cameo jewelry

Cameo pins, rings and pendants are making a comeback on the jewelry scene. Of course, I don’t think they ever went anywhere, but jewelry trends are cyclical just like fashion and the cameo is stylish right now. 

I have been seeing more and more cameos, not just in my business, but in magazines and at auctions as well.

What is Cameo Jewelry?

Cameo jewelry dates back to 3rd century B.C., making these pieces some of the most iconic on the vintage market.  

A cameo is a material that is carved with a raised relief that often depicts a profile of a face or a mythical scene. Cameos may be made out of shell (typically conch shell),  stone, lava, glass, agate, marble, coral or precious gemstones. These carvings are typically set in either gold or silver. 

There is nothing more beautiful than a well made and authentic cameo.. These days it’s hard to spot the cameos that are truly vintage and authentic. Today’s fakes are so good, it’s very difficult to see the difference between a real and a fake one. 

Luckily, we have some tips to help you distinguish between a real and a fake cameo.

How to Value Your Cameo

There are three easy ways to determine if you cameo is made of plastic or of shell or stone. 

  1. One is the hot needle test. Here, you’ll place a hot needle against the cameo.  If it’s plastic, it will melt. Then you know it isn’t real. 
  2. The next is to hit it against your teeth. If the sound is dull, chances are it is plastic. 
  3. Finally, use your sense of touch. A real cameo real will be cool to the touch.

But, what happens if your cameo isn’t carved? Not all cameos are carved and not all cameos are of women either.  Cameos have been known to depict nature, mythological creatures, men, and animals.

They can be painted or carved and they can be from various time periods.  So, how do you know the value of what was either handed down to you over the generations, or what you found in the dusty corner of your favorite antique shop?

Here are a few factors to consider: 

  1. Does the subject face right or left? The most common way to face is right.  The second most popular is left, then forward. These rare facing cameos can be worth a lot of money.
  2. Women are used most often as subject matter in a cameo, but a man is worth more. Depictions of African American individuals are worth even more.
  3. Women with elaborate hair or hats, children, historical or mythical figures are highly prized by collectors. Cameos depicting scenes instead of a human figure are uncommon and usually appraise higher. 
  4. Hold your cameo up to the light to check for cracks. It should have no chips or cracks, no matter how old it is. Believe it or not, this is the one type of jewelry not worth more if it shows its age.
  5. The quality of the paint must be intact with very few if little chipping.  If it is enameled, then the enamel must be in good shape with few scratches or chips as well.

How to Date Your Cameo

Being able to value your cameo is important, but it is even more important to be able to put a time period as to when your cameo was made, because this is how you know your treasure is vintage.

Consider these details to help:

  1. Look at the hinge or pin on the back. If the pin on the back is a plain ‘c-clasp'(the brooch pin loops under a c shaped piece of metal with no ‘roll over’ fitting)– chances are it’s an old/ antique brooch.
  2. Mythology shell cameos usually date from the 18th Century to the very early 20th Century.
  3. Pay attention to the nose. Portrait cameo’s that are painted or carved with a straight nose are usually the Victorian Era; and strong roman noses are pre-1860’s.  If the nose is pert and cute, it is generally the 21st century.
  4. Look at the details. The detail on a vintage piece is more Art Nouveau and not as detailed as the laser cut pieces that are modern of today.

The Care and Cleaning of Your Cameo

The great thing about the cameo is that it is a very resilient piece of jewelry, which could be why they stay intact for so many centuries. 

If you own one, you only need to wash it in soapy water once a year and then rub a little mineral oil all over the front and back and leave it to soak in for a couple of hours. Wipe it down and dry it off and put it in your jewelry box.

If you find that you have a cameo that is of fine value and can be dated Victorian or earlier than you do indeed have a rare and valuable treasure that you will want to hold onto for a very long time, and with just a little TLC, you will be able to do just that. 

Looking to sell your vintage jewelry or have it appraised? We can help!

We are the #1 jewelry, diamond, and watch buyer in Houston and we have decades of experience. 

Fill out a contact form and we’ll reach out soon to schedule an appointment in our showroom for a free appraisal. 

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