The Hermitage's collection of Greek goldsmiths' work contains ancient jewels of exceptional historical and artistic importance. They entered the Museum as acquisitions, personal gifts and donations as well as from official archaeological campaigns on the north coast of the Black Sea. Excavations were undertaken in this region from the late eighteenth century onwards following the annexation of the Crimean peninsula into Catherine II's empire in 1783 after the Russian-Turkish wars.
The year 1830 saw the chance discovery of the burial mound (kurgan) of Kul-Oba in the Kerch peninsula on the outskirts of Panticapaeum, former capital of the kingdom of Bosphorus. The richness and abundance of jewellery found in the tomb indicate that the bodies in the funerary chamber were those of members of the aristocratic elite. The jewels comprised a magnificent group of Greek and Scythian toreutic objects (metal worked in relief ) from the 4th century BC.
In an attempt to stop the pillaging of the kurgans, Nicholas I decided to regulate excavations and in 1859 the Imperial Archaeological Commission was established to supervise archaeological campaigns in Russia. New finds began to be studied and explorations extended to the banks of the Dnieper and the Taman peninsula. It was here that the Artyukhov kurgan was discovered, which contained 2nd-century BC objects that reflected the influence of oriental craftsmen on Greek goldsmiths' work during the Hellenistic period as a result of Alexander the Great's expeditions. In comparison to the decoration of the classical period, in which smooth surfaces were combined with others covered in filigree, the principal characteristic of Hellenistic period jewellery is the use of polychromy, an effect achieved with inset stones, of which garnets were particularly popular.