A beautiful 2,000-year-old sapphire ring thought to have belonged to Roman Emperor Caligula – and one of the ‘Marlborough Gems’ – is being auctioned off for about £500,000.
Caligula was a ruler from 37AD to his death four years later. He is believed to have owned the sky blue hololith made from one piece of valuable stone.
Caligula’s fourth, and last wife, Caesonia is said to have carved the face into the bezel.
Caesonia died shortly after her husband. As Dame Helen Mirren depicted in Caligula (1979), Caesonia was murdered within a matter of minutes. She is said to have offered her neck and asked the assassin to execute her.
The ring will be the focal point of attention at an exhibition of over 100 etched jewels hosted next week by Royal jewelers Wartski in London.
The jewels will be for sale, with prices ranging from £5,000 to £500,000. International attention has been drawn to the auction, with collectors from Japan and other countries queuing up outside the auction house just days before the event to get in on the action.
From 1637 to 1762 the ‘Caligula Ring’ was part of Earl of Arundel’s collection. It then became one of the ‘Marlborough Gems’.
This collection included 800 engraved gems that George Spencer, 4th Earl Marlborough, gathered in late 18th century and early 19th century.
John Winston Spencer Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke de Marlborough, sold them to pay for renovations of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.
David Bromilow of Bitteswell Hall in Leicestershire purchased the complete collection for the princely price of £35,000 (the equivalent of £2.2 million in today’s money).
His daughter sold the ring to Julius Goldschmidt in London at a Christie’s auction, 1899. Its provenance was unknown until it was auctioned off at Sotheby’s in London in 1971, fetching only £750.
Later, it was part of a private French collection until Wartski purchased it from Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth’s jewelers.
Only one-fourth of the Marlborough Gems’ are currently known, leaving the remaining unknown.
According to Kieran McCarthy (Wartski director), ‘This ring is one the most coveted ‘Marlborough Gems’. It was once in the possession the Earl of Arundel.
“It is entirely made of sapphire.” It is one of very few horoliths.
“We think it belonged Emperor Caligula. The etching depicts Caesonia, his final wife.
‘Prices range from £5,000 to £500,000 for the diamonds on display at the show.’ This treasure, although we won’t reveal its price to protect the privacy and privacy of potential purchasers is priced at the highest end of the spectrum.
Wartski will also display a collection Royal Diamonds as well as jewels by some of the most renowned 18th and 19th-century Engravers, throughout this exhibition.
Thomas Holman, curator, said, “It was an immense honor to be allowed to follow in the footsteps great historical collectors by gathering these set of engraved jewels.”
“It takes time and attention for them to fully appreciate their virtuosity, beauty.”
“My intention is to make people see these amazing little works and discover that there’s more to them that meets the eye. Caligula was a scandal because of his extravagant spending, especially on diamonds.
He was accused of incestuous relationships with his sisters and having open encounters with his cronies’ spouses. He is also alleged to have spent a lot of money and drunk rare diamonds, after soaking them in vinegar.
A planned invasion of Britain in 40AD only got as far as the Channel, when he instructed the men to collect seashells — and he once proposed naming his horse a senator. The Praetorian Guard killed Caligula and Caesonia along with their daughter the following year after getting fed up of his eccentric antics.
John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole, and Peter O’Toole were also in the controversial 1979 sexual historical picture that depicted Caligula’s rise & fall. Penthouse is the only softcore porn magazine to make this feature film. The exhibition runs October 1-7 at Wartski’s London headquarters on St James’s Street.