During Autumn 2019, in London, a sapphire ring from the Malborough collection has been sold at the auction for 500,000 pounds, creating a big clamour. This marvellous jewel, a masterpiece in miniature from 2,000 years ago with a woman’s head engraved on the lunette, is believed to be owned by Caligula, Roman Emperor ruling from 37 AD until his murder 4 years later.
Below: Caligula’s bust. Picture by Sailko shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons
To support this idea there is the hypothesis seeing the woman’s face belonging to his 4rth and last wife Milona Caesonia. Caligula, mainly known for his madness, either real of alleged, had a burning passion for his wife to the point that he would force her to walk naked in front of his troops so that everyone could admire her beauty.
Below: illustration of Caesonia
So it would not surprise whatsoever the chance that the emperor, in order to honour her appearance, had decided to get her traits engraved in a ring entirely sculpted in sapphire. A work made with care and mastery which would have guaranteed its preservation for 2 thousands of years. Sapphires are exceptionally hard, positioning itself just under diamonds in the Mohs hardness scale. Therefore it must have been hard challenge to cut and polish the precious stone, let alone sculpting the delicate portrait, especially for the tools which were available back then.
Some art historians though believe that the object does not match the kind of jewel popular at the time in which the successor Tiberius was alive, and by this, denying its possible royal paternity.
Besides the incredible background, the sapphire ring brought in some clamour when it was sold at auction due to its important presence in the Marlborough collection, where around 800 jewels strongly wanted by George Spencer, count of Marlborough, between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th one.
When the gems were sold in 1899, many of those disappeared in private collections and to this day the experts know only the position of one fourth of the jewels.
After the sale even the “Caligula’s” ring lost its trace for then reappearing in 1971 in London at Sotheby’s auction, where it was sold for only 750 pounds. It was added to a French private collection and the eventually bought by Wartski, the jewellers of Queen and King Charles.
Exhibited with success in the first das of October 2019 between 100 gems of the Royal Jewel Company, the precious ring has then been sold at auction some days afterwards.