THE PORTRAIT CAMEO
Ancient and Renaissance cameos were made with banded hardstone such as onyx, agate or sardonyx. They were also made out of shell, coral, lava or glass. In fact, during the Egyptian era, glass cameos were worn by those who could not afford the hand carved cameos. Shell cameos were made as early as the Roman era and more commonly in the Renaissance period, 15th and 16th century. They were carved into the shell of a mussel or cowry mollusk. In the 18th century, conch shells were used; however, the color faded over time.
The raised relief of the portrait would be carved into shell or hardstone that had at least two layers of color. The portrait was carved out of the top layer, leaving the balance of the contrasting color of the shell or stone showing. More recently, an actual photograph was used as an example of the subject matter to be created for the hand carved cameo. It is something that is rarely done today because it requires not only artistry but years of experience carving into cameo material.
Currently, cameos are constructed in an entirely different way. Ultrasonic machines produce multiple copies of the cameo by pressing a previously hand crafted master die onto the agate cameo surface. A film of ultra-fine diamonds vibrate in a vertical motion over the surface to complete the process. When looking for a portrait cameo, look for the details - the finest features of a woman's face, wisps of hair or a ribbon in her curly locks. J35343 - Edwardian Cameo 6.21.18