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Shell Cameo, Jewelry History

by SevenGables (04/21/08).

Cameos are jewelry carved with a raised image. The word cameo comes from the Hebrew/Arabic word “kameo” meaning amulet or charm. They come in several materials and date back to Ancient Greece and Rome. They were usually were carved from a hard stone like agate, as well as glass.

Using conch and other shells became popular in Europe during the 16th century. In the last photo I have shown a cameo tiara which belonged to Empress Josephine and is housed in the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire, Palais Massena in Nice, France. Empress Josephine also had a wedding tiara made of cameos and precious gems which has been handed down. Today it is the crown of Queen Sylvia of Sweden.

Cameos often depict mythological gods and goddesses. The cameo pin pictured with the beautiful lady watering an eagle is the Venus, the Roman goddess of love and fertility. The eagle represents Zeus, who changed forms. So this cameo depicts Venus nourishing Zeus. It dates from the mid-19th century. The smaller ring is a Roman soldier wearing his battle helmet, another popular theme.

The large conch shell shows how a cameo artisan would carve out a cameo into a piece of jewelry. This cameo has very fine detail, showing a lady with grapes in her hair. The carving is of fine quality. Part of determining the quality of a cameo is the translucency of light from behind the cameo. Here you can see fine detail. This piece was probably a grand tour souvenir. Cameos are fancy, delicate and whimsical but also have deep meaning and a rich history.

2 Responses to “Shell Cameo, Jewelry History”

  1. It’s All About Cameos…

    Molded cameos are usually made of glass. Often the colors are swirled together. Glass cameos are usually quite shiny. Molded cameos are also molded from plastic. The Wedgwood style cameos were made from plastic. Plastic makes a terrific imitation shell…

  2. Cameos Jewelry…

    There is something about the cameos he was really fascinating. Whether it’s the attention to detail, the elegance of the portrait, there simply is nothing as beautiful as a cameo, and they never go out of fashion. Cameos can be made of various ma…

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