Record-breaking garnet intaglio

A garnet intaglio ring, possibly depicting Caesar Augustus, was a highlight of our Fine Jewellery auction in April. When we found a gold ring among a group of jewellery consigned in January, we couldn’t have predicted that it would go on to sell for more than 450 times its original estimate.

Garnet intaglio

Garnet Intaglio Fellows Auctioneers 1

The intaglio was set in a gold ring. The intricate carving showed a man’s head in profile. Despite measuring less than 2cms in length, the level of detail in the carving is impressive, as is the condition.

Despite its age, the ring had only surface scratches and minor marks on it.

Intaglio is the term we use to describe the technique of carving into a gem or metal to leave a hollow impression. In the past, wealthy people would have used intaglio pieces to seal documents.

Augustus Caesar

We catalogued the garnet intaglio as possibly depicting Augustus. Augustus Caesar was an integral figure in the history of the Roman Empire. We rarely posthumously remember and praise historical figures to the extent that Augustus was, but his legacy was so great.

He was the First Emperor of the Roman Empire, ruling from 27BC until 14AD. After securing victory against Mark Anthony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31BC, he ended a bitter 13-year civil war. Historians often associate his reign with imperial peace or “pax Romana”.

He used his power to restore the Senate, while he personally acted as princeps. Translated to “first citizen”, he brought much-needed reform to the empire in this role. From the expansion of the empire to the establishment of a civil service, police force and fire brigade, he also introduced a system of taxation and implemented the expansion of the Roman road network. He not only reformed Roman politics but also made “hearth and home” take precedence. Through laws that encouraged marital and religious stability, he changed every aspect of Roman life changed under his reign. The importance of these core values was the founding message behind Virgil’s epic poem, The Aeneid.

Watch the intaglio sell at auction

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There was fierce bidding for the lot, with people participating from all over the world using online bidding platforms. A telephone bidder ultimately succeeded in securing the lot after heated bidding which lasted for over 17 minutes. It eventually sold for £90,000 (£117,000 including fees).

This was a record-breaking auction result for any intaglio that we have sold. Business Development Manager, Nicola Whittaker said, “I am delighted by the result from our Fine Jewellery auction. Not only did we achieve an amazing price for our vendor, we had the opportunity to handle an extremely interesting piece of jewellery history. It is rare to see such an intricately carved piece in such fine condition and it was a privilege to offer the ring for sale in our auction

Our Fine Jewellery auction featured 10 other intaglio pieces, one of which was dated back to 1AD. All 11 pieces sold extremely well, surpassing the auctioneer’s expectations, a carnelian fob achieved £12,870.

If you have a similar intaglio piece, why not see find out its value? Our valuations are free, with no obligation to sell with us. Our experts will value your item with an estimate, so you can find out what it could achieve at auction.

The process is simple. You can fill in a form online or book an appointment to visit either of our offices in Birmingham or London. Virtual valuation appointments are also available.

Nicola Whittaker | BSc (Hons)


Annabel Zarandi | BA (Hons)

Annabel Zarandi

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