Monday, August 24, 2009

Shell Cameos


I adore cameos. They are miniature works of art that transforms the wearer in to a living art gallery. The art of cameo carving has been traced as far back as the second and first centuries B.C., to the ancient Greco-Roman empires, where cameos enjoyed a golden age. Stone, shell, lava, Bakelite, resin plastics and wood, they can be carved in relief, intaglio or molded. Napoleon was so taken by the beauty of cameos that he not only wore and collected them, he also started a school in Paris to train young carvers. His wife’s coronation crown was studded with cameos.

Extraordinary antique french cameo headpiece (1860s.)

Cameo jewelry was incredibly popular during the Victorian era, approximately 1837 - 1901. As one of Queen Elizabeth's favorite types of jewelry, the popularity of the cameo naturally coincides with her reign. This era is also when the profile, rather than other designs became the most popular style for cameos.


This lovely classic cameo is beautifully carved right down to the details of her curls and tendrils, the roses in her hair and the pearls at her neck. Circa 1900s (I Need This, Antiques - $140.00)

This deep relief, angel skin cameo is also highly detailed with grapes and grape leaves in her hair and a strand of pearls at her neck. Angel skin is not a shell but a pale pink coral and is one of the most sought after most expensive shell cameo types.


High relief, this angel skin cameo has the palest of pink backgrounds. Circa 1900s (I Need This, Antiques - $160.00)


Beautifully carved head of Athena showcases her helmet and plume and flowing tresses. Lots of carved details on the helmet. Vibrant background enhances the pure white of the shell. Interesting woven wire bezel. A lovely, well executed cameo. Circa 1900s (I Need This, Antiques - $125.00)



I have two cameos that I wear often, one belonged to my grandma-nana and is a traditional Rebecca at the Well theme (1890s). This was a widely popular cameo, often purchased for cash or trade from a traveling salesman across the prairies and the American West by working class men and women. Other than the wedding band a woman may own, it was the cameo to be worn at her throat that women covented. My other cameo is also a traditional Rebecca at the Well but contains two animals, a horse and a dog. Her arms wrapped around the horse as he is drinking from the well with the dog drinking at her feet. I adore this piece because it shows a tenderness towards God's creatures. Although there is a repair, it is my favorite and I wear it often.

Owned by the Sea Witch and worn often (1890s).

Cameos and cameo jewelry are treasures meant to be passed on from one generation to another. Cameos require special care and cleaning to keep them as beautiful as when first acquired and especially old cameo pieces. Shell and coral cameos in particular need a beauty regimen as they are prone to discoloration and cracking from drying as they age. To prevent the color-change and discoloration they need to be moisturized a couple of times of year with baby or mineral oil. Just apply the oil with your finger or soft-cotton swab and let it sit overnight. In the morning, wipe any remaining oil from the cameo with a soft fabric cloth--DO NOT use a paper towel. DO NOT wash the excess oil off or the moisturizing effect of the oil will be washed away also. Moisturize or rehydrate your cameos twice or year and each time after cleaning them. If your cameo needs cleaning, use a jewelry cleaner that is safe for cleaning pearls. Pearls, coral and shells are all porous materials so your cleaner must be gentle or it will destroy the cameo.

So check your jewel boxes for cameos and wear them, love them and show them off. They will always increase in value whether monetary or sentimental. (if you are interested in more information on the cameos I have shown for sale, please send me an email)

3 comments:

seanymph said...

I love cameos too and didnt know that about the oil. Im going to have to do mine then. I collect them and have several including one just like the Baccanate angel skin one up there. She is my very favorite.....no wait I think the angel skin raphael angel is......no wait.....I think the rose cameo necklace I have is......no wait......its the one with the long antique chain and is a locket.....no wait.....

lol see what I mean? Too many to rememember lol

Christine Edwards said...

What an interesting story about cameos. I love your cameo with the woman, dog and horse. Very sweet.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

I really enjoyed reading about cameos. Your cameos are gorgeous, and even more so since they belonged to your grandma -Nana!

Long ago, (1971) I went to Naples, Italy, which was famous for it's hand carved shell cameos, but alas, i didn't have enough money to buy any. I was in high school, and saved four years from my part time job to afford to go to Italy as my senior year trip. How I wish I was able to buy one of these beautiful works of art!