Cameo Jewellery

A brief history

07/10/2022     General News, Jewellery & Gems

A cameo is a form of relief, carving, which historically features landscapes, portraits, and mythological figures cut into a variety of materials, but most commonly glass, hardstones and shells. Cameo artworks are carved to create two layers on one piece of material, the top of which protrudes from its background, creating a multi-dimensional artwork. These detailed reliefs were often used to adorn pieces of jewellery, such as brooches, necklaces, bracelets, and rings. The earliest cameos took inspiration from prehistoric petroglyphs, which documented important religious and symbolic iconography onto rock faces.

Cameo artistry was popular in Ancient Mediterranean cultures and travelled through trade routes connecting Egypt, Greece, and Rome, however perhaps the most well-known era for cameos is the 19th century, inspired by Royal cameo collectors Queen Victoria and Emperor Napoleon Buonaparte

Shell cameos depicting natural and humanistic scenes onto deep-sea shells, became quite popular under Queen Victoria’s reign, these shells are soft and easy to carve.

The best cameos tend to be carved into gemstones and hardstones, agate is popular as it is banded and can create contrast between the relief layer and base layer. This material can be exquisitely carved.

Cameos remained popular in the 20th Century when many costume jewellery pieces were produced, even today they still appear in contemporary jewellery collections.

We have a collection of cameo items to include brooches, a pendant and ring in our forthcoming auction, no jewellery collection is complete without one! My favourites are:


Lot 367: An Antique Agate Cameo of a classical figure, this is beautifully carved incorporating three bands of the agate material allowing the headdress to contrast against the figure, it is estimated between €1650 and €1850


Lot 251: A vintage shell cameo pendant, the detail in this carving is simply exquisite, estimate €550 – 650


Lot 354: An antique shell cameo depicting a child, again there is beautiful detail in the carving and the subject matter here is unusual, estimate €400 - 600

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