A rare and important Roman intaglio-set necklace has sold for £28,000 to a telephone bidder in Hong Kong in Cheshire auctioneer’s Peter Wilson’s recent sale.
With countless watchers on the internet, a room packed with buyers and 10 bidders on telephones, the price was a multiple of its guide price, a factor that did not deter the eventual winner of a heated bidding battle, the collector at home in Hong Kong.
The necklace had been sent for sale by a Staffordshire man who had inherited it from his mother, an avid antiques collector. He did not know where she had acquired the piece but said she had taken it to the Antiques Roadshow some years ago where experts valued it at £15,000.
Auctioneer Robert Stones said, “The necklace was made up of 27 Roman intaglios, all authenticated as being mostly from the 1st century AD. It is most usual to find one intaglio set into a signet ring or perhaps four turned into cufflinks but to have so many together, all set as a necklace in gold, was something to celebrate. The auction was incredibly exciting – no one knew where the bidding was going to stop.”
The 27 carved semi-precious stones – amethysts, carnelians, agate and sardonyx – had probably been acquired by someone making the Grand Tour in Italy. They had been selected to portray animals and plants and arranged in a necklace, the sizes carefully matched graduated, sometime in the 19th century. All had been authenticated by Dr Martin Henig of the Institute of Archaeology in Oxford.
The term intaglio describes a design incised or engraved into the surface of a material. Each stone was carved by hand with images of gods and goddesses, the heads of rulers, and symbolic talismans. They were collected even in Roman times, Julius Caesar being among devotees.
In the Roman Empire every important man wore a carved intaglio ring. It was his ‘badge of office’ and proof of his social standing, used to sign and seal documents. When pressed into hot wax, his preferred family symbol carved into the face of a semi-precious jewel was transferred into the seal to prove its authenticity.