Cameo Jewelry is back – Here’s What You Need to Know to Get in On the Trend

Cameo and pearl

 Currently, there seems to be a shift towards anything vintage or antique and vintage designs are seeing a resurgence in popularity, as people look to the fashions of a simpler time. 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! 

Seen on runways and on the red carpet, cameo pendants, earrings, brooches and pins are being flaunted by celebrities and fashion icons. It ads a touch of art, sophistication, drama and fun to any ensemble!

Sarah Jessica cameo necklace

Sarah Jessica Parker rocking the cameo trend! source 

Cameos and intaglios are works of art, with every cameo different from the other. Of course, this only applies to authentic hand-crafted cameos made of high quality materials and not to cheap mass-made reproductions.

Cameo Jewelry History

sardonyx cameo portrait relief

A cameo brooch pin depicting a lady’s profile carved into sard onyx

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. 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.

Modern cameo design

Via Pinterest: 

 If you look at it, an authentic cameo is more than just a piece of jewelry. It is a work of art and should be appreciate 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.

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, has a negative image.

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.

conch shells for cameos

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 make the design even more beautiful.

Cameo Jewelry Meaning and Themes

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.

three muses cameos jewelry

Two bust cameos and a depiction of the famous Three Graces (or Muses) motif

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.

How much is a cameo?

An authentic cameo, of course, is valuable and each cameo varies in price. However, for a few dollars, you can find cheap, resin, plastic or glass cameos which are beautiful to look at but in essence worthless.

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.

How to Identify Authentic Cameo Jewelry

It is important to be able to distinguish between an authentic cameo and a mass-produced cheap item.

magnifying glass check

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 authentic 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.

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 cheap versions.

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.

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.

 Cameo Jewelry

 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.  

Cameo choker

Via Pinterest. Source  

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

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 pins and brooches are a great way to rock the cameo trend. If you thought cameo pins and brooches have no place in the modern world, think again! A cameo pin can adorn a gorgeous hair-do, giving you that touch of ethereal sophistication.

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.

Buddhist pendant cameo necklace

A cameo depicting the Buddha in a gold setting

Taking Care of Your Cameo Jewelry

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.