Formica, the ant

Gold ring with Roman intaglio: Ant from Aesop's Fable, 1st/2nd century AD.

One of the most beautiful and exciting fields in the field of jewellery is the collecting of antique intaglios and cameos. These portraits, cut in hard stone, recessed or raised, offer such a wealth of motifs that a whole world of objects reveals itself to every interest. There are cameos with portraits of famous people and heroes, representations of deities and mythical events, memories of personal experiences and narrative scenes from everyday life. Since gems were widespread as jewellery in antiquity and probably every citizen wore such stones (and also gave them as gifts), a relatively large number of original pieces have survived outside museums. We are always pleased to be able to offer such original Roman gems, especially when the pieces are of museum quality, as is the case with this intaglio. It is a figure from a fable told to us by the Greek philosopher Aesop in the 6th century BC. We see an ant carrying an ear of wheat. The industrious insect refers to the story of the cricket and the ant, which is still known today. Even thousands of years later, the story is still familiar to us, so that we can deduce the entire content of the fable from the reduced representation of the intaglio alone. The strong moral impetus of the story to be industrious, to take care and not to waste one's time made it again and again the subject of art. We reproduce here a book illustration by the American graphic artist Milo Winter from 1919, which shows the astonishing continuity of the motif. The depiction and detailing, the form of reproduction and the comparison with other surviving intaglios allow us to date this piece to the 1st to 2nd century AD, the Roman imperial period in other words. The Roman poet Phaedrus (* c. 20/15 BC, † c. 50/60 AD) translated Aesop's fables from Greek into Latin shortly after the beginning of the Christian era, whereupon they became immensely popular throughout the Roman Empire. Cameos in carnelian were produced in large numbers at this time in Aquileia, among other places, and it is possible that our fable stone also originated here. Cf. especially Erika Zwierlein-Diehl: Antike Gemmen und ihr Nachleben, Berlin/New York 2007, p. 136, p. 143, p. 144 and others. The antique Roman carnelian originally came to us with its setting as part of a bracelet of the years around 1800 from a Cologne collection. The simple ring band of high-carat gold with the two arches to the right and left of the stone setting was created in our workshop according to models of the same period. Thus the Aesop gemme can now be worn again safely and with pleasure as a ring - and inspire new thoughts.

To possess antique cameos and gems was the claim of almost all great collections for centuries: We find spectacular pieces as well in the Green Vault in Dresden, in the treasury of Rudolf II, up to the great private collections like that of Baron Stosch in later times. The 18th and 19th centuries produced numerous large imprint collections of antique seal stones and gems, which represent the antique imagery of glyptic almost in its entirety. Thus they were not least an expression of a humanistic education. Of particular importance for the transmission of stone and shell carvings north of the Alps have always been travellers to Italy, who brought home impressions and carved stones as well as engraved shells from their educational journeys in order to enjoy the stories that the shells could tell. 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 professional training centre in the world for gem-cutters, although unfortunately the mythological theme has almost been lost as a subject.

We want you to be 100% satisfied! For that reason, we examine, describe and photograph all of our jewellery with the utmost care.

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.


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.