Some pieces of jewelry bring art to an outfit. Cameos, for example, dazzle us with designs we might see on a museum wall. Read on to learn about the history of these miniature masterpieces.
The Ancient Craft
Cameo jewelry immortalizes imagery through artful, intricate craftsmanship. The first appearance of cameo-like carvings can be traced back to 15,000 B.C.E., when people carved images into rock faces as a form of communication. These petroglyphs offer a glimpse into the lives of prehistoric communities — a practice that lives on in the art and jewelry of today’s world.
Carvings called intaglios appeared before cameos came into existence. Intaglio impressions were most often used as official seals or markers of property. While cameos display raised, miniature sculptures, intaglios feature carvings below the surface.
Each type of carving requires an immense attention to detail. The intaglio hides its beauty, revealing its details when impressed onto a document or seal. A cameo’s beauty appears at the surface, showing its finely crafted details in stunning, raised relief.
Cameos Make an Appearance
The first cameos were made in Alexandria, Egypt. While no one knows quite exactly when the first cameos appeared, their ancient legacy continues to dazzle jewelry lovers around the world. From gods and goddesses to rulers and heroes, cameos have depicted mythological, biblical and romantic themes throughout the millennia.
Crafters can create cameos from a variety of natural materials, including chalcedony, jasper and polychromatic stones. Queen Victoria popularized cameo jewelry made from sea shells, featuring women’s profiles — the design we most often see today.
In addition to Queen Victoria, figures such as Napoleon and Catherine the Great highly favored the cameo design. Napoleon even founded a cameo-carving school in Paris. Cameo makers began adding variations to the traditional design in the mid-Victorian period, carving women wearing miniature accessories and jewelry. These cameo habillés grew in popularity, adding a personalized touch to each piece.
These days, while it may be more difficult to acquire hand-crafted cameos, we can capture a similar effect with personalized jewelry. Browse our collection of pendants to discover your own wearable work of art!