NEW YORK — When thinking of opulent and finely-crafted Italian jewelry and watches, Bulgari is the name that comes to mind. Since its inception in Rome in 1884, the company has perfected the art of making luxurious and streamlined pieces that push the boundaries of the medium, and has come up with many memorable lines. Among Bulgari’s most celebrated — and innovative — are its jewelry and watches made via the Tubogas technique, named for the distinctive look of gas carrier pipes that were widely used in the 1920s.

Bulgari Tubogas pieces are characterized by their unusual and flexible spiral, or coiled, design and were introduced in the 1940s. This technique allows jewelry and watches to wrap elegantly around the wrist or neck without the use of any visible clasp. Bulgari’s Serpenti line, in particular, gains its clean and rounded look from the Tubogas technique. “The name refers to the metalworking technique in which a metal tube is wrapped around a mandrel and heated, creating a spiral structure. This technique, originally developed for the production of flexible gas-pipe tubing, has been adopted in the goldsmith’s art to create flexible, wrap-around jewelry and watches,” according to Domenico Cecconi, a watches department specialist at Cambi Casa D’Aste, headquartered in Rome and Milan, Italy, who answered questions from Auction Central News via email. “The coiled design of Tubogas pieces can be reminiscent of the sinuous shape of a snake, giving the jewelry an elegant and fluid appearance. It is a popular style because of its easy wearability and recognizability,” Cecconi said.

A circa-1965 lady’s gold and diamond Tubogas bracelet watch by Bulgari and Movado shows how little the design has changed during the years. This example earned €15,000 ($16,195) plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Adam’s Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers.
A circa-1965 lady’s gold and diamond Tubogas bracelet watch by Bulgari and Movado shows how little the design has changed during the years. This example earned €15,000 ($16,195) plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Adam’s Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers.

Swiss watchmaking precision and Italian style combine in the Tubogas watches that Bulgari started making at its Switzerland watchmaking shops in the 1970s. “While production may be predominantly Swiss, Bulgari is an Italian brand, and its designs often reflect a distinctive Italian aesthetic,” Cecconi said. “Tubogas pieces embody this fusion of styles, combining Swiss craftsmanship with Italian taste and style.”

This gold Bulgari necklace and bracelet pairing with Tubogas links, set with clusters of cabochon ruby spheres and diamonds, attained €85,000 ($91,875) plus the buyer’s premium in July 2020. Image courtesy of Wannenes - Art Contact and LiveAuctioneers.
This gold Bulgari necklace and bracelet pairing with Tubogas links, set with clusters of cabochon ruby spheres and diamonds, attained €85,000 ($91,875) plus the buyer’s premium in July 2020. Image courtesy of Wannenes – Art Contact and LiveAuctioneers.

Necklaces having a Tubogas motif are perennially collectible, and examples in gold and set with gemstones typically command five-figure prices. A circa-1940 gold necklace and bracelet, both made with Tubogas links and set with clusters of cabochon ruby ​​spheres and diamonds, attained €85,000 ($91,875) plus the buyer’s premium in July 2020 at Wannenes – Art Contact.

A triple-row Bulgari Tubogas gold necklace sold for $28,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2023. Image courtesy of Fortuna and LiveAuctioneers.
A triple-row Bulgari Tubogas gold necklace sold for $28,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2023. Image courtesy of Fortuna and LiveAuctioneers.

While Tubogas necklaces are often enhanced with gemstones, those that are far less adorned also find favor. A triple-row necklace in 18K gold, sans gems, brought $28,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2023 at Fortuna.

This circa-1940 sapphire and diamond Bulgari Tubogas bracelet went out at €52,000 ($56,190) plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Adam’s Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers.

This circa-1940 sapphire and diamond Bulgari Tubogas bracelet went out at €52,000 ($56,190) plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Adam’s Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers.

Bracelets are perfect for proving the brilliance of the Tubogas style, as they wind around the wrist. These pieces often bring out bidders at auction, with prices typically soaring well above their estimates. One such example was a circa-1940 sapphire and diamond bracelet that went out at €52,000 ($56,190) plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021 at Adam’s Auctioneers. “This particular piece is a variation of the original Serpenti Tubogas bracelet, which emerged in the 1950s, during which time Bulgari began to experiment with more abstract Tubogas pieces,” according to the auctioneer’s catalog description of this bracelet.

A Bulgari Tubogas gold bangle bracelet having peridot, pink tourmaline, and amethyst cabochons realized CHF13,000 ($14,715) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2022. Image courtesy of Schuler Auktionen AG and LiveAuctioneers.
A Bulgari Tubogas gold bangle bracelet having peridot, pink tourmaline, and amethyst cabochons realized CHF13,000 ($14,715) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2022. Image courtesy of Schuler Auktionen AG and LiveAuctioneers.

A Tubogas bangle in gold united a simple design with gemstones to give it that extra ‘wow’ factor. Featuring peridot, pink tourmaline, and amethyst cabochons, the bracelet realized CHF13,000 ($14,715) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2022 at Schuler Auktionen AG.

A circa-2000 Bulgari Serpenti Tubogas bracelet watch in three different kinds of gold made €10,500 ($11,340) plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022. Image courtesy of Cambi Casa D’Aste and LiveAuctioneers.
A circa-2000 Bulgari Serpenti Tubogas bracelet watch in three different kinds of gold made €10,500 ($11,340) plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022. Image courtesy of Cambi Casa D’Aste and LiveAuctioneers.

Bulgari’s jewelry watches have found ardent audiences as well. A circa-2000 Bulgari Serpenti Tubogas bracelet watch in alternating links of white, rose, and yellow gold earned €10,500 ($11,340) plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022 at Cambi Casa D’Aste. “The Bulgari Serpenti Tubogas women’s gold banded bracelet watch is desirable for its combination of iconic design, fascinating symbolism, superior craftsmanship, versatility, and the prestige of the Bulgari brand,” Cecconi said.

These watches have changed little during the years. While there are minor adaptations in how many colors of gold are used — either one or three — and the watch faces (light vs. black), they have retained their signature look. One such watch dating to the 2000s took €14,000 ($15,130) plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021 at Colasanti Casa D’Aste.

This Bulgari Tubogas watch bracelet from the 2000s took €14,000 ($15,130) plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021. Image courtesy of Colasanti Casa D’Aste and LiveAuctioneers.
This Bulgari Tubogas watch bracelet from the 2000s took €14,000 ($15,130) plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021. Image courtesy of Colasanti Casa D’Aste and LiveAuctioneers.

Similarly, buyers’ appetites for Tubogas pieces remain strong. “At the moment, the auction market for Bulgari Tubogas jewelry and watches is doing well. This is because Bulgari Tubogas pieces are considered iconic and have some value in the luxury jewelry and watch market,” Cecconi said, adding, “Rarer pieces, vintage pieces, or pieces with special features have more interest from collectors and buyers. Buyers usually look for pieces in good condition and preferably complete with original documentation, such as a box and certificate.”

According to Cecconi, private Italian collectors tend to target choice Bulgari Tubogas jewelry, but the market is global and competitive, with pronounced interest from Asia, the United States, and Europe. “In terms of buyer demographics, pieces can attract both men and women, as they can be worn by both sexes,” he said. “However, given the nature of luxury jewelry and watches, it may be that most buyers are women. As for the age range of buyers, it can vary greatly depending on the specific piece and its appeal, but in general, these are often individuals who are in a financial position to afford investments in luxury goods.”

A Bulgari 18K gold and diamond Tubogas wristwatch with a Vacheron & Constantin watch movement brought $17,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Freeman’s Hindman and LiveAuctioneers.
A Bulgari 18K gold and diamond Tubogas wristwatch with a Vacheron & Constantin watch movement brought $17,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Freeman’s Hindman and LiveAuctioneers.

Besides having a luxurious look, the Tubogas design allows for comfort and flexibility, as seen in pieces such as an 18K gold and diamond wristwatch that has a Vacheron & Constantin watch movement and a watch face surrounded by diamonds. It brought $17,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022 at Freeman’s Hindman.

Bulgari Tubogas jewelry made during the 1960s and 1970s, which became known as the ‘Dolce Vita’ years, are emphatically coveted. A circa-1960s tri-color (white, rose, and yellow gold) bracelet watch with a black dial brought $14,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2018 at Heritage Auctions.

Though they were inspired by a decidedly unglamorous industrial innovation that is now a century old, Bulgari Tubogas jewelry and watches are popular and likely to remain so, thanks to the quality of their manufacture and their timeless and iconic look.

[/av_textblock]