Archive | Gems


The Apollo and Cyparissus Gem from the Poniatowski Collection

In this video we take a close look at one of the more beautiful Poniatowski gems in my possession, a large oval amethyst set in its original gold frame depicting the story of the cypress tree as told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses. I have told this tale when I first acquired the gem here: The story told by Ovid is beautiful, relating the story of a handsome boy, a tame and beloved deer, and the god who loved the boy.  The gem shows the pivotal moment when the boy realizes he has killed his beloved deer and wants to die, with Apollo trying to pull him back from the scene of the tragedy. Ultimately Apollo loses the boy to grief, and transforms him into the cypress tree, which are found at the abodes of dead to this day, mourning forever.  

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Another Poniatowski Gem

  Bulgari Necklace set with a carnelian intaglio I  recently returned from Florida, where I went to the big Miami Beach Antiques Show, which bills itself as the worlds largest indoor antique show, and it is big. I’ve been going for a few years now, I actually exhibited a few years ago but found my time was better spent as a buyer, rather than trying to sell there.  Early on, now more than 20 years ago, I went there with a friend, and discovered a Bulgari necklace set with an important Roman cameo portrait bust of Tiberius, which I was able to sell to the British Museum. So ever after, I’m on the look out for unrecognized ancient gems set in modern settings, or old ones for that matter.  The fair has grown if anything since years ago, they have added a whole jewelry annex with another several dozen dealers displaying.  This year, after having done the main rooms for several days I finally made it into the annex and there I found this necklace, […]

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Yet another Poniatowski gem discovered!

I just recently purchased a gem set in a gold frame hung from chains to be used as a pendant, that is one of the Poniatowski Gems.  The dealer knew what it was, but not which one, and I have been able to find it in the Beazley Archives, where it’s current whereabouts are marked as unknown. No longer, it can re-emerge into the view of the wider world.  The gem, which measures 30mm long by 22mm wide, is carnelian agate, and has a scene of a winged man seated in a rocky setting, handing a bag to a cloaked man with a rounded cap. Behind this man is the prow of a ship with its swan head finial.  Below the ground line is a long inscription in Greek letters.  The surface of the gem is slightly worn and the carving is of very high quality, the composition has strong diagonals, and the size of the gem is large as engraved gems go. All these factors mark it as being from the Poniatowski collection, but […]

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Another Poniatowski gem rediscovered

It has been a while since I last posted to my blog.  So here I will catch up with a few new posts, on more Poniatowski gems that I have purchased, starting with this beauty, which was lost, and now is found. Engraved Carnelian in gold swivel setting. Above is the gem, and engraved carnelian agate, here shown with the light going through it, allowing one to see the masterful engraving, an three dimensional image done in reverse, intaglio.  What we see is a young serious woman, hair drawn back into a simple bun, indication of robes at the bottom of her neck, and a large inscription along the left side, reading “POLLA ARGENTARIA”. Here you see the gem in its setting, in reflected light. Above is the gem seen in its setting, with the light reflecting off the surface.  What isn’t evident from this image is that the surface shows some minor wear with some small scratches.  This becomes important in its identification. The research of this gem took several stages.  Its first rate […]

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Another rediscovered Paniatowski Gem

Amethyst Intaglio set in its Original gold and black enamel setting. Dear Reader, it has been awhile but my recent purchase of this magnificent intaglio has inspired me post.  It is a large convex amethyst gem engraved with a scene of of Apollo and a youth, with a dying stag under a tree.  It is an illustration of the Greco-Roman myth best told by Ovid in his wonderful “Metamorphosis”, which I will relate below.  Gem seen with light shining through it. Above in the backlit image, you can see the carving clearly. The gem is from the notorious Poniatowski collection, this is Tyrrell 513, illustrated on the Beazley Archives by the plaster impression Tyrrell had made of it and all the Poniatowski gems he purchased. Here is the link: The Poniatowski gems have become of great interest to me; they are beautiful examples of the gem engravers art, their subjects are wonderful, and their history is so fascinating.  It is rare that I get a chance to have objects that one knows for whom […]

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A lost Poniatowski Gem

Gem with scene of the drunk Silenus on an ass, lead by Dionysus. Note the Greek signature below the ground line. Dear Readers, Again, it has been a long time since I last posted.  But I just purchased this beautiful intaglio, and it is another discovery.  It was at an eclectic jewelry store in NYC, and despite its humble silver setting, suspended from a strand of tiny garnet beads and pearls, and broken condition, I recognized right away the quality of the carving.  I thought it was most likely a Poniatowski gem, but also, of course, held out hope that it might be ancient.  The price was reasonable, evidence that the seller did not recognize what they had, always a good thing for me, and I committed to purchase it even though I did not have the money at that moment.  I was finally I was able to pay for it and just received it yesterday.  I took photographs and emailed them to my email friend, Ittai Gradel, who is extremely knowledgeable about ancient gems. […]

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A large Gem Fragment

Dear Readers, I recently purchased the carnelian carved gem fragment, pictured above, set in a cheap silver setting allowing it to be worn as a pendant.  I found it at an antiques show with a very nice antique dealer who I have purchased things from before.  I thought it was probably ancient but could not really understand it, but at the price I bought it for, was willing to buy it to study it. The first challenge of the piece was attempting to discern just what is depicted.  And also, just what is this a fragment of?  It measures just over an inch in maximum length, 26 to 27mm.  It is more than 1/2 inch in thickness at the thickest point, 14mm, and tapers down to 4mm, about a 1/4 inch on the unbroken edge.  I was wondered if this is a fragment of a larger vessel or some other type of object. I could see the head of a youth and what looked like a dog looking through a tree like plant, with a […]

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The subject of a gem finally identified!

Engraved banded agate, 20mm long I have owned this gem for years; an intaglio carved of a domed banded agate, depicting an athletic young man holding a discus in his lowered left hand and an strings in his raised right. When I bought it it was unset, and I put it in a ring of my own making, with a heavy 22k gold bezel around the stone on a silver ring. Unfortunately the stone is cracked, but it is otherwise complete and quite beautiful in quality. The detail of the musculature is remarkably fine and precise for such a tiny image, and the intensity of the gaze is remarkable in how readable it is even though on such a tiny scale. This is a masterpiece of the glyptik arts, but what exactly are we looking at? What is this beautiful young man doing, and is this ancient or a Neo-Classical gem inspired by antiquity? The impression taken with Sculpey The first bit of information I got was when researching for parallels, I found an almost […]

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Theseus Gem

The black agate intaglio of a youth set in rose gold ring.gem measures 23 x 15 mm. Dear Reader,Yet another gem has entered my life, found with an antique jewelry dealer in NYC. It is an image of a heroic youth wearing what I first took to be a lion skin as a helmet as Alexander had in his coins, carved into black agate, and set in a Victorian rose gold ring engraved on the back with initials and the date, “July 23rd, 1880”. View of the back showing the inscription. It was assumed by the dealer, and myself, that the gem has to be 18th, 19th Century, given the ring, the hard polish of the surface, and the extended oval with a lot of negative space around the carving, more than is typical in ancient gems. However what grabbed my attention as the quality of the carving and image; it is very direct and unfussy in execution and yet fierce. The large open eyes, bulging Scopaic brow reminiscent of Alexander the Great’s images, the […]

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Story of a gem; Discovery, disappointment and the joy of learning

Dear Reader,I live to find things, and frequently my hunches are proven correct, many times there is no way to fully prove a piece, and then sometimes I am just wrong. This story is a case of being wrong on my initial hopes, but surprisingly, I am very happy as I have learned a great deal and still own yet another precious piece of history. The story starts with a visit to a friend on 47th St. in NYC, in the jewelry district. My friend is a dealer in antique jewelry and frequently he has pieces with engraved gems. This day he showed me a beautiful engraved imperial Roman portrait in chalcedony, set in a Georgian gold ring. The assumption he made was that the gem was also 18th Century, but when I looked at it I thought it might be ancient, and bought it. (see below) Intaglio of a Roman Emperor, carved in blue chalcedony, set in a gold ring.The gem measures 2.25 cm long. The gem seen in transmitted light from the back. […]

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