The Jewels of René Lalique

The jewels of René Lalique


Introduction: The name Lalique conjures up images of opalescent glassware decorated with flowing organic lines, highlighted with birds, cherubs and the female form.

However, René Lalique was also a leading designer of art nouveau jewelry, producing some of the finest pieces of the twentieth century. He aligned symbolist and art nouveau themes, using such diverse materials as baroque pearls, horn, ivory, amber, tortoiseshell and glass, combined with fine plique a jour enamelwork.

Designing for such prestigious houses as Cartier and Boucheron his reputation grew. He attracted an influential clientele, notably the diminutive tragic actress Sarah Bernhardt, for whom he produced a series of jewelry from 1891 to 1894.

This article will give an overview of his life, relating specifically to his jewelry work, key design features, marks used and auction values. René (Jules) Lalique (1860-1945):

  • 1860:Born to a Parisian merchant at Ay on the Marne. Studied design while at school.
  • 1876:Apprenticed to jeweler Louis Aucoc.
  • 1878:Went to study at Sydenham College, England. Entered various design competitions.
  • 1880:Returned to Paris.
  • 1881:Worked for jeweler Auguste Petit. During this period he also designed such items as fans and wallpaper. Contributed designs to the magazine ‘Le Bijou’. He then formed a partnership with a Monsieur Varenne, signing designs ‘Lalique et Varenne, rue de Vaugirard 84’.
  • 1884:Exhibited, for the first time, his own jewelry at the Louvre.
  • 1885:He managed the workshops of jeweler Jules Destape.
  • 1886:Lalique took over Destapes’ workshops.
  • 1890:Business expanded and moved to 20 rue Therese. Began producing the Bernhardt jewels.
  • 1894:Exhibited at the salon of the Societe des Artistes Francais, for three years. It was at this time that he began to develop his interest in glassmaking.
  • 1900:The Paris Exhibition of this year saw his works acclaimed by the aristocracy, and his jewels became fashionable with the wealthy classes.
  • 1902:Moved his workshop to 40 Cours la Reine. Exhibited at the International Exhibition, Turin.
  • 1903:Exhibited at the International Exhibition, Berlin and at the Grafton Galleries, London.
  • 1904:Exhibited at the International Exhibition, St.Louis.
  • 1905:Opened another shop at 24 Place Vendome. Exhibited at the International Exhibition, Liege.
  • 1906:Commissioned to produce scent bottles for Francois Coty.
  • 1910:Purchased glassworks at Combes-la-Ville.
  • 1914:With the exception of some glass mounted pieces, Lalique ceased production of jewelry and his time to the art of glassware.

During the years 1895 to 1912, Lalique had been commissioned by the Armenian banker Calouste Gulbenkian to create a series of fine jewels, over one hundred and forty of which are presently owned by the Gulkenkian Foundation, Lisbon.

The fall and rise:
Between the wars, there was a move towards more geometric lines and away from the artist-jewelry in favor of more mass-produced items.

During the 1920’s and 1930’s, sadly, many of Lalique’s jewels were broken up or remodeled. Even as recently as 1969, when a diamond set fern leaf tiara only fetched œ250 at auction, Lalique’s designs were still not appreciated.

In recent decades, perhaps due to such fine exhibitions as the one held at the Goldsmiths’ Hall London in 1987, Lalique’s designs gradually became popular again. For example, in 1989, an 1895 winged female form pendant sold at auction for œ42,000.

A fine art nouveau jewelry collection was auctioned by Sothebys Geneva in November, 1995. The collection had been put together by a Joseph R Pitman and the sale included thirty-three Lalique jewels, many of which were of such importance to have been previously illustrated in noted academic works.

The star lot was a ‘water nymph and dragonfly brooch cloak clasp’ circa 1904-05. The design is comprised of two opposed dragonflies flanking a triangular glass intaglio. It commanded on the day SF 190,000 against an initial estimate of SF 60,000-100,000.

Key features:
His jewelry often employed plique a jour (open to daylight) enamelwork, the finest depicting a human female form having butterfly or dragonfly wings.

Using organic lines on bracelets, necklaces, pendants, haircombs, rings etc. combined with classical art nouveau motifs such as peacocks and serpents with blossoms, orchids, lily-of-the-valley, chrysantheum, poppies, as well as ferns and vines.

The theatrical jewels commissioned for Sarah Bernhardt allowed Lalique to develope his dramatic style, some of which were designed in the Eyptianesque taste. It was perhaps this association, more than any other, that propelled Lalique’s designs to the fore as they attracted wide publicity in the art magazines of the day.

Lalique’s avant-garde designs, his dramatic use of the female form, secured his reputation as one of the most innovative and influencial jewelry designers of the art nouveau period.

René Lalique used a variety of marks, sometimes impressed into the material rather than stamped in order not to cause any damage to the finely-made jewelry.

Generally, one finds a variation of his signature (R.LALIQUE or LALIQUE) in block. His initials RL are sometimes incorporated in the French maker’s mark, known as a poincon de fabricant, flanking a drawn sword within a lozenge surround.

Other marks may be observed. For example, there may be an eagle’s head representing 18ct gold, the winged head of Mercury on items intended for export and the French silver standard mark of a boar’s head.

Auction values:
It would be impossible to suggest auction values, as can be gleaned from the example of the ‘water nymph’ brooch mentioned above. Each piece is an individual artistic creation and would be assessed on its own merit.


Author: Steven Jordan FGA DGA FNAJ FIRV

Jewellery valuer and historian


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Jet Jewellery


Jet has been used in jewellery for at least fourteen thousand years. It was formed in the Jurassic period, about 180 million years ago, when trees, similar to our present-day monkey puzzle tree, perished and fell into swamps and rivers.

The waterlogged trunks and branches eventually sank and were compressed under further detritus. The resulting pressure and chemical change altered the wood to jet. Pieces formed in freshwater became soft jet, in saltwater hard jet.

It was jet’s ability to take a high polish that led to its use in jewellery. Hard jet that was found on the North Yorkshire coast led to the thriving jet industry in the Whitby area. Initially it was the Romans who exploited the resources of the region and by the third century AD they were producing all manner of jewellery and trinkets.

Throughout the Dark Ages and Medieval period jet was used for talismans and religious items such as rosaries, crosses and objects that would help ward off the evil eye. The industry continued during the Elizabethan period, dying down until about 1800. It was the introduction of the lathe and the growth of the railway in England that led to the industry being reborn out of the desire for cheap holiday souvenirs. The jet industry’s heyday was between 1809 and 1875 when hundreds of men, women and children were employed, reaching a figure in excess of fifteen hundred in 1872. Today barely a handful of skilled craftsmen continue working in Whitby.


As fashion moved away from the light materials of the Regency period and towards the heavier Victorian garments jewellery had to accommodate the trend. Jet was an ideal material for the production of large brooches due to its lightness.

The 1851 Great Exhibition brought attention from the continent, culminating in orders from such dignitaries as the Empress of France and the Queen of Bavaria.

It was the death of Prince Albert in 1861, which caused Queen Victoria to engage in a long period of mourning, that led to jet being the only form of jewellery that could be worn at court. Most commoners followed the practise in their own bereavements and many mourning brooches were produced.

The craftsmen:

Hard jet when skilfully carved was an expensive item. In the third quarter of the nineteenth century a skilled jet worker could earn up to œ4.00 a week, a considerable sum at the time. As it was always considered that a craftsman’s work could be recognised by the style of a piece very few were signed.

When you start to collect Whitby jet jewellery you’ll admire the craftmanship in the carving but will probably be amazed at the quantity of brooches with misspelt names. The majority of the workmen were illiterate. Sometimes they would run out of space and leave letters out. See the image for a good example. Bower in 1873 wrote, “I saw workmen, one of the best hands in a large shop in Whitby, able to cut the most elaborate monograms, the most accurate portraits, the most elaborate foliage, but quite unable to sign his name”.

Notable Victorian jet workers were the Speedy family, George Tyson, John Wray, James Ainsley, William Stonehouse, Matthew Snowdon and the workshops of Charles Bryan and that of E H Greenbury.

One mark that was used was that of a ‘Star of David’ being a quality mark on findings, i.e. jewellery fittings such as brooch pin plates.

Jet and its imitations:

Jet is a fairly light material, (specific gravity approximately 1.3), has a conchoidal fracture (shell-like) and burns with the smell of burning coal. It is hand carved, its imitations are generally moulded, shows a woody structure under magnification and leaves a brown streak on ‘crocus’ paper or unglazed porcelain plate.

Vulcanite, an early form of hardened rubber, is also fairly light, (specific gravity approximately 1.15-1.20), fades to a khaki colour in daylight, also produces a brown streak but gives off a smell of burning rubber when touched by a hot needle. As items were mass-produced they show moulding lines, rounded edges and repeated design elements such as graduated beaded edges. A useful tip when looking at a locket is to check behind the photograph area. A jet locket is left rough inside, a vulcanite one has a smooth interior.

Bakelite, although not invented until 1909, can be deceptive. However, it gives a black streak and will emit a smell of carbolic acid when applied with a hot needle. Another clue is that many of its fittings are stamped ‘patent’.

French jet is a manufactured glass, as is an English version known as Vauxhall glass. Cold to touch and heavier than true jet, (s g approximately 2.20), it cannot be scratched with a pin nor will a hot needle have any affect. It should be noted that a very small amount of true French jet has been produced.

Irish Bog Oak was never meant to imitate but can be confused with jet. It has a distinct visible wood structure, is dark brown in colour and is generally carved in Irish themes such as harps, shamrocks and castles.

Cannel Coal is carved into ornaments rather than jewellery and gives a black streak. There are other materials, such as onyx and obsidian, that could be mistaken for jet but their heaviness and cold touch make them easily differentiated from the warmer, lighter jet.


Places to visit:

The Whitby Museum, Whitby, North Yorkshire.

The Castle Museum, York.

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Lost Pearls

Lost Pearls of History

I have always had a fascination, as can be gleaned from my blog, with historic lost jewels. Probably something to do with my love of the works of Rider Haggard and Conan Doyle. Perhaps I fancied myself as a Professor Challenger or Allan Quatermain. It’s the romantic view of times past, the gentleman adventurer risking life and limb in his search for that fabled lost treasure.

In this brief article, I shall highlight some of the pearls of history that have disappeared from public gaze.  Perhaps destroyed, or buried in a tomb or unlabelled in a forgotten security box deep beneath the streets of London.

For a starting point I have chosen the travels of the adventurous merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1689).

Tavernier was a French gem merchant and made six voyages to Persia and India between 1630 and 1668.

Amongst the many treasures that he handled perhaps the most noteworthy was the Tavernier Blue Diamond (116 carats) which he sold to Louis XIV of France. This was recut into The French Blue.  Subsequently stolen and reappearing thirty years later as the famous Hope Diamond. The Hope Diamond has a current weight of 45.52 carats.

Unlike diamonds, pearls cannot be recut to enhance their appearance or disguise their origin.  They can be skinned but this has limitations.  Therefore, if any of the lost pearls are still out there they will appear similar to their original shape and size.

In chapter XXII of ‘Travels in India by Jean-Baptiste Tavernier’ he lists several pearls that he had seen on his travels or that he had knowledge of. For me the most interesting, no. 2, is the one suspended from the neck of the peacock of the renowned Peacock Throne (Takht-i Tāvūs) he saw at the Court of the Great Mogul.


The pearl was pear shape, yellowish and of approximately 50 carats.

In 1739 Nadir Shah of Persia invaded Delhi and took the Peacock Throne. Some of the jewels, notably the Koh-I-Noor diamond, were taken to Afghanistan, subsequently returned to India and eventually claimed by the British. But what of the pearl?

To muddy the waters further, before we leave this pearl, have a look at Tavernier’s sketch of his ‘five greatest pearls in the world’. In my copy of Tavernier’s Travels in India the Peacock Throne pearl is listed as number 2. In some modern works the Peacock Throne pearl is listed as number 1, (for example P 90 Joan Younger Dickinson, The Book of Pearls). It is believed that this pearl was sold by Christies in 1992, and is known as ‘Sara’. Is this the Peacock Throne pearl?

Many jewels were stolen from the treasure house of Louis XIV in 1791 by revolutionaries. One large pearl of twenty-seven carats, known as The Queen of Pearls, found its way to Russia and became known as the Zozima pearl. But what of the others taken from the treasure house? Perhaps in private collections, Royal treasuries or lost forever.

Another pearl of note is the Venezuelan pearl, known as The Charles II Pearl, which became for a while the twin to La Peregrina, a pearl of 203.84 grains, in a pair of earrings for the Queens of Spain. It is alleged to have been destroyed in the fire of 1734 at the old palace Madrid.

A famous pearl, of thirty-one carats, whose current whereabouts is also unknown is ‘The Orphan’. A pearl so named as it was found loose on the sea bed, was once worn by Isabel de Bobadilla, daughter of the general that took Columbus home in irons. It became part of the crown jewels of Spain.

Many famous pearls have been lost throughout history. Destroyed, stolen, sold, forgotten. Some pearls were even consumed. Sir Thomas Gresham, in the reign of Elizabeth I, in order to impress the Spanish ambassador, crushed and consumed a large pearl. It was said at the time to be worth £15,000 !

Some pearls do, eventually, find their way home. On the eve of his execution in 1849 Count Batthyani of Hungary gave a scarf pin set with a black pearl to his valet. The valet’s son inherited the pin and took it to Budapest to raise funds. The authorities became suspicious and it was discovered that the pearl had been stolen from the English crown one hundred and fifty years previous. It was redeemed by the British government for £2,500 and returned to the Crown.

For another intriguing pearl mystery refer to one of my previous blogs, ‘The Great Pearl Robbery of 1913’.

Many famous pearls are out there waiting to be rediscovered. Good hunting.


Jewellery valuer, gemmologist, jewellery historian



The Book of Pearls, Joan Younger Dickinson

The Book of the Pearl, George Frederick Kunz and Charles Hugh Stevenson

Pearls, their origin, treatment& identification., Jean Taburiaux

The Great Pearl Robbery of 1913, Christmas Humphreys

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Jewellery valuer. So what are all those initials after your name?

Jewellery Valuer

When I hand a client my business card I am often asked what does FGA or FIRV stand for. I thought it useful to explain to my insurance industry connections what the initials mean and what is involved with obtaining them.

PJdip. Professional Jeweller Diploma. This a course run by the National Association of Jewellers and is essentially in two parts. Certificate followed by Diploma. It gives the student a good grounding in all aspects of the jewellery trade. Primarily basic gemstone, precious metal and hallmarking knowledge. Also jewellery history, manufacturing techniques, retail law and valuations.

FGA. Fellow of the Gemmological Association. This course is run by the Gemmological Association of Great Britain.
This begins with the Gemmology Foundation Course; What constitutes a gemstone, how to identify common gem materials confidently, and the properties and uses of certain gem materials. To apply knowledge of gemstone properties to their proper care and commercial use, including gemstone fashioning and use in jewellery. To explain the value and price factors of gemstones. To handle rough, cut and set gem materials, such as diamond, sapphire, ruby and emerald, as well as organics and a range of treated and imitation gem materials.How to use basic gemmological equipment and report accurately on the various observations and results of tests conducted on gemmological specimens.The origin and formation of gemstones and the various stages of the gemstone pipeline.How to compare and contrast features and properties of gem materials, treatments and synthetics to distinguish between gemstones.
On successful completion of the course the next stage is the Diploma in Gemmology. This course builds on the Foundation course: Have a broader knowledge of treatments and synthetic materials, including their production, use, identification and the resulting implications for the gem trade. Consider the ethical, environmental and technological implications and applications of gemmology. Interpret results accurately from advanced gem testing equipment.
Be confident in applying scientific principles and concepts in solving problems relating to gemmology, and to assess the validity, reliability and credibility of scientific information related to gemmology. Learn to demonstrate a logical approach to gem testing, as well as be able to acknowledge limitations and uses of certain tests. The origin and formation of gemstones and the various stages of the gemstone pipeline.
On passing the theory and practical examinations the successful student can apply for the coveted Fellowship of the Gemmological Association.

DGA. Diamond diploma of the Gemmological Association. This composes of theory and practical (diamond grading) courses. Chiefly; To recognize and describe the structure of a diamond and how this relates to its physical and optical properties.The different diamond types and colour mechanisms occurring within diamonds. To recognize and distinguish between natural, treated and synthetic diamonds and to compare and identify a diamond and its simulants.
How to make, record, sketch and communicate reliable and valid observations of rough diamond crystals. The geological processes involved in diamond formation and how occurrence and locality affect the mining and recovery of diamonds.
The cutting of a diamond, including the history of diamond cutting and style.
To describe the diamond grading process, the various systems used and how grading affects the value of a diamond. The ethical, social, economic, environmental and technological implications of the diamond supply chain.
To accurately interpret, explain, evaluate and communicate diamond testing results. On passing the examinations the successful student can apply for Diamond Membership of the Gemmological Association, allowing them to use the initials DGA.

FNAJ. Fellow of the National Association of Jewellers. No course or examination for this. To qualify the jeweller has to demonstrate a continuous period of working within the jewellery trade, to a high professional standard.

FIRV. Fellow of The Institute of Registered Valuers. This is a qualification bestowed by the National Association of Jewellers (formerly the National Association of Goldsmiths). To become a Fellow you must first have been a Member of the Institute (MIRV). To became a MIRV you have had to pass the Professional Jeweller course (or its equivalent) and have a minimum of five years experience in the jewellery trade/industry. Also a gemmological qualification (which must include practical hands-on identification of some kind).
A diamond grading training certificate (which must include practical hands-on grading/assessment of some kind)*.
All applicants will also be required to submit sample valuations.
Once the MIRV criteria has been reached, and have been one for three years, the candidate must produce a continuing professional development plan. They must also obtain a Grade A pass (85%) in the Institute’s monitoring program. On completion the applicant can then qualify for Fellowship. All FIRV’s have to follow a CPD plan and be continually monitored by the Institute.

For further details:

Steven Jordan PJdip. FGA. DGA. FNAJ. FIRV

Jewellery valuer

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On the question of index linking jewellery values

On a question of index linking jewellery values.
I recently valued a natural pearl necklace sold by Cartier in the early 1940s and valued by them at approximately £14,000. A tremendous amount at that time.
Using an index linked multiplier this would equate to about £675,000 today.
If the value was associated with the gold price it would be about £1,600,000.
The process for me is to relate the value to a similar item in the current market. The jewellery market is fluid, relying on fashion trends and availability.
Another way to illustrate this is to look at another historical sale of a natural pearl necklace. In 1917 Cartier bought 653 Fifth Avenue Mansion with a string of pearls.
Obviously, client confidentiality precludes me from declaring how much I valued the pearls for. Probably less than what you are thinking.

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How did you become a valuer?


As an integral part of the service I offer I frequently find that I spend several hours with clients.  During the course of which I am often asked how did I begin my career?

The simple answer is that it wasn’t my initial path.  I left school and spent a year in banking.  The bank thought, and so did I, that a year was long enough for all concerned.

I had since childhood had an interest in history, geology and horology.  I was a geek before the word had been invented.  So I was delighted to be accepted by a local independent jeweller. It was 1973 and in those days there was very little educational structure for the jewellery industry.  My education came via three older gentlemen in the shop. Amongst the many pockets of wisdom I learnt to strip down and reassemble a watch, identify a diamond (long before there were digital devices for the task) and recognise fake hallmarks.  This intense and unstructured education has stood me in very good stead in my valuing career. I carried out my first valuation in 1974, I recall it well. It was a gold charm bracelet.

Being ambitious I joined another local company where I had heard that the proprietor, Edward Cox, was a keen gemmologist. Edward’s contagious enthusiasm for the subject spurred me on to further my studies.  The formal study of gemmology is crucial to anyone who desires to become a jewellery valuer.  I could do more than recommend The Gemmological Association of Great Britain. Gem-A are based in Hatton Garden and run world renown courses on gemmology and diamond grading. The courses have in recent years been extended to include a Batchelor of Science degree in conjunction with Birmingham City University.

There followed further years in a variety of managerial and valuer roles.  I eventually found myself working for the Hopper family in Lincolnshire.  The manging director, Gerry Hopper, was keen for myself and his son Tim to qualify as Registered Valuers.

We both attended a one day course run by the late David Wilkins and the late Michael Norman. Both of whom were great ambassadors for the newly created National Association of Goldsmiths Registered Valuers scheme.  The scheme, over the past two decades, has developed into the highly regarded Institute of Registered Valuers, of which I am honoured to say that I am a Fellow.

In March 1993 I decided to go independent. I appreciated there was a gap in the market for a service visiting retail jewellers. At that time there were very few independent valuers around and the majority were office based.

The first few months were extremely difficult.   I relied initially on advertising and press releases. The response was minimal.  Therefore I decided to go ‘cold calling’, a practise somewhat frowned upon these days.  There was no internet, no social network platforms, no LinkedIn to promote my business.  I had to do it the hard way.  But I was determined to make it work. I’ve always lived by the ethos ‘just get on with it’. So I did.

I visited over seventy businesses in a two week period. Mainly retail jewellers and auction houses to offer my consultancy service.  Unceremoniously I was manhandled out of one shop.  Took a deep breath, brushed myself down and entered the next shop.

My first break came when Steve Thompson of Eric A Bird Jewellers of Lincoln said they thought a visiting specialist valuation service would be an ideal addition to their customer services.  It just takes one person to say ‘yes’.

Within a few weeks I had a portfolio of five shops in Lincoln and an auction house, Neals of Nottingham.  From that moment on the business and my reputation grew steadily.

However I realised that if my business was to expand further I needed to move further south.  At the invitation of my good friends John Carter and Peter Hering of Cellini jewellers in 1996 I opened an office in Cambridge.

The office gave me a good platform not only to offer businesses a visiting service but also a secure postal service. During this period I came under the radar of one of the major retail jewellery groups. Within a few months my fledgling business began to fly.  Working twelve hours, six or seven days a week was the norm.

I wasn’t satisfied.  There was a gap in my education. I had studied gemmology, diamond grading, horology, jewellery history, silver.  I had qualified as a gemmologist, a diamond grader and a Registered Valuer. I even attend jewellery and silver making courses in order that I can appreciate how items are made. However it was the fleeting experience in the auction field that made me realise that I needed to handle, examine, determine and appreciate the finer jewels.  It was one thing to visit exhibitions and auctions to view these items. It was another to appraise them.  To be a consummate jewellery valuer I felt that a more in-depth experience of the auction world was crucial.

Phillips auctioneers, subsequently absorbed into Bonhams, advertised for a jewellery specialist. The post was a one year contract, based in Oxford and London. To be responsible for the appraisal, collection and cataloguing of jewellery for (fifty !) Fine Art, Regional, London and International auctions.

My interview was with Director John Benjamin (of BBC Antique Roadshow fame).  Part of my interview involved the determination and valuing of a tray of, soon to be auctioned, items. I recall a Sri Lankan sapphire and a Carlo Guilliano brooch. Both of which I must have gauged correctly as I was offered the position, having seen off the other forty-three candidates.

I returned to Cambridge to close down my business and relocate to Oxford. Not an easy choice as I had to halve my income for the year.  The year was intense. However I achieved what I set out to do.  I handled some very fine items and made a contribution on the way in increasing the sales figures for the department.

After the contract I returned to Cambridge, rekindled Hawksworth Valuations, but now concentrated on the High Net Worth market.

In 2009 I was awarded the National Association of Goldsmiths’ Institute of Registered Valuer’s highly prestigious David Wilkins award for ‘outstanding skill, dedication and service in respect of jewellery appraisal and valuation’.

Today my business is primarily based around London HNW clients.

So what advice can I offer?  It takes one person to say ‘yes’.  Find that person. Have a goal, not a plan.  Be determined, even if you do get man-handled. Continued professional development is key, never stop learning.  Identify your USP.   The best boss in the world is yourself.

Just get on with it.


Jewellery, watches and silver valuer

MD Hawksworth Valuations Limited


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Diamonds & diamond grading ; Gemological Institute of America recalls 424 diamond grading reports

The GIA have issued an alert for 424 diamond reports.

The diamonds had received a previously unknown temporary colour enhancement treatment prior to certification.

The treatment could improve the colour by three grades.

The GIA are yet to discover the exact enhancement process.

For more details, including recalled certificate numbers, see link below.

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Lost Treasures

The Regale of France
Like most amateur historians I love a mystery. ‘The Three Brothers’, ‘The Great Mogul’ and the many other jewels and gemstones whose current whereabouts is unknown. One such mysterious gemstone is the ruby cabochon ‘The Regale of France’. From repentant Kings to a particularly non-repentant King, the ruby is embroiled in the bloody history of this country.
The first occurrence of the gemstone appearing on these shores is as a gift of King Louis VII to the Shrine of St Thomas á Becket at Canterbury. In August 1179 King Louis, who was in very poor health, visited Becket’s Shrine as part of a five day pilgrimage. He was accompanied by the repentant King Henry II of England, whose conflict with Becket had led to the Saint’s murder by his knights in 1170.
‘After his penance King Henry offered at this tomb four marks of pure gold and a silk hanging to adorn it ; also £40 annually for lights to be kept burning around the shrine. Louis VII., the first French king to set foot on this island, came to implore St. Thomas’s intercession for the recovery of his son, and presented to the shrine the celebrated jewel known as the “Regale of France,” his own golden goblet, and many other gifts.’ (1)
The Regale de France became an important feature on the Shrine. However the ruby’s nature has often been debated; confirmed as a ruby by a the account of visiting Venetian in 1500;
‘The account of a Venetian who visited the shrine about the year 1500. “The tomb of St. Thomas the martyr, arch- bishop of Canterbury,” he says, “exceeds all belief. Notwithstanding its great size, it is wholly covered with plates of pure gold ; yet the gold is scarcely seen because it is covered with various precious stones, as sapphires, balasses, diamonds, rubies and emeralds ; and wherever the eye turns something more beautiful than the rest is observed. Nor, in addition to these natural beauties, is the skill of art wanting, for in the midst of the gold are the most beautiful sculptured gems both small and large, as well such as are in relief as agates, onyxes, cornelians and cameos ; and some cameos are of such size that I am afraid to name it ; but everything is far surpassed by a ruby, not larger than a thumbnail, which is fixed at the right of the altar. The church is somewhat dark, and particularly in the spot where the shrine is placed, and when we went to see it the sun was near setting and the weather was cloudy ; never- theless I saw the ruby as if I had it in my hand. They say it was given by a king of France.’ (2)
Described as a diamond in 1554;
‘The oft-mentioned jewel given by the King of France and called a ruby by the Venetian pilgrim, is described by the Bohemian Ambassador, in 1446, as “a carbuncle that shines at night, half the size of a hen’s egg” ; but it was described as a diamond when it came unto the possession of Queen Mary in 1554. This gem, the “Regale of France,” was too well known to be confused with any other jewel, and it was probably owing to the prismatic colours given forth from this exceptional diamond in the gloom of the chapel that we have these discrepancies in name. When fastened to the new shrine the figure of an angel was made in gold, pointing to the stone to attract special attention.’ (1)

I disagree with the above. There is a considerable difference in appearance between a ruby and a diamond. I feel that there is a good possibility that the gemstone in Queen Mary’s collar was not the Regale of France, but a diamond of a similar title.
So satisfied that the gemstone is a ruby one has to next trace its journey, picking through the minefield of historic journals, many biased and inaccurate.
Evidence is assigned to the ruby’s journey to the Royal Treasury when Becket’s shrine was destroyed in 1540 under the orders of King Henry VIII, in vengeance for his ancestor Henry II. Henry VIII appears to have worn the ruby mounted in a ring.
‘During the month of September the Royal Commission for the destruction of shrines, under Dr. John Layton and a strong military guard, arrived at Canterbury to carry out the work of sacrilege. The spoil of jewels and gold of the shrine were carried off in two coffers on the shoulders of eight men, while twenty-six carts were employed to remove the accumulated offerings to God and St. Thomas, and the noted Regale of France was mounted in Henry’s thumb ring.’ (1)
Further evidence comes in the seventeenth via a reliable and diligent source; The Life and Reign of King Henry VIII.: Together with a General History of ..Edward Herbert Baron Herbert of Cherbury wrote ‘Among which, there being one Stone eminent, which it was said, Lewis (sic) the Seventh coming hither from France, Anno Dom. 1179, bestowed; our King (Henry VIII) wore it in a Ring afterwards ‘ (3)
Did Henry VIII wear the ring to his grave in 1547?
J Dalton of Norwich wrote in Notes & Queries (1863) ‘With respect to the large carbuncle or diamond given by Louis VII., which is said to have been worn by Henry VIII in his thumb-ring, it was probably buried with him. If so, this fact may account for George IV, when Prince Regent, having ordered the tomb of Henry to be opened, and the coffin searched for some ring or rings), which he supposed were still to be found therein.
Some years ago, when visiting the Royal Chapel at Windsor, an old man told me that he assisted at the opening of the tomb of Henry VIII, the Prince Regent and a few others being present, and that he heard the Prince speaking about a valuable ring (or rings, I forget which), that he hoped to find in the royal coffin. Nothing however was found, except some large bones.’ (4)

I was hoping for visual evidence for Henry VIII wearing the ruby cabochon ring in portraits, for example that by Hans Holbein in 1540. To date I have found no such evidence.
Did it find its way back to France?
What did it actual look like? Size of a thumb? Big as a pigeon egg? Was it a ruby at all? Gemmology was in its infancy. Misidentification in historic gems is not unknown. For example The Black Prince Ruby set in the Imperial State Crown is actually a spinel.
So where is it now? France? England? Buried with Henry VIII? or was it burnt with the bones of Thomas á Becket?
(1) PRELATES AND PRIESTS, Wall, J. Charles, Shrines of British Saints, Methuen & Co., London. 1905. Chapter Four.
(2) State Papers (ed. 1830), Part ii. p. 583. Polydore Vergil, Relation (Camden Society, 30).

Steven Jordan

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