About Old Cameo Jewellery
Friday, 11 May 2018 | AnneNot long ago the antique cameo jewellery was seen as out of date, old fashioned and something only worn by old Grannies. That was such a shame as it meant that many wonderful examples were hidden in jewellery boxes, out of sight just waiting for their time to come again. Nowadays they are quite fashionable and they have been brought out of their hiding places and being worn by the young and trendy . Here are some notes for those collecting cameo jewellery.
What is Cameo Jewellery?Its a piece where the design stands proud of the background. Normally a cameo features a figure or figures or even romantic scenery. Perhaps a ladies head or a classical scene. I saw one recently which simply featured a horses head. Floral designs are most popular too. Its a work of art in miniature which is meant to be worn.A cameo can be distinguished from an intaglio which is where there design is carved into the back of the piece and then viewed from the front. It is any piece of jewellery set with a piece which has a positive image which sits raised above the background. Carving these began in ancient times however we come across few today which date from before the Victorian era . They are still being made today. Not all cameos we see today are carved, it just depends on the materials they are made from .The carved ones will always be the most desirable.
Here is a little look at the materials that they can be made from: •1. Shell . This is what most of the cameos we see are made of. This usually has a brown /buff background with the design standing proud in a paler colour. Different shells such as that of the Queen Conch give a different colour with the conch being with pinky tones. Most of these are carved in Italy. The most popular cameos we see are carved from two tone shell part of the top colour is carved away to leave the background showing in a different shade.
•2. Lava from the Volcano mount Vesuvius in Italy. This is quite soft and easily carved giving a lot of detail to the design. The colour range from black, grey, though muddy brown and greenish colours to a paler cream. They do tend to be mono tone in shades of grey and brown and maybe not quite to todays taste.
•3. Coral is a hard substance which is not easy to carve and so these are relatively rare but when done well have a lively pinky colour and a high shine. Be warned imitation coral in plastic does exist. A coral piece will have a much colder feel than a plastic one.
•4. Jasper pottery . A speciality of Wedgwood although they were also made by other Staffordshire potteries. These were set into all types of jewellery - earrings, rings, pendants and brooches. The most popular colour is white on blue but a whole variation exists. Green and black are the next most common. Rare colours include yellow , mink and mauve.
•5. Glass .These are often created in one piece in a mould - they look similar but have a much greater degree of mass production than hand carved examples. Milk glass cameos can be very attractive.
•6. Hardstone . Made of different types of hardstone - agate and chalcedony being popular. This can give a good range of colour to the picture as some of the hardstones have different colour layers within them.
•7.Victorian Black cameos. Mourning Jewellery made from Whitby Jet, Gutta percha, French Jet ( black Glass) and bog oak.. Other popular materials include hardstones such as agate and onyx but these are much tougher to carve making good images quite expensive.
8.Wedgwood made a great range of cameos from Jasper ceramic, these have actually been created in two pieces with the design applied to the background rather than carved into it, they are becoming highly collectable.
9. The very cheapest pieces are normally moulded and coloured plastic , there has been no skill in the making of these pieces and at the moment have little or no value.
You can find most types of jewellery set with cameos – rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces and of course beautiful brooches. It does not matter if they are mounted in gold, silver or other material the pieces are all known as cameo jewellery. If you are looking for a shell cameo ring then please do take care not to get it wet as the material will eventually deteriorate. Being soft they will also wear smooth over time.I love antique and vintage cameo jewellery, it is both a jewel to wear and a collectable piece of art at the same time. Connoisseurs keep them in rows in glass cabinets so that they can look at them just like any other decorative collectable.
Top 25 tips for collecting cameo jewellery.1. Cameos stand proud of the background material, if they are indented they are known as intaglios 2. Most Cameos are hand carved. All the work involved in this process is why they are treated like collectable art 3. The first cameos were carved from stones and gems. The shell cameos we know and love today came along later. Hardstone and gemstone cameos can still be found they are much rarer. 4. A cameo brooch is valued on:
Cleaning CameosAs shell cameos are a natural shell they can be easily damaged but with the right care they can last many years. After all we have some great Georgian and Victorian cameos around still. They can last for centuries if treated right but when exposed to the wrong conditions can easily crack and become dried out. Heres how to check your cameo and offer it a little TLC first aid if necessary. Warning, practice cleaning on a non-valuable piece first and if in doubt leave it to the professionals. This is about shell cameos only, if its not shell then apply a cleaning technique appropriate to the material it is carved from. Check the condition on your shell cameo carefully by holding it up to a bright light and looking into it from the front and from the reverse. Are there any lines in it that are not part of the design? These may be cracks all the way through or stress lines which may develop into cracks in time. Most lines I see are from top to bottom or at an angle not far off this. Look at the sides close to the frame as well as in the middle. Has the surface dried out , lost colour and looks faded ?
If your jewellery is in good condition:Use a soft clean toothbrush, you can dampen it a little if necessary. Gently rub over the cameo taking care with all the likes and crevices that you can see dirt in. If this doesnt work you can add a drop of gentle liquid soap to the toothbrush and work it carefully just for a few seconds. Clean off the soap with a damp tooth brush and pat dry with a lint free cloth. If you cameo has dried out and cracked: You can try a little first aid. This will not return the cameo to its original condition but it will help with the appearance and may prevent further damage. Please note this is for damaged cameos , I do not recommend the following for cameos in good condition.