Art World's 'Indiana Jones' Tracks Down a Famous Ring

Oscar Wilde gave the ring to a friend at Oxford; it was stolen in 2002
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 18, 2019 10:25 AM CST
Art World's 'Indiana Jones' Tracks Down a Famous Ring
This March 14, 2014, photo shows a stone version of Oscar Wilde lounging on a rock in Merrion Square in Dublin.   (AP Photo/Helen O'Neill)

In 1876, Oscar Wilde and another friend gave a "friendship ring" to a fellow student at Magdalen College Oxford, where the Irish writer was studying at the time. The 18-karat gold ring, shaped like a belt and buckle, became part of the college's collection of Wilde memorabilia, but in 2002, a former college cleaner broke in and stole it, along with two other unrelated items. The burglar was caught, but he testified he'd already sold the ring to a scrap dealer for less than $200. Then, the "Indiana Jones of the Art World" got involved—and tracked down the ring, which was valued at $45,000 when it was stolen, the Telegraph reports. "We had given up hope of seeing it again," the college bursar tells the AFP. He adds, per Reuters, that police long believed it had been melted down.

But "rumors started in 2015 in the art underworld that a Victorian ring has surfaced 'with some Russian writing on it,'" Dutch "art detective" Arthur Brand tells AFP, explaining that the whispers began after the 2015 Hatton Garden jewelry heist, during which he believes the ring was nabbed. The ring that Wilde and Reginald Harding gave to their friend William Ward features a Greek inscription that translates to "Gift of love, to one who wishes love." With that in mind, Brand started investigating the rumors, and with the help of an antiques dealer and a man "with knowledge of the London criminal underworld" thanks to his casino-owning uncle, he ultimately found the ring—in the hands of a buyer "horrified" to discover it was stolen property, per the Telegraph—and negotiated its return. It will be given back to Magdalen College in a Dec. 4 ceremony. (Read about more big Brand finds here and here.)

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