The twelfth century gold jewellery box, back lit in its cabinet, held my attention. It was evenly covered on its rectangular lid and four sides with tiny square turquoise tiles. I made a rough estimate of how many by counting the number over a small area and factoring up. Eight or nine hundred. I could not imagine how the tiles had been placed so precisely, nor how fixed, and there was no way that I knew of finding out. But as I considered the skill of the anonymous craftsman, I felt oppressed by the exigencies of his task. And all to provide a passing delight to a spoilt noblewoman or courtesan. Perhaps. Although possibly a treasured possession passed feelingly from mother to daughter and beyond.
I looked longer. One tessella was paler and greener than the others and lay unassertively on the lid. Had its colour been degraded by a defect in its substance which had gradually appeared during the centuries since the box’s making? I preferred to think of it as the personal mark of its maker, unnoticed by the rich and carefree, but a salute to any future goldsmith, initiate to the mysteries of their guild. So that someone in the distant past might have recognised it as a sign of fellowship arriving from a still more distant past.