Have you ever came across a cameo at an antique store or in your Grandmother’s Jewelry box? They are surprisingly abundant and produced with several different materials, so a great variety of types and motif's existed. The most common material is a shell.
Cameos have been used for a variety of purposes throughout history. The first iteration of cameos can be traced as far back as 15,000 B.C., where ancient civilizations in Egypt carved figures into rocks as a means to record significant events. Since, they’ve been decorated with a wide range of carvings, representing everything from mythological and biblical beings to status and prestige.
A cameo is a hard or precious gemstone—often agate or onyx—carved in relief so that the figures project from a supporting background. The most common motif of antique cameo jewelry depicts a profile of a face or mythical creature. There are typically two colored layers; generally, figures are carved in one layer so that they are raised on the background of the second layer. Today, popular imitations are often carved in glass called pastes or mollusk shells, a practice that was popularized by Queen Victoria of England.
How to Clean and Care For Cameo Jewelry
Antique cameo jewelry is subject to discoloration over time. While hard stones are more resilient, shells are prone to cracks and dryness. It’s important to clean your antique jewelry to preserve its value, beauty, and prolong its lifespan. Fortunately, caring for your cameo is relatively uncomplicated.
To clean your cameos, simply wash them in warm, soapy water. Avoid using any abrasive detergents or cleaners, and always wipe with a soft cloth. It is also recommended that you avoid using ultrasonic jewelry cleaners, as these can affect the color of your piece. Allow it to soak for 30 minutes.
Store your cameos in a soft cloth away from other jewelry or items that much scratch it. Wipe away dust frequently. Because they’re prone to cracks, it’s recommended that you oil your piece a couple times a year. Do not use olive oil, but opt for a mineral oil which tends to be odorless and colorless. Dip your finger in the oil, then apply it to your cameo using your finger. Be sure to wipe off completely when finished cleaning.
Cameo jewelry is a timeless antique that continues to flourish in the market today. With a plethora of antique options available, and contemporary designers creating reimagined versions of classics, we’re afforded the ability to continue to collect and wear beautiful pieces in the form of bracelets, necklaces, earrings, brooches, and pendants.