Cameo Jewelry Is Back – Here’s What You Need to Know

Cameo jewelry, the quintessential vintage jewelry, has been around for centuries, and as with any classic jewelry trend, it cycles in and out of fashion. Right now, cameo jewelry has made big comeback!

Cameos and intaglios are works of art, with every cameo different from the other. However, these come at a price. The good news is that today there are so many affordable cameo jewelry options on the market.

Let’s take a look at where cameo jewelry comes from and how this vintage style can be worn today.

Where Does Cameo Jewelry Come From?

Sarah Jessica cameo necklace
Sarah Jessica Parker rocking the cameo trend! Source. 

Cameo jewelry can be traced as far back as the 3rd century BC! These were used not only for jewelry, but also as signet rings.

An authentic cameo is more than just a piece of jewelry. It is a work of art and should be appreciated and valued as such. These relief carvings are tiny sculptures by the hand of an artist.

In eras where photographs and video were not an option, cameos were one way of keeping the image of a loved one at hand.

Cameos were very popular during the Roman era, resurfaced during the Renaissance and then was once again popular in the 19th century.

Most ancient cameos came from Greece and Rome. Even now, Italy remains the hot spot for cameo engraving.

Today, modern designers have their own quirky takes on the cameo, utilizing humorous and unique concepts.

Types of Cameo Jewelry

intaglio jewelry
Intaglio featuring Greek goddess Aphrodite. See this here.

When speaking about jewelry engraving, there are two types to consider – cameos and intaglios. Cameos are engravings with a raised relief image against a contrasting background. An intaglio, on the other hand, is where the image is engraved into the material. It’s the opposite of a cameo.

Cameos used to be carved out of gemstones in ancient Roman times and later the use of onyx and sardonyx became popular. These cameos are rare and highly valuable, and are an antique collector’s dream. From the 1800s, conch shell became a popular material for the carving of cameos, because it was softer and easier to work with.

cameo pendant
Cameo pendant featuring a woman’s profile. See this here.

Whatever the medium, the engraver would have to use the natural colors of the gemstone or shell to create the contrast for the design. An expert cameo artist would be able to manipulate the different colors and layers of the material to bring out the details of the image.

Cameo Jewelry Styles

Cameo Necklaces

cameo pendant female profile
Pendant featuring female profile. See this here.

Cameo necklaces are dramatic statement pieces. They add a touch of fun and history to your overall outfit, and can be pulled off with formal or casual attire. You can find cameo pendants in a variety of sizes.

If you choose a large pendant, keep the focus on it as a statement necklace. However, for smaller pendants, you could consider layering it with other necklaces, including pearls and gemstones, for added drama.

If you want to take your cameo game up a notch, consider a cameo choker. Cameo chokers were very popular in the early part of the 19th century. Whether it is a cameo pearl choker or cameo velvet choker, they add a touch of sophistication to your look and are an eye-catching attention grabber.

Cameo Earrings

intaglio earrings
Blue intaglio earrings. See this here.

Cameo earrings often feature slightly different portraits, so you could argue that they are the forerunner of the mismatched earring trend! These look great with a high hair-do and an off-shoulder dress, where the focus is on the earrings.

Choose a pair that is lightweight and comfortable to wear. Authentic cameo earrings may cost you a fair bit but if you just want the look and not the price tag, go with a pair of inexpensive cameo earrings.

Cameo Cuffs

cameo bangle
Cameo bangle bracelet. See this here.

These are a great way to rock the cameo trend. In the past, cameo cuffs and bracelets weren’t popular, but today, you can find these in modern styles and designs.

Cameo Brooch

floral brooch
Floral cameo brooch. See this here.

As regards brooches, go beyond the brooch-on-lapel look and get as creative as you wish. Like when Rihanna pinned a beautiful cameo brooch on to the top of her casual black beanie, starting a cameo-beanie craze!

You can pin it to your bag, shoes, collar, lapel or even as cuff links. Or why not onto your scarf? Just make sure your overall look is put-together and stylish (if that’s what you’re going for, of course).

If you want to wear cameo jewelry on a casual basis, to work or to casual events, it’s a good idea to stick to smaller delicate pieces. These will not overwhelm your overall look but instead will add to and complement it.

Cameo Jewelry Meaning and Themes

Cameo earrings
Cameo earrings in gold. See this here.

You can find cameos with a range of themes and meanings, from traditional motifs to quirky modern themes.

Antique cameo jewelry depictions referenced subjects of the time. Mythology, portraits and metaphorical themes were common concepts.  One famous recurring theme was that of The Three Graces.

Modern cameos depict all sorts of subject matter from the female skeleton discussed above to cameos of unicorns, seahorses, cats, flowers and what have you. Some designers even allow you to send in a photograph, which they then replicate in the cameo.

From a vintage point of view, cameos depicting scenes are more valuable than those portraying a bust.

personalize cameo
Personalize your own cameo. See this here.

Today, personalized cameos are becoming popular. Much like the locket, these also allow you to keep a portrait or meaningful image close to your heart.

How Much is Cameo Jewelry?

Cameo earring dangle
Floral cameo dangle earrings. See this here.

An authentic cameo, of course, is highly valuable and each cameo varies in price.You can find authentic cameos in a range of prices, but high-quality cameos can cost upwards of $10,000. An authentic cameo is a mini-sculpture and a one-of-a-kind item and this reflects in the price.

However, for a few dollars, you can find affordable resin, plastic or glass cameos which are beautiful to look at but in essence worthless.

How to Identify Authentic Antique Cameo Jewelry

Vintage Victorian cameo earrings
Antique Victorian cameo earrings. See them here.

It is important to be able to distinguish between an authentic cameo and a mass-produced cheap item if you’re looking for a collectable.

The Material:

The main giveaway would be the material of the piece. Generally, authentic cameos are made of natural materials such as onyx, sardonyx, agate, ivory, lava, coral and other gemstones, while authentically painted cameos are typically made of porcelain. A fake cameo, or an inexpensive reproduction, is made of plastic, glass or resin.


Use a magnifying glass or a jeweler’s loupe to inspect the carving. Can you see indentations or other markings that may have been the result of nicks from carving tools?

The cameo is likely to be authentic as these signs could be indications of its natural material and workmanship. However, bear in mind that these markings should follow the lines of the design. Inauthentic cameos will usually be very smooth and rounded with no flaws.

The Image:

Coral cameo ring
Antique coral cameo ring. See this here.

Another factor to note is the image on the cameo. Cheap reproductions often have the same image or face which will be mass-produced, whereas an authentic cameo will have a unique carving. Searching online for plastic cameos will give you an indication of the sort of images used in mass-produced versions.

The Metal:

Also consider the type of pin and the metal used. High quality cameos are generally set in precious metals, such as 14K or 18K gold or silver. The pin of an antique or vintage cameo generally contains a plain C clasp to hold the pin in place.

The Sound:

Tap the cameo against a hard surface, such as your teeth, to hear for a hollow sound that is indicative of plastic. If the cameo is made of natural materials, it should have a solid sound. Overall, inspect the quality of the design and the carving and if in doubt, have it checked by an expert.

Taking Care of Your Cameo Jewelry

Three muses cameos

Authentic cameo jewelry needs to be taken care of to maintain its value and to prolong its life. Always wash with warm soapy water and a soft cloth, avoiding abrasive detergents. Do not use an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner on your cameo and don’t allow your cameo to sit too long in water.

When not in use, store separately in a soft cloth, away from other items that could scratch it and free from dust.

Because cameo jewelry can tend to dry out or crack, it is recommended to oil the piece ever few months. Use a soft cloth to first wipe away any dust and then using your fingers, gently rub the oil over the piece.

Afterwards, wipe the oil off the piece. Avoid using olive oil as it can tend to discolor the cameo. It is advised to use mineral oil as this does not pose any potential harm to your cameo jewelry.

It is well worth taking these steps to preserve your cameo, as a high-quality cameo can be a heirloom that will be handed down the generations.

Wrapping Up

Cameo jewelry comes from the past, but today, many designs are reimagined for the modern wearer. Whether you like authentic antiques, and have the budget for it, or simply want to wear cameo jewelry without breaking the bank, there’s a lot of options out there.

Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years in the jewelry niche. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education. She has always been interested in expression through fashion and accessories, and her extensive experience in the field has made her a respected voice in jewelry trends and education. As the chief editor of Jewelry Shopping Guide, she not only leads the content strategy but also shares her insights through engaging articles. Her passion for storytelling is reflected in every piece she curates, exploring the intricate relationship between jewelry and personal identity.

Jewelry Guide