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"10 Things You Should Know..."

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Cameo Jewelry Articles

History and Overview of Cameos by Preston Reuther


History and Overview of Cameos
by Preston Reuther


CAMEO---- A stone or shell cut in relief using the object itself to produce shadings of the carving from the Hebrew word KAMEA----a charm or amulet or Latin CAMMAEUS "engraved gem". These are said to be the root origin of the word CAMEO, but even among experts even this is disputed.


Let's look at the two different methods of carvings of a cameo:

1. Relief---carved from the front with only the front profile showing or one side as opposed to a sculpture that can be seen from all sides.

2. Intaglio----carved from the rear of the profile or picture.

Just when the first cameo was carved is unknown and shrouded in mystery, but we do believe it was in Greece or Rome. Cameos were quite popular in both areas and were carved from stone such as AGATE. Shell was not used until a much later date. Because of their availability and the ease in which they could be carved, shells became extremely popular and eventually the art of cameo carving settled in a small town, Torre Del Greco, at the base of Mt. Vesuvius, located on the Bay of Naples. The tiny town of Torre Del Greco, Italy, today, is still the center of Cameo carving. Over 25 different sea shells are used plus a large array of coral. Most shells originate in the Bahamas, the West Indies, and Madagascar.

Two Different Carving Centers and Two Entirely Different Methods

The shell and coral carving center of Torre Del Greco uses a method thousands of years old. The use of steel gravers with handles, fitting the hand, are used in a timeless tradition of master craftsmanship. The master carver will select the shell to be used, outline the number of cameos to be obtained from that shell, and then supervise the entire carving process. With these incredibly sharp precision tools, the most intricate details can be obtained. No matter what profile or scene you choose,it is sure to be an "INVESTMENT" that will be cherished.

The other great carving center of the world is Idar-Oberstein, Germany. This is a city that is just as famous for their gemstone and agate carvings as Torre Del Greco is for their shell carvings. This type of carving seems to be much more difficult because of the hardness of gemstones and agates. The types of cameos used in my settings are ultrasonically carved. Let me explain further: The cameos are created from pieces of high quality white agate found only in this region. The agate is first dyed either black, red, green, or blue. Each piece is ultrasonically carved by computer, using a t emplate from the original hand carved work of art. The color is then chemically drawn back out of the face of the stone, thus leaving the face in its original white condition. The finished piece is very resistant to chipping and will not peel, crack, fade, or discolor with age. This explains why agate cameos have turned out to be such an "INVESTMENT" to be handed down from generation to generation.

Cameo jewelry is not only an investment for the purchaser but a gift for the next generation!

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Preston Reuther has been collecting, buying and selling cameos for over 20 years. He has written several e-books and produced over 34 jewelry making dvds, 150 videos and over 1000 articles on the jewelry making process.Visit his  antique cameo collection  at or Email him  at  or call 816-689-2779



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