A GOLD ring given as a present by Oscar Wilde has been recovered 18 years after it was stolen – thanks to a Dutchman dubbed the“Indiana Jones of the art world”.
The friendship ring, which the renowned writer gave to a fellow student at Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1876, was stolen during a burglary in 2002 at the college.
Its whereabouts remained unknown for years and it was feared the 18-carat ring, valued at €40,650 and shaped like a buckled belt, had been melted down.
However, Dutch art detective Arthur Brand believed it was still out there and embarked on an extraordinary seven-year journey to find the missing treasure once and for all.
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Mr Brand told Independent.ie he teamed up with London antiques dealer William Veres, who put him in touch with a man who had connections to the London criminal underworld.
But it wasn’t until after the infamous Hatton Garden safe deposit heist of 2015 that rumours started to circulate that a Victorian ring with a Russian inscription had surfaced on the art market.
“It was at this point where I thought this might be Oscar Wilde’s ring and naturally got very excited,” said Mr Brand.
“The ring itself bears a Greek inscription that says, ‘Gift of love, to one who wishes love’ and I believed it was very likely that it was mistaken for Russian.
“After a long while, the buyer was finally tracked down and was horrified that he was in possession of this famous stolen ring.”
The unknown buyer agreed to give the ring to a mediator, who met Mr Brand outside the same building in London from which the ring was believed to have been stolen.
“I was given the ring outside the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company, which I thought was a brilliant example of British humour,” said Mr Brand.
“It was even more beautiful than I imagined. The exquisite detail, Oscar Wilde’s initials and the poetic inscription really captivated me.”
The ring will be officially handed back to Magdalen College, where it formed part of a collection of Wilde memorabilia, in an official ceremony on December 4.
However, Mr Brand admitted that parting from the ring will be a very difficult thing to do.
“It almost felt like ‘Lord of the Rings’,” he said.
“I could feel a certain power around it and found myself wearing the ring many times before I put it in a safe place.
“Of course, the temptation was there to keep it, but I knew if I did my reputation would be ruined. I also believe that my mother would actually kill me.
“For me, I’m just happy to be able to return this missing treasure back to its rightful place after nearly 20 years. Oscar Wilde was such an extraordinary and iconic character to come out of the Victorian era.
“To play a part in doing him justice nearly 120 years after his death is just an incredible feeling. Once the ring is returned I hope people will come to visit it hundreds or even thousands of years from now.”
Mr Brand has previously hit the headlines for returning stolen artworks, including a Picasso painting stolen from a yacht in France, worth an estimated €25m.
He is also credited for discovering ‘Hitler’s Horses’, two bronze statues made by Nazi sculptor Joseph Thorak.
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