I’ve been a little obsessed lately. With women. Women carved in shell, stone and/or resin, to be exact. To say I’ve always had a love for vintage Cameos would be an understatement. The delicate features carved into gorgeous shells and other material seem so magical. I once had a very good friend several decades older that had an unbelievable Cameo collection. One day, as she felt she was nearing the end of her life, she offered me my pick. I chose an antique 14kt gold and diamond Cameo ring that I have, wear and treasure to this day. What’s not to love about Cameos. After all, they are rumored to posses mystical powers in the form of good health and wealth for those that wear them.
What is a Cameo exactly? The true definition is: a small scene or figure carved in relief. Often times, these carvings are made of shell, coral or glass but can be carved out of man-made materials, as well. The sister to the Cameo is the Intaglio. Think of it as the inverse of a Cameo. Instead of being carved in relief, the Intaglio is instead carved downward into the stone. Whichever you prefer, Cameo or Intaglio, both are beautiful, in my opinion.
There’s a lesser known fact that left facing Cameos are actually more rare, and therefore more valuable. And there’s also a much more well-known mantra with Cameos: “The Nose Knows.” As fashions changed throughout the ages, so did the carved features of the women in profile. The shape and size of the carving’s nose can be a tell-tail sign of the era in which is was produced, reflecting the fashion at the time.
For more information on Cameos and Intaglios, you may want to read Cameo expert Anna Miller’s Cameo’s Old and New (4th Edition). It provides a beautiful history, as well as helpful information for the Cameo collector and enthusiast alike.