The first rule of mudlarking is you need a license to do it properly.
The second rule of mudlarking? You cannot profit from anything you find during your search along the muddy banks of the ever-changing Thames. For Londoners such as Ruth Tomlinson, you need to go into this unique search along the River Thames with open eyes, a love for history, and a desire to give something back as a “thank you” of sorts.
Tomlinson’s mudlarking adventure started in August 2021—that is when the well-known fine-jewelry designer decided she needed a new way to honor and celebrate her brand’s 20th anniversary. That is when she came up with the idea of searching, or what some call scavenging, the riverbanks for historical treasure.
As background, you must know mudlarking is regulated by the Crown Estate and the Port of London Authority, which provides the permit. Also, mudlarkers are not supposed to profit from the treasures they find—and Tomlinson says she believes in offerings for posterity. In other words, she wanted to accept a gift and leave a gift for someone else.
The result? A collection Tomlinson calls OffeRings, a line created from the garnets she found while mudlarking. Tomlinson gave them back to the river in a kind of archive—both to her work and to the city that she loves.
“This would be a dream for someone to find one in a hundred years’ time,” Tomlinson says. “I hope they would be intrigued by the jewel and look into its origins.”
The OffeRings collection has four items, all rings. The first, Destiny of the Thames, features garnet fragments in 14 karat yellow gold. The next, Mudlarkers, features garnets and a Tudor brass dressmaking pins in 18 karat white gold—it is all about tiny details, Tomlinson says, including a secret inscription that says “I am yours.”
The Time Capsule ring has green and yellow beads, broken glass, abalone, shell, rusted metal and is set in 18 karat gold. The final ring, which Tomlinson called an homage to craftspeople, features garnets and Tudor brass dressmaking pins set in 18 karat yellow gold and honors the girls and women who made these long-lasting and necessary items.
Alongside a large garnet collection, Ruth unearthed Tudor pins, Roman glass beads, and decaying nails, which have also been incorporated into her designs. She says she made it easy for those who find her rings to do the research: She’s a kind jeweler who gave each of the OffeRings a signature clue.
“They are all hallmarked with RT makers mark and the year they were created to celebrate our 20 years,” Tomlinson says. “Then hopefully they can put the clues together and find out that one of the OffeRings is archived in the V and A permanent collection. Each ring is documented in their online archive forever, so this would be fantastic reference for the larker if they are intrigued by their find.”
Her hope is that people will find the rings she created in the future, and in their efforts to find out what they are, they might discover her story. After all, someone who enjoys mudlarking is likely to be a good sort, Tomlinson supposes. Where some see only mud, Tomlinson and the others who mudlark see eternal beauty.
“Maybe they can give it to the museum, and the story will continue,” Tomlinson says.
Top: Ruth Tomlinson went mudlarking on the Thames, and she found not only London’s history but her jeweler’s eye picked up on the garnets found there. She returned the resulting jewelry she made into the muddy river banks for future mudlarkers to find (all photos courtesy of Ruth Tomlinson; top photo credit: Petr Krejci).@jckmagazine
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