Cameo Jewelry

Cameo jewelry is an art form in its own right. It takes an artist to meticulously carve a detailed minuscule picture into a precious or semi-precious stone. Traditionally, cameo jewelry is a picture carved on top of a contrasting color of stone.

History of Cameo

Cameo dates back to ancient times and started out as signet rings and large earrings. Cameo then transformed into larger works of art, some even dating back to the3rd century B.C. in Greece. Cameo was very popular in Ancient Rome and in Augustus’ inner circle of family and friends. Perhaps the most famous cameo came from this time period. The Great Cameo of France, engraved in 23 A.D. is engraved on five layers of sardonyx. Cameo has come in and out of history. Its most popular revival was in Britain during King George III’s reign. His granddaughter Queen Victoria was on the first mass produced cameo and still remains one of the most widely circulated pieces of cameo jewelry to date.

Popular Cameo Materials and Designs

Even though most cameo is performed on layers of precious and semi-precious stones, there was a period where glass and even shell cameo was popular. Glass cameos of these periods are very rare and there are only 16 complete pieces in existence today. Mostly they were made of white carvings on blue backgrounds and have inspired this color theme in modern cameos. Shell cameos became popular during the 15th and 16th centuries because they were easy to carve and cheap to produce. Onyx and sardonyx where widely used throughout history and were the typical stone base for cameos. Modern cameo jewelry is usually carved on dyed agates. Typical color patterns are white on black, white on blue and white on red or red/brown. More experienced carvers use translucent white to create shading effects. Most designs are faces of famous historical figures, religious scenes, mythological gods/ goddesses, and nature scenes.


Cameo really is a lost art. Very few people on earth know how to master the intricacies of cameo jewelry. Because of the demand of cameo, in most cases a cameo artist will make one piece and an ultrasonic mill will duplicate it from the original. Because original cameo jewelry is so rare that it really is something special to own such a piece.

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