Hidden intaglio provides vital clues in story of The Cheapside Hoard: London's Lost Jewels

By Ben Miller | 05 June 2013

Since being discovered as part of the archaeologically priceless Cheapside Hoard under a cellar floor a century ago, a gemstone with an engraved design has remained an overlooked treasure among hundreds of glittering artefacts.

A photo of some gems under microscopic investigation
Conservators carry out work on a gold and enamel pendant set with two sapphires and an irregular polished spinel. The piece will be part of a major exhibition on The Cheapside Hoard opening at the Museum of London this October© Museum of London
But the heraldic badge emblazoned upon this intaglio, bearing the symbol of William Howard, the first and only Viscount Stafford for much of the 17th century, has proved worth its weight in soil, allowing curators to date the exquisite set of Elizabethan and Early Stuart jewellery to a more precise 26-year period.

Stafford was granted the peerage in 1640, while other evidence unearthed at the site – including a number of recent breakthroughs – has confirmed that the haul must have been buried before the Great Fire of London in 1666.

“The Stafford intaglio has been absolutely vital in shedding new light on the collection,” says Hazel Forsyth, the curator of The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels, which will show off nearly 500 pieces when it opens at the Museum of London in October, ranging from finger rings and necklaces to jewelled scent bottles and a Colombian emerald watch.

“It provides crucial dating evidence for the deposition of the Hoard between 1640 and 1666, and makes a specific link to an individual who had international connections and a penchant for collecting gems and antiquities.”

Forsyth says accumulating every element of a hoard “swathed in mystery” has been “no mean feat”, but that the painstaking effort has given experts “renewed zeal”.

After months of research – much of it using 3-D technology – organisers are promising surprises.

“It is London’s most exciting stash of buried treasure,” believes Sharon Ament, the museum Director.

“The Hoard tells a thrilling tale of mystery and discovery. Every jewel and gemstone unlocks a story.”

South American mines, diamond gravels of India and the pearl banks of Bahrain are a few of the more unlikely settings the investigation has visited.

Rarely-seen portraits, multimedia installations and exhibits charting the fashions and culture of early London will also feature.

  • Exhibition runs October 11 2013 – April 27 2014. Tickets will go on sale this month.

More pictures:

A photo of a circular orange jewel with a bit missing
The Carnelian intaglio bears the Stafford heraldic badge© Museum of London
A photo of a light gold jewel with six sides
A Colombian emerald watch© Museum of London
A photo of a light green jewel with a clock in the centre
© Museum of London
A photo of an ancient circular brown and yellow jewel
This gild brass verge watch, from around 1600, is the Hoard's only signed piece© Museum of London
A photo of a curator poking at a small gold jewel
A gold and enamel brooch set with foiled amethysts falls under expert eyes© Museum of London
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