Cameos are masterpieces of jewelry made of stones or shells. There are two centers in the world where cameos are made. The home of the gemstone cameo is the town of Idar-Oberstein, Germany and the home of the shell cameo is the town of Torre del Greco in, Italy.
The first cameos traced back around 332 B.C was made of stone and the first shell cameo is almost 1000 years old. Today we still can enjoy both cameo kind, however, the shell cameo is more popular as it is more affordable.
The carving process of a shell cameo starts in the sea off the shores of the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Central America and West Africa. Shell cameo divers must select the right kind of specimens fit for cameos. Even though there are over 100,000 seashells species in the world, only six of them are fit for cameo carving.
Cameo shells must be as flawless as possible and free of cracks. Only natural marks or lines are acceptable. As a matter of fact only 1% of these will be completely flawless with no lines or marks.
The first step of the creation of a cameo is to cut out the cup. An average size shell usually produces one large and two smaller cameos. It really takes a professional trained eye to determine the cut of the shell for the future cameos. The majority of cameos are cut in an oval shape. Each shell is different and each shell will inspire the artist carver in a different way. Once the carver has decided what design is the better fit for that shell he will sketch the shape of his sculpture with a pencil before he starts carving.
The carving is done with extremely sharp tools called burins. The design has to be realized at exactly the depth that the shell changes color from light to dark. By cutting to varying depths, the artist can produce the impression of transparent veils. Once the artist is done, an exquisitely detailed figure stands in relief against the background of a darker layer beneath.
Once the shell cameo carving is done, the frame made out of gold, silver or brass is also hand shaped and made to fit the cameo exactly. Because of the fact that a shell cameo is made one hundred percent by hand there are no two cameos alike, and this alone ads to the value of the cameo.
Cameos are not only pieces of jewelry, but they are a great investment as well. Collectors are ready to pay big money for beautiful, rare or ancient cameos that are unique pieces of jewelry never to be replicated. If you have a cameo, you may found out that you have in your procession a valuable item. If you don't have a cameo yet, you might want to find out how good an investment they are or just enjoy it for the beautiful masterpieces that they are.