For those with an eye to the more unconventional, the current new trend taking the jewellery market by storm is one that started over 2,000 years ago. The increasingly fashionable alternative to traditional sparkling gemstones is carved Classical antique or antique-style cameos and intaglios.
A series of new publications and an exhibition at jewellers to the Queen, Wartski, has made antique gems the latest hot topic; and with a collection of over 60 lots of antique rings spanning two millennia, Salisbury auctioneers Woolley and Wallis are hoping their October auction will prove a hit with eager collectors.
“The collection has carvings from the Roman and Hellenistic periods, travelling through the Renaissance and into the 19th century, with signed pieces by talented carvers working in the antique style”, says Head of Jewellery, Marielle Whiting. “These pieces are incredibly detailed, unusually beautiful, and offer people the chance to buy something that is truly unique – something that we find is increasingly important to our buyers.”
With fashion leaning ever more towards quirky and vintage pieces, cameo and intaglio rings offer an alternative to the traditional cut and polished gemstones and can also be very affordable. Whilst the early Roman precious stone carvings can fetch six figure sums, unusual and good quality carvings can still be bought for under £1,000.
Whiting continues, “These rings were status symbols. They were traditionally worn by men of high-standing and the carvings frequently doubled as a seal, allowing powerful men during the Roman Empire to authenticate documents with wax seals. The subjects could be a tribute to the Gods they worshipped in order to gain their protection, or in the case of animals a statement of hierarchy. Julius Caesar was fanatical and charged the vestal virgins to Rome to safeguard his collection while he was away. Cameos were prized more than any other gem towards the end of the 18th century and hence used to display wealth and status at Napoleon’s coronation and wedding. Many were brought across to this country during The Grand Tour as unique and highly personal objects, which I think is part of their ongoing appeal today”.
Included in the collection being sold on 30th October are a Roman marriage ring, a Viking ring with a gold wire mount, a medieval cameo ring, a micromosiac ring by Raffaelli and a carved 19th century ring by Berini. The collection in total is expected to realise upwards of £60,000.