THE CHEAPSIDE HOARD : BURIED 17th CENTURY TREASURE !!
We went along to this, the Museum of London’s major exhibition, last November and I so enjoyed it – for a jewellery fan like me, this was a fascinating glimpse into the past, and a hitherto unheard of chance to see the real jewels that we only get to see in portraits of the time !! It really was the most wonderful exhibition of 2013 – fabulously exquisite and beautifully delicate 17th Century bling…
Here it was in the state it was found – a huge pile of tumbled, jumbled necklaces, rings, brooches, hat-pins, chains of delicate enamel flowers and other bits and bobs – an unbelievably gorgeous watch carved out of a single huge emerald, and a cascade of tiny bunches of grapes wrought from amethysts and emeralds, and made into a myriad pairs of earrings…
The rings were amazing – beautiful sapphires, diamonds and rubies, emeralds and amethysts, some decorated with white enamel along the gold shanks and across the back of the stones settings.
Here’s the story:-
June 18 1912. Midsummer in the city, and a normal, dusty, dirty working day for the labourers demolishing three dilapidated tenement buildings on the corner of Cheapside and Friday Street, in the heart of the City of London. These were buildings owned by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.
However, at some time that day the routine drudgery took an unexpected turn: the navvies literally struck gold. As workmen began to break up the brick-lined Tudor cellar with their picks, they noticed something glinting in the soil. Furiously casting aside the old brick, a tangled heap of jewellery, gems and precious stones came tumbling forth. What they had stumbled upon was the discovery of a lifetime. Some six feet below the brickwork, in a dank cellar, they unearthed a stash of tangled treasure including gold, jewels, rock-crystal dishes, carved gem figures, cameos, enamelled chains, clasps, bodkins, badges, buttons, beads, an exquisite perfume bottle and an emerald watch. They could not know it at the time, but this was the stock-in-trade of a 17th-century jeweller and had been lying undisturbed for 300 years. The circumstances under which it was buried are still unknown.
The Cheapside Hoard, as it is now known, was – and is – the largest and most important treasure of its kind ever to be found, a captivating collection of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewellery, and a true time capsule.
Since it was unearthed over 100 years ago, the Cheapside Hoard has attracted worldwide attention. The Hoard includes delicate finger rings, glittering necklaces, Byzantine cameos and a beautiful jewelled scent bottle. The range of gems is staggering – diamonds and rubies from India, pearls from the Middle East and sapphires from Sri Lanka as well as a unique Colombian emerald watch and a remarkable emerald-studded salamander brooch which combines cabochon emeralds from Columbia with table-cut diamonds from India and European enamelling.
The aforementioned gold and green enamelled watch set into a single, large hexagonal Colombian emerald that has been hollowed out to accommodate it. The cover of the watch is made of a lighter-colored slice of emerald – which may come from the same crystal – through which the watch face can be seen.
Another selection of bits and bobs – a gold and turquoise crook-shaped hat-pin, a beautiful seal ring in perfect condition, a tiny parrot carved out of an emerald, lots and lots of rings of course, and several drop adornments for attaching to the hair – see the portraits below !!
Most interesting of all – this scent bottle – a 16th or early 17th century creation made of gold overlaid with white enamel and set with opal plaques, rubies, pink sapphires and diamonds. To accompany the beautiful little bottle, the museum commissioned master perfumer Roja Dove to create a Jacobean perfume. The one-of-a-kind scent is not for sale but visitors to the exhibition can open a small screened frame in the wall, near where the scent bottle is displayed, to sample the fragrance !! Genius…
Also, below right is a beautiful cameo, which may well be of Queen Cleopatra and 2000 years old, from workshops in Alexandria:-
This is a gilded brass watch with calendar indications, hour striking and an alarm. The watch is signed G. Ferlite of Geneva, which dates its creation somewhere between 1590 and 1635. It is the only signed piece in the collection. This was given its own illuminated showcase and the whole story of how it was made and who made it. It’s possibly the onlypiece in the whole collection about which we have some accurate data !! It was absolutely exquisite too…
This priceless collection of jewels is the City of London’s most exquisite stash of buried treasure, and the single most important source of our knowledge on early modern jewellery worldwide. Mysteries abound, lost among the cataclysmic events of the mid-17th century; who exactly owned it, when and why was it hidden, and why was it never reclaimed? Theories abound of course, the most popular being the jeweller who buried his stock under the floorboards of his house for safe-keeping, and then fled the Great Fire of 1666, intending to return but never did – perhaps we’ll never know !!
HOW THE JEWELLERY WAS WORN
The exhibition gave a really good overview on how these jewels would have been worn at the time – jewellery of this type was worn by both men and women, and adorned their ruffs, hair and clothing in ways that we can only dream of. Amethysts and diamonds made a popular combination – the second jewel in the line of four looks like a ring, but actually it’s a hair adornment for wearing either in the hair or attached to a hat or head-dress. Jewels were adaptable – they could be worn in a variety of different ways – earrings weren’t just for the ears – they could also be attached to a hat or a ruff, and jewels were often just pinned onto clothing or pinned into the hair on a seemingly random basis, by men as well as women !! Portraits of the age show the aristocracy sporting jewels attached to every bit of their clothing and hair..
This exhibition is on until April – if you get the chance, do go – it’s simply fascinating !!