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cameo jewelry Born of the classical art of antiquity, a cameo is an object such as stone, shell, coral, or Ivory, carved with a raised (positive) image. Its close relative, the intaglio, features an incised (negative) image. Intaglios have been used as seals from time immemorial. Dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans cameos are one of the oldest forms of jewelry. Cameos enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the Renaissance and again in the Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian eras. They continue to be popular with ladies today.

Originally most cameos and intaglios were carved from stone. The world center for cameo carving was, and still is, Torre del Greco, Italy. Today cameos may be found carved from shell, agate, lava, jet, coral, and ivory. One may also find cameos made of Wedgewood and Jasperware as well as glass, resin, and plastic.

In the early 1800ís, as the popularity of cameos grew, artists looked for new materials with which to work. Sailors brought a variety of exotic shells from far away ports with them to Italy. Cameo artists found shells, along with lava from Mt. Vesuvius in Pompeii, ideal to work with. By 1850 the demand for cameos made them the most popular piece of jewelry owned by women on both side of the Atlantic. Among the upper and middle classes, cameos, especially lava from Italy,soon became one of the most popular souvenirs of a grand tour.

Throughout the ages cameos have been prized as miniature works of art. Many famous people have loved and collected cameos. Both Josephine and Napoleon frequently wore them. Queen Victoria was very fond of them and had many carved for her subjects. Catherine the II of Russia was a well-known collector as was Pope Paul the II.

Cameo artists in the early and mid-Victorian era found inspiration in many places. Images of Greek or Roman gods and goddesses were popular as were biblical scenes. Some cameos were copies of old coins. Many featured an interpretation of a popular historical painting or perhaps a portion of a classic fresco from Rome or Pompeii. Many of these works of art have been lost to history but the images carved on cameos, due to their small portable nature, have ensured that the images survive.

For nearly 100 years the cameo was the one piece of jewelry most women owned. By the start of the early Edwardian era tastes had changed and the image of an idealized anonymous woman was preferred. Soldiers stationed in Italy brought cameos home to their wives and mothers. In the 1930's the diamond industry, trying to encourage women to buy diamonds, started putting diamonds in cameos. These were called Cameo habille. They remained popular well into the 1950s and are often prized by collectors today.

Please enjoy the following cameos used with permission of the owners.

Carved Coral Cameo c.1890/1900

Carved coral cameo image of Demeter, also facing left Compare the intensity of the color to the Queen Conch shell. although angel skin would be pink the color would be just as vibrant.

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Demi-parure c.1850/60

A rare matching set consisiting of a brooch and earrings carved from lava from Mt. Vesuvius. The setting is Etruscan Revival as are the figures. Lava can be white, green, brown, reddish, or almost black.

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Emperor Helmut shell c.1880/90

Masterfully carved cameo depicting Diana at her bath. This cameo is the best quality. note the detail in the feet of the cherub and the detail in the faces of the subjects. Cameo is set in 9k gold. note the sharp white image and the reddish background. Compare this with the orange and cream of Horned Helmut shell or the white and taupe of the King Helmut shell.

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Horned Helmut shell cameo

Saint George and the dragon The image is copied from Benedetto Pistrucci's design for the British gold sovereign c.1816/20 the cameo is c. 1850/60. it is set in base metal and has pearls set in the frame around the edges.

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Horned Helmut shell cameo

This cameo features the image of the nymph Daphne who was the Greek god Apollo's first love. The cameo is c. 1850/60 and is set in a very nice pinchbeck frame.

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King Helmut shell c. 1845/55

This cameo features the image of the goddess Flora. It is beautifully carved from King Helmut shell. The overtly reddish appearance is due to lighting.She is also unusual since she faces left. Most cameos face right

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King Helmut shell cameo

A beautifully carved image of the Greek goddess Hebe. The image is taken from a painting by Sir William Beechey c.1850/60. The cameo is set in a tublar picnhbeck frame. The cameo is also a sweet heart cameo, it swivels in the frame to reveal the portrait of a gentleman on the reverse. the brooch may be worn with either side out.

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Lava Cameo

This is an exquisite cameo dipicting the nymph Daphne who, in order to escape the advances of Apollo, was changed into a laural tree. She is shown here with a wreath of laural in her hair. The cameo is carved in high relief from Mt. Versuvius Lava. C. 1850

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Sardonyx Stone cameo c.1890/1900

Carved stone cameo with the image of Demeter the goddess of harvest.The setting is filigree.

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Shell Cameo c.1870/80

This is an image of the Goddess Aphrodite. It is carved on Queen Conch shell which is often mistaken for angel skin coral. Conch shell will fade over time. Coral will keep its rich color indefinitly.The setting is beautifully etched and gold filled.

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