A cameo is defined as an artistic pattern that is cut into a stone and stands in relief above the surface of the stone.   Intaglios are often confused with cameos.  In contrast, an intaglio is cut below the surface of the stone.
Cameos are cut into shell, coral, lapis lazuli, lava and all types of gemstones.  Cameos have been cut out of shells for hundreds of years.  Generally cameos made out of shell are the most desired for jewelry.  Often the best cameos are carved into multi-layers of a shell or gemstone.  Cameos were exceptionally popular in the mid to late 1800s.
Cameos are generally oval in shape.  It is not uncommon to find cameos in other geometric shapes and they may be found in a large range of sizes from small rings or earrings to large decorative pieces.
At the end of the 1800s women wore cameos to adorn their bodies in many different ways.  They might have been worn as bracelets, necklaces, earrings, belts and headbands.  Cameos would become larger and would feature mythological scenes.  The artistic scenes that might be used would be based on Christian, Roman or Greek mythology.  Designs might be based on Greek pagan gods and goddesses, such as The Three Graces, Adonis, Aphrodite, Apollo, April, Atlas, Hermes, Zeus, drawn chariots, muses, winged creatures and Eros (cupids).
To help determine the age of a cameo, closely examine the details of the metal setting to see if any hallmarks are visible which may also help you identify the country of origin.  The reverse of a jewelry piece often reveals the best clues for age identification. Also closely examine the back hardware, look at the brooch closure, the bail, and the earring fixtures.  If diamonds are present, examine them closely to see if they are cut in older diamond cuts such as rose-cut, old mine cut, old single cut or old European cut.  Clothing and hair styles will also help identify the age of the piece.  A key facial feature that may be used for a tool to determine age is the nose profile.  In cameos, a ladies profiles carved in the early 1800s would reveal a sharp Roman nose, while in the mid-1800s a carved cameo would show a much fuller face and the softening of the Roman, nose.  During the early 1900s famous actresses were the inspiration for cameo profile carvers
In the 1980s, cameos evolved to where the profile would be more contemporary with a more modern “cute” upturned noses and fabulous flowing hair.  Contemporary cameos may have been cut with a machine or ultrasonic engraving tools.
When considering a purchase of an antique or estate cameo, closely examine the edges of the raised design.  Look on the top for chipped or broken facial features and for smoothed designs that may have worn away with years of wear.  Another concept is to take a close look at the carved material by holding it up to a bright light source to see if it is natural, glass, dyed or plastic.

How to Identify an Antique Cameo?
By: E. Montgomery
Ten Two Three Estate Jewelry
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