A SAPPHIRE ring, possibly once worn by a king, queen or ancient tribal chieftain, has found a new home – after being lost to the world for centuries.

The find was made by metal detector enthusiast Michael Greenhorn in a field near York two years ago.

Now it has been acquired by the city’s Yorkshire Museum for £35,000, where it will become one of the highlights of its collection when it goes on display in a few weeks’ time.

One of the earliest examples of the use of sapphire ever found in the country, the ring is of national importance, but is still shrouded in mystery.

Assistant curator of archaeology Natalie McCaul said: “This is a spectacular find – a very bold and beautiful ring with a huge sapphire in the centre.

“But what is most intriguing for us is nothing like this has ever been found before in this country, which makes it incredibly difficult to date.

“There is no doubt that it was made by one of the finest craftsmen in the land for someone of great wealth and very high standing. But as it is so unique we are still unsure about when exactly it was made.”

The ring is made of gold, glass and a large sapphire.

It is the second known use of a sapphire in jewellery found in the country, the first being a Fifth Century Roman example.

Mr Greenhorn, 48, from York, has been metal detecting for 20 years and the ring is by far his greatest find.

“My first thoughts were just to sit down on the ground then to make sure nobody was playing a practical joke,” he said.

“Then I walked back to the car with a great big cheesy grin on my face.

“Looking at it and the workmanship, it’s obvious it’s a high-status item.

“Ordinary folk would not have owned anything like it.

“It’s a chunky ring with a sapphire in it so it would have been an important piece for a tribal leader or even a king or someone in his retinue.”

Experts are being called in to help the museum unlock the ring's secrets.

Key North-East Finds

NORTH Yorkshire and the North-East have been a happy hunting ground for metal detectorists. Major finds include:

• The medieval Middleham Jewel found near Middleham castle in 1985 and sold to the Yorkshire Museum for £2.5m;
• The Middleham Ring found in 1990 and dating from the late 14th or early 15th Century. It was sold to the Yorkshire Museum for £42,000;
• The gold Sacriston Pendant, found at Daisy Hill, Sacriston, County Durham, in 1991. It dates from 650AD and is now at the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle;
• A hoard of treasure dating from 1,000BC found near Sedgefield, County Durham, in 2005;
• The Vale of York Hoard, found near Harrogate, in 2007. The 1,000-year-old Viking coins and other artefacts were sold to the British Museum and the Yorkshire Museum for £1.1m;
• An Iron Age gold bracelet, found last year at a secret site in North Yorkshire and thought to be worth about £40,000. A gold arm torc also found at the site could be worth £350,000 if proved to date from the Bronze Age.