On the trail of antiquity
Carnelian gem of Hylas in a Renaissance style ring, late 18th century/Alexandria 1938
It is a large, expressive signet ring in the style of the Renaissance that we have here - but it was created, as its hallmarks and workmanship show us, in the early 20th century in Egypt. It must have been a historically versed smith who set the gem in the style of Roman antiquity in a ring that is clearly based on Italian Renaissance rings of the 16th century. Although the location of the ring may at first seem surprising, it is not inappropriate, considering that Howard Carter rediscovered Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings as recently as 1922. The interest in the antiquities and their advanced civilizations revived very intensively for a few years, and has not completely receded since then. The present gem also looks like an ancient Roman work of the years just before the turn of the millennium; that time when Mark Antony entered into an alliance with Cleopatra. However, the way it is cut and its very good condition suggest that it is a late 18th century work. Even in those days, an extensive knowledge of Roman antiquity was part of good taste. The gem shows a young man in profile, his curls betraying him: It is Hylas, companion of Heracles and one of the Argonauts, who met an untimely end when nymphs fell in love with him and drew him into the dark waters of a spring. Already Theocritus described him as "Hylas, the graceful, the wearer of the curling ringlet" (Idylls, XIII Hylas). This motif is quite appropriate for a ring in the style of the Renaissance, for Lorenzo de' Medici, the famous Florentine politician, was also once in possession of a carnelian gem of Hylas (cf. last fig., from: Erika Zwierlein-Diehl, Antike Gemmen und ihr Nachleben, Berlin 2007, plate 204, fig. 882). How the European gem of the 18th century came to Alexandria, where according to the hallmarks the splint was forged, we can no longer trace. It seems likely, however, that it was brought by a traveller with a passion for antiquities - possibly when he travelled to Egypt to see the Valley of the Kings with its recently discovered treasures. Docked in Alexandria, he gave the gem to a goldsmith who forged the magnificent setting; he then traveled on up the Nile, ring on hand, to tour the legendary valley at Luxor.
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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.
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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.