The Cheapside Hoard: An Interview with Joanna Hardy

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For almost 300 years treasure lay buried below one of London’s busiest streets. No one knew of it until workmen started to demolish a timber building in Cheapside near St Paul’s Cathedral, in June 1912. The property had stood on the site since the 17th century and in a dark brick-lined cellar below the demolition, great amounts of treasure were discovered. Luxury Topping spoke to Joanna Hardy– former jewellery Director of Sotheby’s, and Independent Jewellery Consultant, to find out more.

Can you explain the significance of the amazing hoard of buried treasure?

This hoard is a time capsule…it is allowing us to look through a window into a time gone by that will never be repeated again. To have this amount of jewels from this era is remarkable as nearly all jewels from this period have not survived having met their fate by being melted down, stones unset re-cut and set into the latest jewellery trend.

The story of the discovery adds to the mystery of why the jewels were there in the first place. Do you have anything to add? 

Unfortunately it is still a mystery as to why these pieces were hidden. All the hoard has achieved is to bring up more questions.

Do you see this as a recurrence in people’s desire to know more about Jacobean and Elizabethan jewellery?

This exhibition will expose people to a world that I believe many people would not have really thought about before as it takes a find like this to entice people to learn more about the subject. What people will be so amazed about is how contemporary the pieces look even by today’s standards, and what really impresses me is the level of superb craftsmanship that was used then which would challenge most goldsmiths and lapidaries today.

The stones came from all over the world. Can you explain the significance of this?

Can you imagine in the 1550’s and 1600’s sailing for months on end from South America to Spain with your emerald haul, or trekking across the Indian subcontinent with a diamond or three in your pockets, bringing back sapphires from Ceylon or trading with Burma rubies with nomads with other stones that at the time would not necessarily have been deemed that important. Its the allure of something so small and yet it has managed to captures man imagination for centuries is what is so interesting. This exhibition attempts to answer that question. In fact all you have to do is walk around the exhibition and if you just imagine what the world was like when these stones were found and traded, you can not fail to be overwhelmed with admiration for the traders back then.

London is now the number one destination for luxury, was this the case back in the seventeenth century before the great fire of London? 

Absolutely, London was the hub for trading luxury goods. To trade within the great walls of the City of London you had to be part of a Guild which was like a quality control for goods that were going to be traded.

With your knowledge of gems, do you think that the wonderful colours and superb workmanship will have an effect on jewellery designers and we could see colour gemstone rising in prominence? 

The demand for coloured gem stones is on the up big time. The auction rooms are selling coloured gemstones that only a few years ago people would not have been familiar with. I sincerely hope the Hoard will be a huge inspiration for jewellery designers, one lesson to learn from the hoard is that there was a freedom to design what you wished, it all looks so refreshing …there was no brands telling you what you should buy or design.  I think every contemporary designer/maker should go and take note.

What is your favourite piece from the collection?

That is a hard question to answer…. as there are  a few pieces that I would be very happy to own, but I suppose if I had to choose it would be the Salamander Hat Brooch, It ticks quite a few boxes for me, firstly it is a brooch and I love wearing brooches, secondly it is an ingenuous design, it looks so contemporary, the Salamander was a talisman as a salamander is believed to be able to walk through fire unhurt because of the white secreted juices it produces which protects itself. and it has so much movement in it… it feels its alive.  I also love the Gold and Enamel pendant set with two step cut sapphires and a spinel bead …. I love the colours and the thought of how far these gems would have had to travel to end up in the hoard is quite remarkable.

Your master classes are loved by everyone lucky enough to attend. Will you be planning to hold a master class on the Cheapside Hoard?

I am not doing a specific master class on the Cheapdside Hoard, but  what I am doing is during the exhibition I shall be taking small groups round the exhibition.