense of elegance and allure, inviting admiration and reverence.

Beyond their aesthetic appeal, serpents in jewellery carry profound symbolic significance rooted in ancient civilisations. In Egypt, serpents were revered as guardians and protectors, symbolising the divine power of the sun god Ra and serving as potent talismans against chaos and evil forces. The intricate symbolism embedded in Egyptian jewellery, as exemplified by the double-headed bracelet worn by the Divine Adorator Karomama, reflects the profound reverence for serpents in ancient culture.


Transitioning to the Greek and Roman periods, Aucremanne elucidated the evolution of serpent symbolism from divine protectors of altars and households to potent symbols of beauty and elegance. The Greco-Roman penchant for incorporating serpents into jewellery highlights their enduring appeal as symbols of power and sophistication. Whether adorning the arms of aristocrats or embellishing household altars, serpent motifs permeated every facet of ancient life, underscoring their pervasive influence.

In the captivating world of jewellery, few motifs possess the timeless allure and rich symbolism of the serpent. It is a journey through history, culture, and myth, exploring the multifaceted significance of serpents in jewellery design.

Elizabeth Taylor’s iconic portrayal of Cleopatra in the eponymous film serves as our starting point, shedding light on the mesmerising allure of serpents in ancient Egypt. Taylor’s immersion in the role deepened her connection to Rome and sparked a fascination with Bulgari jewellery, particularly their exquisite serpent designs. As she adorned herself with serpentine bracelets on and off set, she unwittingly contributed to the legacy of serpents in jewellery, infusing them with a modern sensibility and timeless elegance.

The Bulgari brothers, Giorgio and Constantino, astutely recognised serpents’ potent symbolism, drawing inspiration from their Greek origins and Rome’s rich artistic heritage. Their mastery of jewellery craftsmanship culminated in creating iconic serpent pieces, epitomised by the legendary bracelet Elizabeth Taylor wore. Yet, the origins of this exquisite piece remain shrouded in mystery, adding to its allure and mystique.


Transitioning to the Art Nouveau period, we witness a reimagining of serpent symbolism through the lens of artists like Lalique. In Lalique’s evocative creations, serpents emerge as symbols of danger and allure, blurring the boundaries between fear and fascination. The ambiguity of serpent imagery reflects the complexities of human perception, inviting interpretation and introspection.

As we delve deeper into the biblical narrative, we confront the dichotomous symbolism of serpents as agents of temptation and transformation. From Adam and Eve to Medusa, serpents assume multifaceted roles, embodying both sin and salvation. The evolving portrayal of serpents reflects shifting cultural attitudes and theological interpretations, challenging conventional notions of good and evil.

The alchemical concept of Ouroboros further illuminates the transformative power of serpents, symbolising eternal cyclical renewal and spiritual rebirth. Bulgari’s evocative 1969 necklace, with its mesmerizing enamelwork and diamond accents, embodies the timeless allure of the Ouroboros motif and invites contemplation on the cyclical nature of existence.


Love and eternity converge in the symbolism of serpents, as exemplified by Queen Victoria’s engagement ring and the Victorian-era bracelet adorned with forget-me-nots. With their associations with eternity and renewal, Snakes become potent symbols of enduring love and commitment, transcending cultural boundaries and temporal constraints.

Across continents and cultures, from Asia to Africa, serpents emerge as universal symbols of protection, power, and transformation. Whether guarding temples in Thailand or adorning ceremonial headdresses in Africa, serpents embody the inherent duality of existence, symbolising both danger and divinity.

In the realm of women’s empowerment, serpents assume new significance as symbols of strength and resilience. From Sarah Bernhardt to Elizabeth Taylor and Diana Vreeland, powerful women throughout history have embraced serpent jewellery as an expression of their inner strength and defiance against convention.

As we reflect on the myriad meanings of serpents in jewellery, we are reminded of their enduring relevance and universal appeal. From ancient myths to modern empowerment, serpents continue to captivate and inspire, inviting us to embrace the complexities of life and celebrate the transformative power of symbolism.

As Aucremanne aptly illustrated, the symbolism of serpents in jewellery transcends cultural and temporal boundaries, weaving a rich tapestry of meaning that spans civilisations and eras. From ancient Egypt to contemporary haute couture, the sinuous forms of serpents continue to captivate and inspire, serving as potent symbols of beauty, power, and transformation.


In conclusion, Aucremanne’s insightful exploration of serpents in jewellery offers a compelling glimpse into the enduring allure of these sinuous symbols. As we continue to unravel the mysteries of human creativity and cultural expression, let us not forget the profound significance of serpents in shaping our understanding of art, myth, and the human experience.


Speaker: Gislain Aucremanne


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