The cameo brooch is an iconic image. They are synonymous with Victorian era jewelry. They were also very popular during the early part of the 20th century. You might have seen them on the popular television show Downton Abbey.
If you are interested in finding unique jewelry, specifically cameo brooches, then you might want to investigate estate sales. You can still buy cameo brooches today, but the new ones are usually made with agate. If you are looking for one made from ivory, glass, or shell, you should look for antique jewelry. This is why an estate sale is a fantastic place to look. The jewelry will be old. You might find authentic Victorian era brooches.
Here is an overview of the designs, the materials you should be aware of, and how to tell if it is genuine.
Cameo brooches were originally made from stone. Later on, craftsman started to use shell. The first shell cameos were made in Italy during the 14th and 15th century. Italy had the benefit of being a fishing culture. The cameos were carved out of mussels. Later on, in different cultures, other shellfish such as conch were used.
The second material that was used to make was Ivory. This is no longer being produced due to bans on ivory harvesting. However, there are plenty of examples of Ivory brooches in existence. The jewelers liked to use Ivory because of its beautiful color and the ease with which they could carve it. You will not find a modern cameo brooch made of Ivory, so if you want one you will have to look for antique brooches.
Italian cameos were often made of lava rock. This was because of the abundance of the material and how easy it was to carve. The lava rock was taken from Mount Vesuvius.
Finally, there are the agate brooches. These are the most common cameo brooches today. Agate is a type of rock. It is perfect for making cameos because it is multicolored. This helps the artist create depth and add shading.
The most popular cameo motifs are Greek and Roman figures, along with female portraits. One of the most popular designs during the Victorian era was the Cameos Habille. These cameos featured a woman who was wearing a necklace. This became a very popular design. You can see examples of the "dressed" cameos here.
How To Tell If The Cameo Is Vintage
If you are going to an estate sale, you still should check to make sure the cameo is vintage. You don't want to buy a plastic mock up of real estate jewelry. There are two popular methods to check if the cameo is an antique.
First, remember that antique cameo brooches would never be made of plastic. They would only be made of stone, ivory, shell, or some other hard organic matter. So, the first test is called the "hot" pin test. The process involved taking a pin and heating it with a cigarette lighter. When the pin is hot you press it against the cameo. If the material is stone, agate, shell, or Ivory, the pin will not make a mark. If the cameo is plastic, the pin will soften or press in.
Some people find this intrusive, so the prefer to do a less invasive test. This test involves using a magnifying glass. You are going to look for marks on the surface of the cameo. Plastic cameos are molded and are completely smooth. Classic cameos that were carved should bear marks from the engravers chisel. This method requires a good eye.