The difference between these two items of antique jewelry, even though they both involve the carving of the gemstone is that antique cameos are carvings in which the design stands out in relief from its background, where as an intaglio is a gem in which the design is carved into the surface of the stone. This is a technical description, but in reality there is another important difference between antique cameo and intaglio jewelry; the former is visually much more striking, and much more of a statement piece of jewelry when worn. Intaglio jewelry on the other hand even though wearable are much more subtle, John Benjamin, who has appeared on the 'Antique Road Show' on many occasions describes them as 'understated miniature works of art, usually more of interest to the academic collector.'
Though cameo jewelry dates back to ancient Roman times, these pieces are very rare. Most antique cameo jewelry to be found now comes from the 19th century, and so often it is the settings, rather than the carving itself, which enables to date the jewelry more accurately. Condition is the biggest deciding factor on the value of antique cameo jewelry. Many of the cameos from the 1800's where carved in shell, a soft organic material, which is liable to fracture, break or simply erodes away and becomes smooth wearing away the features.
The antique shell cameo industry was first developed in Italy around Sicily and Naples. Then these craftsman trained others and the industry expanded throughout Europe.
Most shell cameos are sandy, brown or white in color, are mainly cut from a seashell called Cassis tuberosa. Others were cut from the queen conch shell, and are pink in color, and have been confused with coral. These shells were large and were themselves carved to display either mythological or classical scenes. Though they could not be worn as pieces of antique jewelry were used for display purposes in shop windows.
Hardstone Cameos. There are several advantages with antique hardstone cameo jewelry. It can be carved in far greater detail than the softer shell, and the background can be buffed up to a high gloss shine. Being much more durable they stand the test of time. The stone carved was mainly some form of Agate, however at Beverley R Jewelry we have an antique frontal carved Amethyst cameo, in an old cut diamond frame, and also a antique moonstone cameo set in a ruby and diamond frame. Just going off at a tangent if you are looking to buy a frontal face profile as opposed to a side profile, always check for damage or chipping at the nose, as this is the most fragile point.
In antique cameo jewelry the main subjects of the carvings were classicism and romanticism, and the carvers paid great attention to detail and realism, theses pieces were mini works of art, that had the added advantage that people were able to wear them. Subjects included powerful ancient Greek and Roman deities, philosophers, emperors and statesmen. Here at Beverley R antique jewelry we have pictures a very fine carving of Queen Cleopatra. In time later Victorian carvings moved from classicism to romanticism which was much softer and very often the carvings were also side profiles of the female form.
The frames of the cameos from the earlier part of the 1800's tended to be plain gold rims known as Roman seal settings. In the 1870's antique cameos were set in 'Etruscan Revival' gold bead frames, and later still the frames could be diamond or gem set. The end of the 1800's also saw a change in fashion, and the antique cameo, became less popular, and so very few were carved from the 1900's onwards.
Here at Beverley R antique jewelry, among our selection of cameos, have a particularly interesting 'Gryllis' ring, which is a carving of three heads going into one.
Intaglios jewelry initially had a practical purpose, in that the carvings were family crests, and since this was a time when letters and scrolls were sealed by wax, the intaglio seals were then pressed into the hot wax to show either ownership or letting people know who the sender was. These seals were either set in antique rings or fobs. As time went by the carving on the seals followed the subjects of cameos, with profiles and scenes from mythology. Some of the best known carvers of antique intaglio jewelry were Nathaniel Marchant, Edward Burch, Giovanni Pichler and his half brother Luigi.
Here at Beverley R we have a large selection of intaglio fobs and rings, which is something that both men and women can wear, the fobs not only go with men's pocket watches, but with the intricacy and detailing on the mounts when worn on a chain make very fine pendants.
1/ Leta & the Swan shell cameo in a canatille frame circa 1820
2/ Hardstone cameo of Cleopatra in a diamond & Pearl frame signed Pauchard circa 1890
3/ Hardstone cameo classic ladies profile in 'Roman' frame circa 1860
4/ Full face moonstone cameo in Ruby & Diamond frame circa 18905/ Gentleman's ornate double Griffin and Amethyst fob/seal circa 1880
6/ Georgian 'Grylis' ring (x3 heads) circa 1830
7/ Intaglio family crest ring in blood stone circa 1880
8/ Agate hardstone cameo earrings of Athena (Goddess of Wisdom) & Aphrodite (Goddess of Love), the light and dark colors also represented day and night circa 1880
9/ Onyx Intaglio ring of Greek philosopher, probably Aristotle circa 1870