A 1985 Tiffany & Co. and Elsa Peretti 18K gold necklace with a snake head clasp earned $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Freeman’s and LiveAuctioneers

Snakes, which have slithered through lore and ritual since time immemorial, traditionally symbolize both good and evil. In many Abrahamic cultures, they represent seduction and sexual desire, while in others they represent health, fertility, growth, transformation and rebirth. In Egypt, Nile cobras, regal symbols of sovereignty, adorned pharaohs’ crowns. In Greek mythology, Asclepius, the god of medicine, carried a snake-entwined staff. In contrast, Medusa, a monstrous winged gorgon, had live snakes in place of hair. 

A circa-1970s Bulgari enamel and 18K gold snake bracelet-watch with a Jaeger Le Coultre movement achieved $132,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021. Image courtesy of Bidhaus and LiveAuctioneers

The snake’s alluring duality, combined with its sinuous, fluid lines, has inspired jewelry designs ranging from wrap-around rings to coiled earrings. Greeks favored gold circlets whose snake-head terminals devoured their tails – an age-old motif symbolizing spiritual transformation as well as the eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth. Others wound wondrously worked gold bangles sporting double-snakes, symbols of wisdom, beauty, and protection from evil, around their wrists or arms. 

This Roman-Egyptian gold snake bracelet dating to the 1st Century BC to 1st Century AD sold for $4,750 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers

Slender, spiraling, snake-themed Roman gold hair rings, earrings, armlets and bracelets have survived to the present to reach the auction block. In May 2022, Hindman sold a gold scaly-skinned Roman-Egyptian snake bangle, its double-heads poised to strike and its tongues flicking, for $4,750 plus the buyer’s premium.

A Gucci 18K gold hinged cuff bracelet in the form of a fang-bearing snake with an amethyst set in its head realized $36,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Joshua Kodner and LiveAuctioneers

Snake-themed jewelry spread through Europe from the mid-1800s, after Prince Albert marked his engagement to Queen Victoria by designing an ornate coiled-snake engagement ring as a symbol of everlasting love. Other pieces linking snakes with love soon appeared. Snake-head pendants suspended on slinky gold chains dangled plump, tender hearts from their reptilian mouths. Elegantly enameled snake-shaped bracelets shimmered with gemstones. Brooches coiled coyly into snaky figure-eight infinity symbols or, as with a radiant garden snake (lazing-at-his-leisure) pendant-pin that realized $1,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Reverie auction house in September 2020, looped into remarkably realistic replicas. 

A Victorian silver snake pendant-pin set featuring blue-green turquoise sold for $1,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Image courtesy of Reverie and LiveAuctioneers

Still other pieces, such as an exceptional gold and silver amethyst, emerald and diamond snake necklace featuring an articulated coiling body in adjustable lengths and dating from the same era, earned £26,000 (about $31,390) plus the buyer’s premium at Elmwood’s in August 2021. 

A 19th-century gold, silver, amethyst, emerald and diamond snake necklace, sporting an articulated coiling body in adjustable lengths, earned £26,000 (about $31,390) plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Elmwood’s and LiveAuctioneers

Asymmetrical snake motif brooches, stick pins, pendants, cufflinks, rings and earrings also cunningly curled though the Art Nouveau Era. Beginning in the 20th century, prestigious jewelry houses offered interpretations all their own. Cartier introduced its famed undulating platinum snake necklace in 1919 and its spectacular, fully flexible life-size snake necklace, scaled with 2,473 brilliant and baguette-cut diamonds, followed decades later. In addition, the company produced a series of vibrant 18K gold snake rings set with small round-cut pave set diamonds and gleaming ruby eyes. 

This Cartier 18K gold snake ring with round-cut, pave-set diamonds and round-cut ruby eyes attained $7,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Image courtesy Leonard Auction, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

In the 1940s, the Italian luxury fashion house Bulgari, inspired by ancient Roman armlets, introduced its popular and powerful Serpenti collection. Although some of its watch-bracelets reflected the hues of actual snakes, the majority were produced in more striking scaly palettes. A circa-1970s multi-colored enamel bracelet-watch featuring two pear-shape diamond eyes and a Jaeger Le Coultre movement achieved $132,500 plus the buyer’s premium at Bidhaus in May 2021.

A multi-coil circa-1970 Bulgari Vacheron Constantin gold and diamond Tubogas cuff watch realized $46,250 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Pacific Global Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Bulgari also gained fame for its sensational snake-like Tubogas timepieces, rings, bracelets and necklaces. These supple treasures, created by interlocking coiled bands of steel or gold horizontally around long flexible tubes, seemingly brought reptilian forms to life. 

A pair of 18K gold, ruby and emerald Boucheron Kaa snake cocktail earrings sold for $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2020. Image courtesy of Hampton Estate Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Maison Boucheron, a jewelry house based in Paris, distinguished itself with its Serpent Boheme Collection. The line’s delicate, subtle designs employ slim, chased, scale-like strands of gold enfolding elegant, teardrop-shape diamond, lapis lazuli, coral, citrine or garnet “snake heads.” But Boucheron’s Kaa collection, inspired by a massive rock python indigenous to Pakistan, India and Southeast Asia, is far more fearsome. Kaa clip-on cocktail earrings, glinting with rubies and emeralds, rival Kaa crossover rings, fashioned with mouths agape and fangs flashing, for imbuing a superlative jewelry design with a hint of malevolence.

A double-spiral 18K white gold and black enamel snake bracelet by Zendrini realized €9,500 (also $9,500) in December 2021. Image courtesy of Colasanti Casa D’Aste and LiveAuctioneers

Snake motifs are timeless, uniting primal beauty with long-established cultural allusions. When worn as jewelry, these mysterious curving shapes can project personal strength, self-confidence and power.