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History of the Cameo

Discover their importance and evolution over time

What inspired the Cameo?

The location and inspiration behind the first cameo is unfortunately unknown. Although many historians believe that it was in either Greece or Rome, where they originally carved from stone such as agate, onyx, sardonyx, carnelian, coral, lava and jet. They were set in rings, brooches, earrings and bracelets, and men chose to wear them in watch, fobs, rings and pins. Many wearing these as a symbol of status.

The first tourist souvenir

Over the years, Cameos made lovely, portable souvenirs. These were a gift for those that visited the ruins of Pompeii or Hercelium. As these travellers returned home, friends and family were enthralled by the works of art. It wasn’t long until Italian cameo artists had stores in England, France and America. Artists would carve cameos in the ancient style or any other design the purchaser might select.

Materials from the Sea

To meet the demand in the 16th century, workmen turned to shell for the creation of these cameos. It was in the small town of Torre Del Greco, at the base of Mt. Vesuvius, located on the Bay of Naples, where artists set up shop. Crafters cut away the background materials to make a design in relief. They would use different layers and faults in the material to enhance the design. Today, over 150 carvers are within the town, working through 10,000 to 30,000 seashells a year.

Cameos have long been a feature in Gerard McCabe’s exclusive Antique & Period Collection. These marvelous pieces, hold a unique representation of quality craftsmanship.

Discover Our Collection of Antique Cameos Here.