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forever, but a lot of jewelry
doesn t survive through the cen-
turies. Rings and bracelets get
broken up for re-use, pearls
decay, gold is melted down.
That explains the excitement
over a new London exhibition of
the Cheapside Hoard---a trove of
almost 500 gemstones and pieces
of jewelry from the 16th and 17th
centuries, dug up by workmen
demolishing a building in London
more than 100 years ago.
The dazzling array of opals,
emeralds, garnets, rubies, sap-
phires, amethysts, diamonds and
more was displayed as a whole for
the first time at the Museum of
London from Friday.
The trove, which was buried
under the brick-lined cellar floor
of jewelers workshops, offers a
London life and the jewelry trade.
It is also an unsolved historical
mystery: Why was the priceless
collection buried? And why did its
owner never return to dig it up?
Exhibition curator Hazel Forsyth
says the most likely explanation
is the English Civil War, which
erupted in 1642, bringing fear to
London and devastation to the lux-
"An awful lot of goldsmiths and
jewelers went, the records say, to
be soldiers---and a very large pro-
portion didn t come back," she
The hoard s owners also may
have been jewelers who decided
to bury their stock and move
abroad until peace returned---"and
that secret went with them."
One engraved gemstone bears
title awarded in 1640, meaning the
hoard was buried sometime
between then and 1666, when the
area s buildings were destroyed in
the Great Fire of London.
It lay undisturbed for almost
300 years until it was discovered
in 1912 by construction workers
demolishing a building in Cheap-
side, a busy commercial thorough-
fare in the oldest part of London,
the City. They took it to a pawn-
broker who---fortunately ---offered
it to a trustee of the Museum of
The gems caused a sensation
when they were displayed in 1914,
but have never been shown as a
complete collection until now.
The exhibition reveals an era,
like our own, attracted by opu-
lence. British ships were exploring
goods and products. The hoard
includes gems from India, emeralds
from Colombia and even a cameo
of Cleopatra from ancient Rome.
Clothing was richly embroi-
dered, and "jewels had to dazzle
to stand out," said museum fashion
curator Beatrice Behlen.
Eye-catching exhibits include
chains of gemstones and blue-
and-white enameled flowers up to
15 feet (4.5 meters) long, worn
looped around the neck and body.
There are emerald earrings shaped
like bunches of grapes; bracelets
of pearls, rubies, amethysts and
diamonds; and the wonderfully
named bodkins---bejeweled pins
given as love tokens.
There s a tiny, exquisite scent
bottle decorated with opals, dia-
monds, rubies and sapphires---and
strong and spicy, that visitors can
sniff to enhance the experience.
Curators say that in this case,
an old cliche is true. The hoard is
priceless---there s no equivalent
collection to measure it against.
Some of the items are unique, such
as a tiny watch made from a single
Colombian emerald crystal.
"In terms of craftsmanship, it s
a piece of utter brilliance," Forsyth
The exhibition also offers a
glimpse of the working methods
of the craftsmen who made the
jewels. London was a centre of the
gem trade, drawing craftsmen from
Britain, the Netherlands, France,
Spain, Germany and beyond.
The Cheapside Hoard is at the
Museum of London until April 27.
17th-century bling on display for Brits
Left: Pendant earrings set with purple-red almandine garnets
enlivened by white enamel are seen on display at the exhibition.
Pieces of jewelry from the 16th and 17th centuries are on display.
Above: A gilt-brass and enamel clock-watch with alarm and
calendar made by Gaultier Ferlite is seen on display at The
Cheapside Hoard: London's Lost Jewels exhibition at the Museum
of London in London on Friday. The exhibition features a trove of
almost 500 gemstones and pieces of jewelry from the 16th and
17th centuries, dug up by workmen demolishing a building in
London more than 100 years ago.
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