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Bonhams goes treasure hunting across Britain

The story is truly fantastic: imagine a dusty ruby brooch bought in a charity shop for £1.50, and sold for an amazing £2,400 after being identified as valuable vintage jewellery by experts at Bonhams auctioneers.
Cartier Ruby Brooch
Cartier Ruby Brooch
The incredible provenance of the flower brooch – found in a basket of ordinary jewellery items – was finally revealed after ‘scratches’ on the back turned out to be a Cartier signature. The valuable antique piece was rescued from a Cambridgeshire charity shop after its buyer decided she rather liked the pattern. Immediately, she decided to get it valued and, after the leading international auctioneers identified it as by Cartier, it sold to a collector for a staggering 1,600 times its purchase price.
This ruby brooch is part of a whole ensemble of forgotten jewellery worth an estimated £60 million that is gathering dust in drawers and attics across Britain.
Millions of pounds worth of earrings, necklaces, bracelets and other pieces are simply set aside and forgotten as a result of changing tastes, according to Bonhams. Here is a geographical breakdown of the value in forgotten jewellery still to be “re-discovered” across Britain, which Bonhams is trying to free from dust and value for free during its Jewellery in June campaign:
Britain Jewellery Map
Britain Jewellery Map
Other incredible finds range from a £20,000 diamond ring buried in a back garden; an art deco brooch bequeathed to a young girl by her grandmother and considered ‘costume jewellery’ until it was valued and sold for £12,500; and a ring inherited from a client’s grandmother that was revealed as an ultra-rare Burmese unheated ruby which sold for £134,500.
Jean Ghika, head of jewellery in the UK and Europe at Bonhams, said:
“We estimate there is at least £60 million worth of unwanted jewellery that owners have forgotten or never worn just waiting for a new home. Many clients tell us they had forgotten about a piece of jewellery that might have been handed down to them when an elderly relative passed away or that it was just sitting in a safe deposit box and not being worn and enjoyed. A lot of people have no idea just how valuable these pieces could be.”
Jean Ghika added:
There are always amazing finds akin to the moment on Antiques Roadshow when someone is left quite literally speechless after being told their old pot is a priceless Ming Dynasty vase. We’re asking everyone to have a look in their drawers and jewellery boxes, dust off any items they haven’t worn for several years or may not know much about and bring them in to any one of our regional offices during June. It’s incredibly exciting not knowing what pieces will be brought in. Over the years we’ve had some astonishing finds, with items brought to us in carrier bags or wrapped in tea towels. The jewellery market is very robust at the moment and items such as natural pearls and good quality diamonds and coloured gemstones are achieving excellent prices.”
This is simply amazing, if you think what can be found amidst thought-to-be ordinary items:
  • A 4.50 carats single-stone ruby ring inherited from a client’s grandmother was brought in from Cambridgeshire. After Bonhams sent it away for testing, it turned out to be an ultra-rare Burmese unheated stone which sold for an eye-watering £134,500.
A Burmese Ruby Single Stone Ring.
A Burmese Ruby Single Stone Ring.
  • Another client produced a 5 carats brilliant cut diamond in an early 20th Century ring mount that his mother had buried in the garden in a jar then died without telling him where it was. Incredibly, he had spent a year digging over the garden before finding it. The ring was eventually sold for £20,000 by Bonhams London.
  • A gentleman from East Anglia brought in a bright green bangle for valuation.  This was identified as jade with an estimate of £20,000-£30,000.  Bonhams went on to sell this in its Hong Kong salesroom for £443,500.
Jade Bangle.
Jade Bangle.
  • An art deco multi-gem brooch bequeathed to a young girl by her grandmother was considered ‘costume jewellery’ and used as a dressing up toy at home in Wiltshire. Valued by Bonhams, it was revealed to be Cartier and sold for £12,500 to a private collector.
Cartier Gem Set Brooch.
Cartier Gem Set Brooch.
  • Another client organising his late mother’s belongings found a five shilling note sewn into a curtain hem. Spotting a bulge in the lining, he uncovered an antique amethyst necklace which was sold by Bonhams for £6,000.
  • An elderly lady brought in a bag of predominantly costume jewellery to be valued by Bonhams in Knightsbridge, London. Among the collection was a ring set with a light blue stone. It was a rare blue diamond and later sold for £100,000 to a Swiss collector.
Fancy Coloured Diamond Single Stone Ring.
Fancy Coloured Diamond Single Stone Ring.
Jean Ghika added:
Current market conditions for fine jewellery, most specifically period pieces, fine coloured gemstones, diamonds and natural pearls, has never been stronger. During June, our team of jewellery specialists will be available to give confidential valuations, free of charge, on any piece of jewellery you may be considering for auction.”
Post edited by Claudia Carletti, Jewellery Through Time. All material courtesy of Bonhams.
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