Villainous gems stash put on show

A secret stash of precious stones which shines a light on dodgy dealings in the London underworld of yesteryear has gone on display.

The Cheapside Hoard, considered one of the world’s finest collections of 16th and 17th century jewels, was discovered by chance within a cellar near the famous City of London street in 1912.

Including delicate finger rings, cascading necklaces, Byzantine cameos, jewelled scent bottles and a unique Colombian emerald watch, its almost 500 pieces have been put on show at the Museum of London.

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The glistening treasure trove lay underground for nearly 300 years after it was buried between 1640 and 1666, the year of the Great Fire of London and the end of the Great Plague.

And experts who have examined the booty say it reveals tales of “war, murder on the high seas, chance discovery and clandestine dealings”.

Among the stories uncovered is that of Thomas Sympson, a snide 17th century jeweller who created two counterfeit balas rubies fashioned from rock crystal that were found in the hoard.

His relatives, John and Francis Sympson, received stolen jewels belonging to Gerrard Pulman, a jeweller murdered for his impressive stash while travelling on a ship from Persia back to London in 1631.

Exhibition curator Hazel Forsyth said: “The 16th and 17th century jewellery trade was clandestine by its very nature and skulduggery was rife.”