The sky blue hololith is made from a single piece of the stone and is believed to have belonged to Caligula. It is believed that the face engraved into the bezel is his fourth and last wife Caesonia, who was assassinated. Ring is the star attraction at an exhibition of more than 100 engraved gems at Wartski jewellers in London.
In the 18th century, George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough, amassed an incredible collection of carved gems and guests. The Marlborough Collection is considered one of the finest private jewelry collections and many of the 800 pieces date back to antiquity.
The collection was forked in the 19th century to pay for repairs at Blenheim Palace, and in 2019 an interesting gem from the collection went up for sale.
The nearly 2,000-year-old sapphire ring is an aesthetically dazzling piece of jewelry, but its history makes it all the more intriguing. It is believed to have belonged to Caligula, the notoriously autocratic ancient Roman emperor.
Caligula ruled from AD 37, but his reign was cut short four years later when he was assassinated by the Praetorian Guards — the security force tasked with protecting the emperor.
This sapphire ring, for sale by Royal jeweler Wartski, is a testament to the luxury of the time. Jade is exceptionally hard, second only to diamond on the Mohs scale of hardness.
It will take quite a bit of skill to not only cut and polish the sapphire, but also to carve the delicate portrait on the front of the ring.
So who is this beauty carved into this stone? Appropriately, it appears to be the portrait of Caligula’s fourth – and final – wife, Cesonia. The Roman historian Suetonius described her as “a woman of recklessness and greed” and even claimed that she gave birth to their daughter on their wedding day.
Caligula and Cesonia had a passionate affair and it is said that he even occasionally shows her naked to his friends.
With such a fiery relationship, it was no wonder the emperor wanted her portrait on his ring. Alas, their love would not last, as Cesonia – and her daughter – were murdered just hours after Caligula was killed.
Although some art historians point out that the style of the ring may not be in keeping with what was fashionable under the emperor, it is still interesting to imagine that it was his.
Aside from the incredible backstory, the sapphire ring made headlines when it was put up for auction in 2019 due to its place in the Marlborough Collection.
Once the gems were sold out in 1899, many of them disappeared into private collections, and even today experts only know the location of a quarter of the jewels.
This isn’t the only piece in the Marlborough Collection to surpass Wartski. They now have two other Marlborough gems in their collection, including a 16th-century Italian guest and an ancient Roman gold sard engraved with a portrait of Mark Antony. It is a rare portrait of the general, who is famous for his love affair with Queen Cleopatra.
This incredible sapphire ring once belonged to Caligula, an ancient Roman emperor known for his tyrannical reign.
The face of the ring features an intricately carved portrait of his wife Cesonia.