Auctioneers Woolley and Wallis have sold an extraordinary historical memento - for an unexpected final price. Lot 1423 of their January 27 jewellery auction was a rare double-sided gold locket, supposed a gift from Lord Nelson to his lover Lady Hamilton.
However, the unique heirloom is marked out by its astonishing contents - two locks of hair, encased on the obverse and reverse of the locket respectively. The first lock, pale in colour, is mounted on the front section, tied in a bow and decorated with a gold and pearl anchor motif, indicative of its maritime connections.
The initial 'N' and the date '1st August 1798' can be seen in the centre. The reverse section contains an auburn lock, simply tied and set with seed pearls. The theory is of course that the pale hair belonged to Nelson and the auburn hair to Lady Hamilton.
The supposed story behind the locket and the hair contained is remarkable. The date, hair colour and initial suggest that the pale hair was mounted shortly after Nelson's victory at the Battle of the Nile in mid-1798.
Until the middle of 1799, Nelson stayed as a guest of the British Envoy in Naples, Sir William Hamilton, and famously conducted a scandalous affair with his wife Emma, Lady Hamilton. Supposedly, the auburn hair is that of Lady Hamilton, based on the time frame and the similarity of the hair to other existing examples.
As such, the locket is most likely one of the few remaining representations of a very high-profile, controversial, yet enduring romance conducted between two of the most famous figures in 18th and 19th Century British history.
The level of interest from collectors in the item - and their belief in its origins - was reflected in the auction itself. Attracting the attention of bidders from across the globe and estimated to realise only £2,000-5,000, the locket eventually sold for an amazing £44,000.
This unique item underlines the importance that seemingly low-value jewellery can have as an investment. The consignor of the locket had in fact found it whilst clearing out cupboards in a house in Portsmouth.
Whilst unusual, such finds are not unheard of and it should be remembered that the auction process has the power to turn an average collectible into a fantastic alternative asset.
Collectors frustrated to have missed the chance to own a piece of Admiral Nelson's hair are in luck: there is some currently available at A Small Piece of History.
- Click here to view our jewellery stock for sale
- Learn how you can get pleasure and profit by investing in antique jewellery
- Read all the latest Watches & Jewellery, Militaria and Memorabilia news
Join our readers in over 200 countries around the world - sign up for your free weekly Collectibles Newsletter today