Find The Perfect Cameo

The classic portrait featured a cameo makes it one of the easiest types of jewelry to identify. But some pieces are only worth a few dollars while others can command hundreds. The materials used to make the portrait can differ greatly among pieces. It is common to find many of the cheaper pieces featuring plastic or glass portraits while finer cameos will be made from rarer materials like Coral or even bone. Learning how to distinguish the various materials used to create the portraits is vital to determining value. Common materials used in the craft of cameo making include:

  • Abalone
  • Agate
  • Glass
  • Ivory
  • Plastic
  • Stone
  • Wood

More unique and valuable cameos will be carved, not molded, and made from natural materials. Common characteristics of costume molded versions include pieces that are lightweight, shiny, and contain a design with multiple colors. Most molded cameos are inexpensive and made from glass or plastic, but there is a small portion of molded pieces that are made out of natural materials like Ivory. Molded cameo portraits can be very realistic when it comes to impersonating their more expensive equivalents, but a shopper can be easily trained to tell the difference. For instance, glass cameos are often found to have mold marks on the back of the portrait, while plastic molded portraits are likely to have rounded features and lack sharp or precise lines. Unlike their mass-produced molded equivalents, carved designs are one-of-a-kind, and can be found on just about every type of jewelry imaginable, including but no limited to:

  • Bracelets
  • Earrings
  • Necklaces
  • Pendants
  • Rings
  • Tennis Bracelets
  • Watches

Specific features that help discern a molded piece from a carved one will vary according to the material used for fabrication. Some substances like Mother of Pearl and Abalone will possess a thick, flat back while still having a high degree of detailing. The infamous “two-toned” effect common to many prized cameos is often found in pieces made from Agate, the same substance used by the Greeks to fashion the first known examples of the cameo design.

Because hard stones are more difficult to shape and carve than substances like shell or even Agate, they will usually command the highest prices. Sadly, there are a lot of good “fakes” out there that make it hard to spot the authentic stone pieces. The back of the portrait on a carved stone cameo will appear undercarved or concave when compared with their glass counterparts. While rare, a lot of stone cameos were made in Europe during the 19th century, which means their unique style has yet to hit the mass jewelry market.

One of the greatest feelings for a collector is spying a valuable cameo dramatically undervalued and being able to buy it for pennies on the dollar. Just remember to look for rich details and pay special attention to the junction between the portrait and plaque. Most carved pieces, with the exceptions of Mother of Pearl and Abalone, will have a concave back. Learning the distinguishing features of the carved and molded cameos is what separates hobbyists from those who make a great living while collecting elegant jewelry.


Post time: 03-17-2017