- Place of origin:
- Materials and Techniques:
Yellow diamond set in gold, with rose-cut diamonds
- Credit Line:
Bequeathed by the Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Jewellery, Rooms 91, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, case 50, shelf A, box 6
Diamonds are made of a crystalline form of pure carbon, creating the hardest mineral known. They have a high surface ‘lustre’, meaning that much light is reflected from their surface. This light is combined with light reflected through the stone from the back facets to create ‘brilliance’. Light passing through the stone is also split into a broad spectrum of colours termed ‘fire’. A modern brilliant-cut diamond is faceted so that it combines a high level of brilliance with fire.
Diamonds occur naturally in a variety of colours: colourless, yellow, brown, black, blue, green, pink and extremely rarely red. This ring is set with a yellow diamond. These are mostly found in South Africa. Their colour is caused by the presence of nitrogen.
The diamond rings (Museum nos 1172 to 1179-1869) all came to the V&A as a bequest by the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend. They had previously been part of the famous Hope collection of gemstones. They entered the Museum in 1869. They have attracted the attention of gemmologists because it is known that their colours have not been enhanced or created by techniques subsequently invented.
A gold ring set with a yellow, brilliant-cut diamond surrounded by eight small rose-cut diamonds.
Place of Origin
Materials and Techniques
Yellow diamond set in gold, with rose-cut diamonds
Diameter: 10.7 mm approx. maximum, of yellow diamond
Object history note
This ring forms part of an important group of gemstones bequeathed to the V&A in 1868 by the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868). Townshend was a minor poet, musician, amateur painter and a collector of paintings, gemstones and coins. He became acquainted with the poets Robert Southey and William Wordsworth and was a close friend of Charles Dickens who described him as a ‘poor dear fellow, good affectionate gentle creature’.
Dickens and Townshend had a shared interest in mesmerism, a wildly popular form of hypnotism named after the German doctor Franz Mesmer. Townshend’s interest led to the publication of his 1840 ‘Facts on Mesmerism: With Reasons for a Dispassionate Inquiry Into it’, a section of which described his experiments in applying gemstones to the foreheads of sleepwalkers, stating that the opal gave a soft feeling and the Brazilian diamond was particularly agreeable. Dickens gave Townshend his manuscript copy of ‘Great Expectations’, with an affectionate inscription and in return Townshend made Dickens his literary executor, a task which Dickens found unpleasantly onerous but which eventually resulted in the publication of a collection of Townshend’s notes under the title of ‘Religious opinions of the late Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend’.
An obituary published in the Times (7 April, 1868) described him thus:
“He was a lover of art, and collector of rare judgment and exquisite taste. Every house in which he lived had, indeed, the interest of an art museum, though they will chiefly be remembered for the refined and gracious hospitality with which they were thrown open to his friends during the brief periods in which they were occupied by their owner, for during the whole of his later life he spent the greater part of the year at his villa, "Monloisir," at Lausanne…. He bequeaths to the President of the Council for the time being, for the benefit of the South Kensington Museum, such of his pictures, water-colour drawings, and engravings as the Lord President may select; also his collection of Swiss coins and his boxes of precious stones and cameos, together with the ancient gold watch which, having been stolen by the celebrated Barrington, was the cause of his transportation; also the looking-glass and frame over his drawing-room chimneypiece, carved by Grinling Gibbons.”
The collection of 145 gems came to the V&A (then known as the South Kensington Museum) in the early days of the museum. The 19th century curator G.F. Duncombe described the circumstances which led to the bequest:
‘Some years ago, the Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend…while walking with me through the Museum stopped to examine the jewels exhibited in the South Court, and to compare them with those in his own collection. Mr Townshend having no children, it occurred to me that it would be a noble thing for him to leave his collection by will to the South Kensington Museum, which at that time, had no precious stones except on loan. I made the suggestion to him and he seemed pleased with the idea, and subsequently often referred to it… I have since had the satisfaction of learning that about three years ago, Mr Townshend added a codicil to his will , by which he more than carried out the suggestion that I ventured originally to him.’ .
The acquisition aroused great public interest, being featured in the ladies’ magazine ‘London Society’ as a plot device in ‘A Romance of South Kensington’ and was almost certainly the inspiration for Dorian’s collection of jewels in Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’.
A gold ring set with a yellow, brilliant-cut diamond surrounded by eight small rose-cut diamonds, made in Europe, 1800-1869
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend; Obituary in The Times (7 April 1868)
Phillips, Clare ‘Jewels and Jewellery, London 2019, pp.18-19
Scott, Rosemary; Townshend, Chauncy Hare (1798–1868); Dictionary of National Biography
Metalwork; Jewellery; Europeana Fashion Project