What is a Cameo Brooch?

Cameo brooches have been worn by both men and women throughout history.  Napoleon loved them enough to wear one to his own wedding. Queen Victoria was fond of cameo brooches, and was featured wearing many of them herself.  Cameo brooches were used throughout history to adorn military wear, and often depicted dramatic scenes from mythology or the Bible. They have clearly been a hit over the centuries and have recently been making a comeback as modern carvers develop the skill. But the questions remain: what exactly are they and why are they so popular? 

A fine and impressive antique Victorian cameo brooch/locket, in 14 carat yellow gold. Price: USD $1,177.33

Cameo brooches are normally mounted in gold or silver (most antique examples are found in yellow gold) and feature a small art work in the center. The picture is often a woman’s face in profile- probably the image you will have conjured in your heads upon hearing the word “cameo.” Other images, such as multiple people, animals, or scenes can also be found on cameo brooches.

In addition to images or scenes, you will find the gold, shell, hardstone or lava materials that are used to craft cameo brooches. The material is split in half, so that the brightest and hardest part of it can be used, and then the image is carved in relief. Various carving tools can be used to create this effect, including a bullino (an Italian tool) or a small dental drill. The crarving process is done by hand, making each cameo brooch unique and carefully crafted.

How to date a cameo brooch?

Cameo brooches can most easily be dated by looking at the pin and the safety chains. Safety chains are a relatively new adaptation, so if your cameo brooch features one, then you can know that it isn’t much older than early 1900s. You can also guess the age of the brooch by studying the pin: if the pin extends past the body of the brooch then you can assume that it in an older piece, most likely pre 1900. 

A fine and impressive antique French 18 carat yellow gold cameo brooch/pendant. Price: USD $1,308.88.

How can you know the value of a cameo brooch?

The value of a cameo brooch can be established in two ways: the materials used and the intricacy of the design. As a general rule, the brooch is more likely to be of a high value if it features a semi-precious stone such as agate, rather than shell. However, if the design is highly ornate, shell cameos can fetch a high price! It also will depend on the carat of the gold the brooch is set in and the age of the piece. 

Cameo brooches are largely associated with the Victorian era, but as we are seeing elements of Victorian style make their way into modern fashion trends, cameo brooches are still an excellent choice today! Browse our selection here


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