The Wellington Necklace

28th October 2021

An unusual necklace, believed to have been put together by the 2nd Duke of Wellington, is coming up for sale for the first time in over 40 years.

The early 19th century gold necklace combines 21 carved cameos and intaglios dating from the 1st century BC to the 18th century AD and formed part of the collection of Arthur Richard Wellesley, which was sold as The Wellington Gems in 1977 by Mayfair dealers, S J Phillips.

“There is something deeply sophisticated about these miniature artworks,” explained Jewellery consultant, Jonathan Edwards, of Woolley and Wallis, where the necklace is being sold in November. “Collecting gems of this type in the early 19th century was a mark of refinement and discreet appreciation of art and history. Wellesley (who became the Duke of Wellington after his father’s death in 1852) was one in a long line of this tradition of collecting which started (after the original Roman interest) with Lord Arundel and continued with the Dukes of Marlborough and Devonshire. It was very much a gentleman’s pursuit, with the Grand Tour becoming an essential part of a young man’s education in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

Among the 21 hardstone gems are rarities including a 2000 year old sardonyx intaglio of a female bacchanalian mask, a 17th century hessonite garnet cameo believed to be Francis Bacon, and a 17th century sardonyx cameo of a couple thought to be Antony and Cleopatra, which was carved at the time the couple were being made famous by Shakespeare’s play.

Whilst not achieving the level of fame accorded to the first Duke (the son of the Waterloo victor once reportedly said, “Imagine what it will be when the Duke of Wellington is announced and only I walk into the room”), Wellesley was nonetheless influential on some, including the Brontë family. Elements of his character are said to have inspired the character of Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre.

 “The 2nd Duke was clearly a collector of discerning taste and the way this necklace has been constructed to show off each individual gem shows his appreciation and patronage of Regency craftsmen,” continued Edwards.

The collection was put together in the first half of the 19th century, at a time when Wellesley was styled Marquess of Douro. Some 300 cameos and intaglios were included in the 1977 catalogue, but only a fraction have reappeared on the market since then.

The necklace is being sold on 18th November at Woolley and Wallis in Salisbury, appearing on the open market for the first time since 1977, where it is expected to fetch upwards of £10,000.

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