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Wearable ancient jewelry only gets better with age

This amethyst pendant dating to the Roman Imperial Period (circa 1st-4th century A.D.), strung on a modern cord with a modern silver-plated lobster clasp, achieved $1,800 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Although wearing precious jewelry has long symbolized wealth, power and social status, it was far more expensive in ancient times. Back then, jewelry was typically worn only by royalty and the wealthy class. Today, these historic adornments recall the artisans who created them, the privileged few who donned them and also the marvelous fact that they have withstood the test of time beautifully. Often such items are just as wearable as when they were new, and if they require any updating to ensure durability or fit, usually an imperceptible tweak or two are all that are required.

Ancient Greeks typically favored elegant, simply styled gold hair ornaments, armlets, rings, pins, pendants and necklaces embellished with rosettes, crescent moons, laurel wreaths, filigree and granulation – a term that describes finely patterned points of gold. Others wore more dazzling jewels such as the garnet and turquoise gold earrings Artemis Gallery auctioned for $4,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022.

A Roman (circa 100 A.D.) gold lunar amulet featuring a suspension loop, a corded border and applied spheres sold for £650 (about $720) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2022. Image courtesy of Apollo Art Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Romans were very superstitious, and members of the upper class often wore or carried tiny, stylish gold amulets in the forms of acorns, wild boar or sun discs to repel scorpions, safeguard their health and deflect disaster. Others relied on crescent-shaped amuletic brooches or pendants representing Luna, the Roman divine embodiment of the moon. In October 2022, Apollo Art Auctions sold a highly embellished 1st-century A.D. wearable beauty featuring a suspension loop, a corded border and applied spheres for £650 (about $720) plus the buyer’s premium.

According to Bob Dodge, founder and executive director of Artemis Gallery Ancient Art, Romans believed amethyst amulets offered not only protection and good fortune but also staved off drunkenness. An amethyst pendant sold at Artemis that realized $1,800 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021 was probably donned for Imperial Period (circa 1st to 4th century A.D.) symposiums – gatherings featuring drink and discussion of daily events. “This amulet could have been worn by male or female,” Dodge explained, adding, “but because of the cost of gold and the polished stone itself, it would have been someone from the elite class. A common individual never could have afforded such luxury. “

This Phoenician and Roman glass bead necklace, its components dating to between circa 400 B.C. to 400 A.D. and featuring striped, eye, and millefiori motifs in spherical, barrel, lozenge, and oblate forms, earned $600 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2022. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Ancient glass or gemstone beads, when restrung on new, secure gold chains, are alluring alternatives to contemporary necklaces, but their compositions may reflect the tastes of contemporary jewelers rather than their age-old, original designs. Furthermore, the beads themselves may hail from a wide range of times and places in the ancient world. The wearable, modern-looking necklace auctioned by Artemis Gallery for $600 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2022, for example, features Phoenician and Roman glass beads that span some 800 years, circa 400 B.C. to 400 A.D.

A Merovingian (circa 500–700 A.D.) gold ring, its band featuring a flared shoulder and an applied oval bezel set with a garnet, achieved $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021. Image courtesy of Apollo Art Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

During the Merovingian era (mid-400s to 751 A.D.), Frankish women typically secured their outer garments with decorative bronze or silver-gilt brooches. Only rich merchants, people of high social status, those associated with the church, and royalty could afford gold jewelry. Because Merovingian rings were produced in limited numbers, they remain highly collectible. In May 2021, a stunning, fully wearable gold ring, set with a cabochon garnet, realized $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Apollo Art Auctions. According to its director, Dr. Ivan Bonchev, a solid, high-carat gold ring such as this can usually be altered by one or two sizes in either direction without ruining its integrity.

In wealthy Byzantium (395–1453 A.D.), sumptuous gemstone and enamel pieces, some featuring Christian iconography, were especially popular. So were sizeable crescent and D-shape openwork gold earrings. In September 2019, a wearable matched pair, each depicting two doves, realized $997 plus the buyer’s premium at Apollo Art Auctions.

This pair of Byzantine (circa 1000 A.D.) matched earrings, each depicting two doves rendered in filigree, sold for £900 (about $997) plus the buyer’s premium in September 2019. Image courtesy of Apollo Art Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“Ancient gold is not as refined as modern gold, since it was often used as found in nature,” Dr. Bonchev observed. “Merovingian and Medieval gold, for instance, is mixed with silver, copper, platinum, lead and small quantities of other elements. Yet, because it doesn’t oxidize and is quite impervious to corrosion, most ancient gold artifacts are normally wearable. In fact, any type of jewelry could be worn as long as its antiquity is intact and the piece is examined and identified by an expert. However, it’s very important to highlight that, unlike modern pieces, ancient jewelry has to be worn with a lot of care. It should not be exposed to chemicals and is best saved for special occasions.”

A necklace with 50 ancient Eastern Mediterranean or Greek glass beads, dating to between the 4th century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D. and strung on a modern cord with a modern clasp, achieved $1,700 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2019. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Bob Dodge remarked: “Much like 2000 years ago, we might assume that antique wearable jewels would be purchased by someone rich, as a trapping of their wealth. But today we see people across all walks of life who buy these incredible wearable treasures. We have sold them to teachers, doctors, lawyers, business professionals, retirees, people in the entertainment field, students and more. The common thread is more likely to be a fascination with the ancient world than the depth of one’s pocketbook.”

Reach for the stars with ancient astronomical jewelry

A Greek gold repousse pendant picturing the sun, with circles representing stars, and dating to circa 4th-3rd century BC, realized $2,200 plus the buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy of Artemission and LiveAuctioneers

Humankind has marveled at the beauty of the heavens since well before written history. To the ancients, the sun was not merely a natural phenomenon, but also a god. Its daily journey across the horizon symbolized fertility and rebirth as well as strength and power. Luminous stars, which helped sailors and other travelers orient and navigate, and the silvery moon, which was revered for its recurrent, mystical phases, were objects of awe. These astronomical symbols not only featured in religious rites, but also fired the artistic imagination. 

Many early sun-shape pendants were fashioned as open bronze circles. Others were embellished with dotted rims, open crosses, rounded perforations or sun wheels — concentric circles with radiating arms. Yet shimmering gilded discs, some patterned with tiny sun motifs, may have been regarded as far more powerful.  

A gold lunar-shape Byzantine pendant, dating to circa 900, sold for £2,400 ($3,311) plus the buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy of Pax Romana Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Bronze Age lunar amulet-pendants were often crude crescents, meant to represent the sliver of the new moon. Others were graduated circlets, each featuring a single, large, pointedly off-center, round perforation, possibly shaped that way to indicate lunar phases. Yet gold and silver lunulae — broad, crescent-shaped, decorative collars unearthed in Ireland — may be the most distinctive Bronze Age jewelry finds of all.  

During the Hellenistic period, wearing gold jewelry was fashionable and indicated one’s wealth, strength, and social status. Some Greeks wore simple, sun-shaped circlets. Those who were more affluent favored pendants, brooches, medallions and armbands graced with sun motifs placed amid rosettes, repousse-point stars, filagree scrollwork, and granulation — delicate ornamental patterns worked in grains of gold. Many crescent-shape pendants, representing the Greek moon god Selene, also feature granulation and repousse-point stars.  

A bronze openwork solar disc plaque with radiating arms, dating to the 2nd millennium, realized £70 ($97) plus the buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy of TimeLine Auctions Ltd. and LiveAuctioneers

Jewels were among the few items that Roman women could call their own. They took full advantage of the opportunity, using jewelry to signal their tastes and rank. Gold, concave or discoid sun-shaped pendants were popular, and some were enhanced with concentric filigree bands, ornamental stars, granulated collars, delicate filigree or gemstone insets. 

During the late Roman Empire, women wore gold or silver gemstone intaglio finger rings depicting a radiantly crowned Sol Invictus (“Unconquered Sun”). Members of the lower classes, however, apparently relied on simpler bronze amulets in shapes they believed would provide personal protection: shields, sunbursts and open sun-whorls. Crescent-shape lunar pendants, which represent the Roman god Luna, range from coarse stamped bronzes to gold-and-garnet beauties with filigree spirals or decorative rosettes. Gold finger rings festooned with petite crescents and stars, as well as star-shape brooches, were also desirable. 

A Roman gold intaglio lunar crescent pendant featuring filigree spirals and cabochon garnets, and dating to the 2nd century, realized $4,200 plus the buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy of Artemission and LiveAuctioneers

Ninth-century Byzantine lunar-shape gold earrings, while small, may feature extensive openwork, floral scrolling and granulation, along with suspended glass beads. In addition to bright enamel detail, Byzantine brooches typically feature intricate gold twisting or openwork that seem to subtly embrace a full moon.   

A Viking silver lunar crescent pendant depicting a mythological face and dating to the 9th or 10th century sold for $800 plus the buyer’s premium in 2021. Image courtesy of Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers

Centuries later, the Vikings, who worshiped the sun, created       bronze and silver sun-wheel brooches as well as gold sun whorls and sunbursts. Since they worshiped the moon as well, many of these seafarers wore bronze, gold or silver crescent-shape amulets, brooches, pendants and pectorals. Some pieces were simple, while others featured scrolled wirework, geometric filigree or graceful granulation. Designs that Vikings regarded as protective included little raised repousse shields, fearsome mythological faces and winged monsters.         

This gilded Jewish-Islamic necklace featuring silver, coral and crescent-shaped ornaments sold for $650 plus the buyer’s premium in 2020. Image courtesy of Alma and LiveAuctioneers

From the 18th- through the mid-20th century, skilled Yemeni metalsmiths created exquisite gold and silver jewelry for betrothed women. Some of their filigree necklaces that follow the natural form of the neck are lunar-shaped. Others, explain experts at Alma Gallery in Tel Aviv, take the form of large crescent-shape pendants or amulet boxes and reflect shared Jewish and Islamic historic, cultural and artistic motifs. 

Each piece of ancient astronomical-themed jewelry is unique and embodies the culture, beliefs, social status and wealth of the person who first wore it. Most were highly valued, and thus were well preserved through subsequent generations. These ancient masterpieces of the jeweler’s art are not only priceless to those who wear them, but also timeless, as they allow one to see the sun, moon, and stars through ancient eyes.

Jasper52 to offer Viking and ancient jewelry Dec. 17

Nearly 100 pieces of Viking, ancient and medieval jewelry will be offered in a Jasper52 auction on Tuesday, Dec. 17. Rings, pendants and amulets, most of which have been restored for contemporary wear, are presented in this online auction.

Viking votive ax pendant, circa 900-1000, 1½in tall. Estimate: $750-$900. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Aug. 14 auction zeroes in on hot market for Viking jewelry

NEW YORK – The Vikings were known for their wanderlust and fearless adventures both at sea and on dry land, but when they weren’t looting and pillaging, they developed other skills that took them at the top of their game. Most notable was their talent for metalwork. Their ability to craft deadly swords, knives, spears and other weapons of war was balanced by the more genteel pursuit of designing and creating fine jewelry of silver and gold. Their handiwork has withstood the test of time and is admired by collectors worldwide.

Jasper52 has curated an outstanding 84-piece selection of Viking, ancient and medieval jewelry for an August 14 online auction through LiveAuctioneers. The array of striking designs dates back to the 8th to 15th centuries and includes rings, sorcerers’ amulets, symbolic pendants, bracelets and earrings.

Fine Viking warrior’s ring 9th-10th century AD, size 9¾. Estimate $700-$900

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Ancient Jewelry Pieces for the History Buffs

This week’s fine ancient jewelry auction offers a wide range of artifacts, from Bronze Age pins and bracelets to post-Medieval religious pendants. The curated sale also includes a large collection of Viking-era jewelry such as rings, mythological pendants and warriors’ amulets. History buffs and jewelry fanatics will love these spectacular pieces.

Heading the list of more than 125 lots is a bronze Viking pendant that depicts the god Odin on horseback. Obtained from an old British collection, the pendant is expected to sell for $1,000-$1,500.

Rare Viking pendant depicting the god Odin on a horse, circa A.D. 900-1100. Estimate $1,000-$1,500. Jasper52 image

 

A Viking-era silver ring with a pale blue stone is wearable and in fine condition. It has a $300-$400 estimate.

Viking silver ring with pale blue stone, circa A.D. 900-1100. Estimate: $300-$400. Jasper52 image

 

The eagle was a powerful symbol of strength and bravery in Viking culture. A bronze Viking era pendant bearing a  double-headed eagle motive is a rare artifact in excellent condition.

Viking era bronze pendant depicting a double headed eagle motif, circa A.D. 900-1100. Estimate: $700-$1,000. Jasper52 image

 

A bronze Celtic bracelet decorated in a snake motif is from the Hallstatt Culture, 800-500 B.C. It is a rare artifact in excellent condition.

Celtic Bronze Age coiled bracelet with snake terminals, Hallstatt culture, circa A.D. 1500. Estimate: $250-$350. Jasper52 image

 

A great example of Medieval jewelry is a fancy pair of Renaissance earrings of gold gilded silver and having elaborately decorated hinged central sections with tassels and gems. Obtained from an old Austrian collection, the earrings are estimated at $500-$700.

Pair of Renaissance gold-gilded earrings, circa 1600. Estimate $500-$700. Jasper52 image

 

Dating to ancient Rome is a pendant depicting Eros, the god of erotic love. The bronze pendant is in excellent condition.

Rare Ancient Roman bronze pendant depicting Eros; integral loop, circa A.D. 100-300. Estimate: $500-$700. Jasper52 image

Take a look at the full collection and find yourself traveling back in time.