Cameo jewelry has come back into fashion after years of languishing in your mother’s or grandmother’s jewelry box. In mid-2017, JCK published an article on the cameo resurgence featuring pictures of Rihanna and Beyoncé. Are you thinking “demure and quaint?” Think again. These fashion icons chose large bold cameos, worn as pins on a beret, pinky finger rings and statement pendants layered with chains and necklaces.
However . . .
Most customers aren’t dodging paparazzi, modeling for a Vogue magazine cover, or walking the red carpet. Their lives call for styles they can wear with suits, tunics, jeans, and dresses. Our calibrated cameo selection will work perfectly for those occasions.
So where did the art of the cameo start? Many of us assume it happened in the 19th century during the Victorian Era. It’s easy to see why. With today’s strong vintage trend, many cameo jewelry styles harken back to this period when these miniature works of art were the height of fashion.
Go back — go way back
But cameos emerged more than two millennia before when Alexander the Great had his portrait carved in stone. With the modesty you’d expect of an all-powerful conqueror, he had himself portrayed as a god. An article on GIA’s website hilariously suggests that this might be the first selfie. (If only he had known what was to come two millennia later.)
What defines a cameo?
A cameo features an elevated relief image. Before Alexander’s trend-starting choice, artisans engraved figures and animals into stone, below the level of the background. They were used as seals and amulets. After Alexander, powerful rulers chose the raised carving technique to depict their likenesses or a momentous scene from mythology or battle. The design thrived among ancient Rome’s nobility, and it enjoyed an elite status an over time, subsided in popularity.
It reawakened during the Renaissance in Italy and France. During this time, artisans discovered carving cameos in shell, and it quickly became the medium of choice. Its natural color variations created striking effects and other multi-colored stone — carnelian, agate, jasper, and quartz — became popular. Though mythological scenes were still popular, Christian themes had emerged with images from the Bible.
Waiting for Victoria
It wasn’t until Queen Victoria’s reign that cameos achieved their greatest popularity and extravagance. In addition to shell and stone, the Victorians created cameos from sapphire, jade, garnet, and opal. In addition to depicting royalty and nobility, the Victorians introduced the delicate profiles of maidens, elegantly dressed women, and stylized florals. Following Victoria’s death, cameo carvers expanded their materials to include luxurious choices such as ruby, lapis lazuli, turquoise, aquamarine, and topaz. The array is dazzling.
In the early 1860s, the royal family commissioned Tomaso Saulini, a renowned artist, to carve a cameo of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. This famous cameo resides in the British Museum.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, circa 1863
When Prince Charles married Princess Diana, The Royal Family reached out to G. Noto, a master carver and he carved this cameo of the royal couple. This is a prototype of the design. Noto or one of his students (he was elderly) sculpted the finished piece in lava. Unfortunately, I can’t find a picture of it.
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Do you or a customer have a passion for cameos? Share your stories. We’d love to read them.