Cameo jewelry features prominently in history. My fascination with these carvings started when I was a young girl and I remember my mother dressing up for some special occasion and bringing out her most prized pieces of jewelry. One of those pieces was a beautiful cameo and onyx flip ring similar to the one shown here.
It was actually a friendship or promise ring given by my grandfather to my grandmother whilst they were courting. It was passed to my mother and eventually to me. This is one of my most prized pieces today and I only haul it out on special occasions to keep the tradition alive. Before I actually inherited it, however, when I was around 12 or 13, these rings came into style again and my mother bought me one for my birthday because she knew how much I loved hers.
I have often gone to museums and sought out the jewelry rooms just looking for these pieces. They really are a sight to behold especially when you stop and think about what it takes to create this human adornment from start to finish. My goal was to someday get to Italy (what I believed was the country of origin) to learn about these fascinating carvings and perhaps purchase one for myself. Eventually, I did just that. A friend and I went to Rome and took a day excursion to Florence not only to see the art and architecture but because Florence is known for leather goods and jewelry (gold) along the Ponte Vecchio. There in this beautiful town after exploring we found a craftsman actually carving cameos. It is fascinating to watch the true artistry that goes into this magnificent piece of jewelry unfold before your eyes. Just watching the precision and detail will make you want to own one also!
So, here is what I know about these pieces and their fascinating history.
The Classic Cameo
These beautiful yet delicate hand carved images are spellbinding and picturesque and have been for thousands of years. They are both sentimental mementos and works of art. A cameo is one of the jewelry world's most romantic. A cameo can be a small-scale display or portrait. Cameo, an Italian word, means to engrave. Its origins are thought to be Arabic/Hebrew meaning amulet or charm. Myth has it that cameos attract well-being and prosperity. The constant adoration of cameos substantiates the power that bewitches both owners and admirers. A cameo can come in varying colors for the background, however, the raised image is almost always white or cream. Carnelian Shell is the most common of the cameos which you will see on a coral or orange or peach background. Pink shell, Tiger shell and Sardonyx (the rarest and most expensive) are also shells that can be used whereas the backgrounds will be different colors than the traditional and most common. Agate cameos are also beautiful. They shine on a beautiful blue background which can bring out such a lustrous transparency to the carving.
The opposite of a cameo (raised image) is an intaglio. This is just as delicate work as creating a cameo if not more so because you are carving down into the stone rather than chiseling away excess shell to gain the image. These images can be made of many materials including plastic or latex. However, the industry standards are mostly shell, coral, various stones, fine metals and sometimes glass. Intaglios can also have a useful purpose. You can brush it with ink or wax and use it as an identifying seal or stamp on documents or letters. If you scout around, you can buy a wax seal kit and you will notice the stamper is done intaglio style.
Countries of Origin
Ancient times show that the majority of ancient carvings of this style were Greek and Roman. In modern times to the present, Italy remains the central dominant of cameo craftsmanship. Other countries had their primetimes as well. For instance, during the height of the Renaissance, France was the leader in cameo designing and remained so through the middle of the 1700's. England then had their pinnacle of perfection in the era when Queen Victoria reigned. The United States had their rise occur immediately after during the Art Nouveau period. Even Germany sparkled with their fame after World War II as many European glass cutters migrated to Bavaria and other areas. As I said earlier, the rich history of these pieces is almost as old as jewelry history itself.
A cameo or intaglio is certainly a piece to be treasured and handed down through the generations with stories of their own and lots of love and sentimentality. Truly a work of wearable art to be treasured for many years.