Artist Refik Anadol in front of his AI-driven immersive installation for Bulgari
Artist Refik Anadol created an AI-driven immersive experience for Bulgari

Next year, Bulgari will celebrate the 75th anniversary of its iconic Serpenti Tubogas bracelets, which have snaked the wrists of the rich and famous ever since Elizabeth Taylor made them globally desirable by wearing one on set during the filming of Cleopatra in 1962. But, while a straightforward retrospective might have seemed the order of the day to mark this milestone, the Italian jeweller has instead teamed up with AI digital sculpture pioneer Refik Anadol to kick off its celebrations in London this month.

The jeweller has commissioned the artist to create an immersive installation that will be hosted by the Saatchi Gallery in London, following a stint at Piazza Duomo in Milan last year. The Serpenti Metamorphosis installation features digital artwork controlled by artificial intelligence — which Anadol refers to as ‘Charlie’.

More than 200mn images of nature were fed into ‘Charlie’, and using machine learning, it created an undulating visual mimicking nature’s textures to convey serpentine evolution. Projected within an enclosed space, the experience is a multisensory one, with an AI-generated nature soundtrack accentuated with puffs of fragrance that Anadol created in collaboration with Swiss perfumer Firmenich. The formula for the scent itself was suggested by ‘Charlie’ after processing 500,000 odour molecules.

“I do feel like it is truly a dream state; a state I don’t believe exists in the physical world,” says Anadol of the immersive Bulgari experience. “It is a completely algorithmic reality that doesn’t exist but feels very much tangible.” More than simply acting as a branding exercise, Anadol says he hopes that Serpenti Metamorphosis will trigger feelings of “hope and positivity” towards “technology for humanity”.

view of the Installation Unveiling of Bulgari Serpenti Metamorphosis
© Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images for Bulgari
the crowd at Bulgari’s Serpenti Metamorphosis Party
© Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images for Bulgari

As technologies such as AI open up creative possibilities, and the metaverse becomes a more enticing space for luxury brands to operate in, more jewellers are experimenting with ways to transplant one of the oldest hard luxuries into the digital world via digital art.

Jewellery brand Francis de Lara worked with fashion platform Brand New Vision to create non fungible tokens of its real-world gem-encrusted, gold-plated silver eyeware. These digital artworks can be worn in metaverse worlds including Decentraland, where a treasure hunt was held for users to find and win a pair of the limited-edition Eve glasses decorated with virtual Zambian emeralds and Mozambique rubies that mirrored real-world counterparts mined by Gemfields. Gemstone mining company Greenland Ruby has also digitised its gems, collaborating with artist and jeweller Reena Ahluwalia to transform her ‘Fire Under Ice’ painting of one of its stones into an NFT. It went on sale on OpenSea, the most popular platform for buying and selling digital collectibles, to raise funds for the miner’s PinkPolarBear Foundation that aids polar research.

Jewellers have been reaching out directly to specific digital communities in a bid to ingratiate themselves.

Los Angeles-based jeweller Neil Lane collaborated with Audrey Schilt, the fashion illustrator and creator of Ralph Lauren’s well-known teddy bear character, to adorn one of the digital bears she publishes on Collab Bears, the NFT site she co-founded.

Meanwhile, Tiffany & Co caused a stir when it made its NFT debut in August exclusively with the CryptoPunk community, members of which collect a certain style of pixelated avatars. For 30 Ethereum apiece, the jeweller transformed 250 CryptoPunks avatars into custom necklaces, which were produced as both NFTs and real-world gold, diamond and gemstone piece.

Early access was given to 100 people on August 3 with the entire run selling out just two days later. It netted the jeweller somewhere in the region of $12mn, based on the cryptocurrency price at that time.

Tiffany & Co custom necklace

Sarah Ysabel Dyne-Narici, a jewellery designer based in New York, did not have to look too far to find a digital artist to transform one of her LoverGlyphs rings into a moving visual. Her cousin, the British-Singaporean artist Kara Chin, personalised the gold rings Dyne-Narici makes with hieroglyph-inspired symbols that tell the story of her clients’ lives. In the artwork created with Chin, each symbol and gem explodes and balloons into an object.

It took the cousins three weeks to create this “passion project”, and Dyne-Narici says she does recognise digital art’s ability to present the old-world creativity of handmade jewellery to new eyes. “Given the nature of precious materials, physical pieces are inherently limited — scarce,” she says. “Digital art, however, is the opposite; it allows a connection to a wider audience. It is universe sharing at a bigger scale. For me, it’s about showcasing objects through a different lens. Capturing a universe in a tiny object is exciting, but so is experiencing that universe digitally. Both are different languages, expressing the same vision.”

Indeed, for most jewellers now collaborating with digital artists, doing so is not about favouring one art form over the other, or eschewing traditional craft for futuristic fancy. Instead, it is simply about exploring new possibilities and creative worlds — on or offline — where the two can sit side by side.

Just as Anadol’s Serpenti Metamorphosis aims to transport visitors beyond the everyday into a world of AI-generated escapism, the same exhibition will later ground them with solid objects that are physical touchpoints in history by way of a display of Bulgari Serpenti jewels from the 1940s to modern day.

“In this project, the two disciplines become one and the same,” says Bulgari chief executive Jean-Christophe Babin. “What we wanted to achieve is a true metamorphosis of the luxury experience through art — which can be understood both as the art of jewellery and as the digital art of Refik Anadol. Over the course of history, luxury and art have often met, creating exciting unions, mixtures and solutions that the public has always appreciated. The same is true today for art and luxury 4.0; they must continue to dialogue in new forms that reflect a new society, experimenting with unprecedented forms of expression of beauty.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022. All rights reserved.
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