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Antique gold ring with "Sulphide"-gem of William Pitt, England circa 1815

This ring presents us with a glass gem from England in the years around 1815. In a simple setting of yellow gold, the back is decorated with a fine shell border, it presents us with an oval cabochon with the profile bust of a man, vividly and silvery bright against a black background. At first glance, the technique seems to indicate an "Essex Crystal", i.e. an intaglio cut on the reverse. However, the technique with which the bust was brought into the cabochon is completely different: it is a "glass sulphide", also known as "cameo incrustation" or "crystallo ceramie". In this case, the depiction was not engraved by hand from behind into the glass, but consists of a sulphide paste pressed into shape, which is completely enclosed by clear glass and thus appears plastically in the curved glass body. Sulphide gems first appeared in the 2nd half of the 18th century. Among others, the Scottish gem cutter James Tassie was famous for works in this technique, which he liked to use for jewellery from about 1760 onwards. At the beginning of the 19th century, the process was refined and was now mainly used to decorate drinking glasses and decanters. Our example shows the depiction of a great English statesman: it is William Pitt the Younger, (May 28, 1759 - January 23, 1806), who was appointed Britain's youngest Prime Minister in 1783 at the age of only 24. In his political career he led Britain through turbulent times, most notably the impact of the French Revolution and Napoleon's rise. Among his merits is his commitment to the abolition of the British slave trade. William Pitt was a frequent target of biting political caricatures during his career. His physiognomy, with its long, decidedly pointed nose, made him easy to caricature. We also see Pitt's characteristic profile in our gem, so there is no doubt about the identification. The depiction in the present ring probably follows a medal coinage from the year 1814, so that we can date our gem to those years. This museum-quality object with great rarity value is a collector's item from the time of King George III, and also makes an ideal gift for someone interested in politics and the history of Great Britain. The high quality gold ring is beautifully preserved and can still be worn today by ladies and gentlemen alike.

For centuries, the possession of cameos and gems was the claim of almost all great collections of decorative arts and chambers of curiosities, from the Green Vault in Dresden and the treasury of Rudolf II to large private collections such as that of Baron von Stosch in later times. The 18th and 19th centuries produced numerous large imprint collections of antique seal stones and gems, which were able to represent the antique imagery of glyptic almost in its entirety, as they were also an expression of a humanistic education. However, the art of gem-cutting has survived to this day in Italy, especially in the Bay of Naples, where it has been passed down from generation to generation. Today, the Scuola dei Cammei in Torre del Greco is the only large-scale training centre for gem-cutters in Italy. Of particular importance for the transmission of stone and shell carving north of the Alps have always been travellers to Italy, who brought home impressions and cut stones as well as engraved shells from their educational journeys to enjoy.

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You can rely on our years of experience in the trade and our expertise as a professional art historians for reviews of the antique jewellery. As a member of various trader organisations and the British Society of Jewellery Historians, we remain committed to the highest possible degree of accuracy. In our descriptions, we always also indicate any signs of age and defects and never hide them in our photos – this saves you from any unpleasant surprises when your package arrives.

Should you for some reason not be satisfied, please don’t hesitate to contact us so that we can begin to find a solution together. In any case, you can return any article within 30 days and we will refund the full purchase price.


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We want you to be 100% satisfied! That’s why we examine, describe and photograph all our jewellery with the utmost care.

If for any reason you are still not satisfied, contact us and we will find a mutual solution immediately. Regardless, you can return any item within 30 days and we will refund you the full purchase price.

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