The Remarkable Roxburghe Rubies

This sensational necklace and earrings set with a truly remarkable series of cushion-shaped Burmese rubies perfectly matched in colour, is undoubtedly one of the finest quality suites ever to have been assembled and remains one of the most memorable jewels we have handled in our long careers.

It was mounted in 1884 by Garrard in London for the 5th Earl Rosebery, an ancestor of Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe, as a present for his wife Hannah de Rothschild. It was accompanied by its original case bearing the Rosebery cypher and a contemporary note from the jewellers stating the weights of the stones.

Hannah de Rothschild (1851-1890) in a painting by Frederic Leighton
Hannah was the daughter of Baron Mayer de Rothschild and his wife Juliana. On inheriting her father's fortune in 1874 she became the richest woman in Britain. Her inheritance included Mentmore and its priceless art collection, a London mansion, countless investments and the sum of £2m. Hannah was introduced to her future husband, the Earl of Rosebery, at Newmarket racecourse by Lady Beaconsfield, the wife of Benjamin Disraeli, and the couple married in 1878.

All rubies in the set were of Burmese origin apart from two that came from Thailand and one that, we were surprised to discover, was a synthetic stone made by the Verneuil method which used flame fusion to crystallize aluminium oxide. This technique was first developed in late 1883, and one is tempted to wonder whether the fact that these synthetic stones were so new to the market meant that they may not have been spotted.

It is interesting to note that in 1885, the year after the suite was assembled, the British annexed Northern Burma and the ruby mines near the town of Mogok came under their control. The mining process was put under the supervision of Edwin Streeter, the Bond Street jeweller, who introduced new methods of extraction including the use of high-pressure water hoses. Since the finest rubies in the world have been found in these legendary mines, their annexation must have been a wonderful prize.