A sardonyx cameo of a lady. Photo: Bonhams. 

LONDON.- “The Ceres Collection”: an important collection of 101 engraved cameo* and intaglio** rings that range in date from as early as the 4th Century BC will be offered for sale at Bonhams, New Bond Street, in the Fine Jewellery sale on 17th September.

The Collection as a whole is worth an estimated £100,000 and is to be sold without reserve.

The Ceres Collection was assembled by an American family over a period of 60 years, from the 1930s-90s. The collection provides a lesson in the history of cameos - the most ancient piece dates from the 4th century BC and others range from the Renaissance period right through to the 19th century. Several gems depict the Roman deity Ceres, goddess of fertility and the harvest, who in turn, lends her auspicious name to the collection and heralds a fruitful September sale.

The engraved gems depict in miniature a broad range of subjects, from gods and goddesses of the ancient world, Greek and Roman mythological scenes to portraits of historical figures; Alexander the Great, Socrates, Julius Cesar, Hercules and Medusa are carved in intricate detail.

The entire Ceres collection of cameos is mounted into rings, making them extremely wearable pieces of jewellery, as well as items of historical importance.

Emily Barber, Director of Bonhams Jewellery Department, comments: "Since ancient times, cameos and intaglios have been regarded as the discerning person's status symbol; with the sale of The Ceres Collection of 101 exquisite rings, Bonhams hopes to attract a new generation to appreciate the art of gem engraving."

History of the Cameo

Cameos and intaglios have been collected and admired since antiquity. Their history dates back to the early civilizations of the near east, Mesopotamia, Assyria, Minoan Crete and Cyprus, when intaglios – where the design is cut into the stone – were used as seals and means of identification as well as to show off the owner's wealth.

As well as demonstrating social standing, cameo and intaglio carved rings also acted as amulets to bring good luck and to ward off the evil eye.

During the Renaissance there was a revival in the art of engraving and portrait cameos of royalty and personalities of the day were circulated and exchanged. In the 18th-19th century, the collecting of engraved gems reached epidemic proportions and many great collections were formed. Being miniature sculptures, cameos were greatly admired for their craftsmanship and collecting them was considered an intellectual pursuit.

The earliest cameos were created by carving the backs of Pharaonic stone scarabs; the scarabs were sometimes centuries older than their carvings. The most ancient piece in the collection is a good example of this:

A Hellenistic garnet cameo of a head dates from circa 4th Century BC, making it near 2500 years old. The oval garnet, depicting the features of a man, is cut from an even older Pharoanic stone scarab. The ring is estimated at £3,000-£5,000.

World-renowned expert Richard Falkiner, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, says: "This collection was formed over the last century and with consummate taste. The dispersal at auction of a formidable collection of Glyptics (derived from the Classical Greek word: to cut) is a rare event indeed. These cameos and intaglios, soon to find a new home, have the advantage that they are wearable."

Other highlights from The Ceres Collection:

The pièce de résistance of the collection is a cameo depicting a Roman lady of high rank, possibly the Empress Livia, wife of the Emperor Augustus, which is offered with estimates of £1,500-£2,000. The cameo gem, dating from 1st-2nd century AD, survives as a fragment which has been repaired with gold in a later "Roman" setting. It was probably part of a much larger group portrait that could have decorated the home or a noble ancient Roman. Cameo engraving reached its zenith during the Age of Augustus and this is a fine example from this era.

Other stunning examples include an 18th-19th century cameo of the emperor Tiberius, carved from a large piece of translucent orange hessonite garnet and estimated at £2,000-£3,000.

A Roman intaglio of Ceres, Goddess of fertility and harvest, with a cornucopia and an ear of corn is carved from red Cornelian stone. The intaglio is set in a 19th century gold mount (estimate £600-800).

A Roman intaglio of Diana, Goddess of the hunt, carved with her quiver of arrows in fire orange cornelian stone, dates from circa 5th Century AD. The stone set in a later Byzantine gold ring mount and is offered for £1,000-£1,500.

An ancient intaglio in garnet, carved with a head in profile, possibly of Demetrios King of Syria (162-150 BC), which is in its original gold ring mount is estimated at £1,500-2,000.

Richard Falkiner concludes, "There is a small pool of the finest examples of cameo and intaglio gems available, thus Bonhams' sale of the Ceres Collection is an opportunity to own a gem from this magical subject. It is an opportunity which may not occur again from a very long time indeed".

*Cameo - a carved object such as an engraved gem with raised (positive) relief image

**Intaglio - An engraved gem with the design cut into the flat background of the stone


2500 years of history at your fingertips: Ceres, the Roman Goddess of fertility and harvest, heralds a fruitful September sale. Photo: Bonhams.