What is Cameo Jewelry?

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The Beauty of Cameos.  Cameos are beautifully hand-carved scenes or portraits of people or animals in three-dimensional relief. Cameos are made from multi-colored conch shells or banded agate, which is a semi-precious stone. Cameos made from either material are hard and durable and very beautiful works of art.
    The beauty of a cameo is certainly in its carving, but also in the selection of the material. The carver selects a section of the conch shell or agate and determines where the layers of color are. Then the carver creates a design just for that section of shell or agate that will reveal colored layers as it is carved, making the finished cameo more three-dimensional. After the cameo is carved, it is polished by hand creating a wonderful luster and depth to the finished piece.
    Typically, the darker color will be in the background of the cameo and the lighter color in the foreground. Most of Harris Michael Jewelry's beautifully hand-carved conch shell cameos will have a rich coral color in the background becoming almost a creamy white at its upper surface. Our agate cameos will have a rich blue background and a milky white image. Since every cameo is a handmade work of art, colors will vary.

Cameo History. The art of cameo engraving can be traced as far back as the second and first centuries B.C., to the ancient Greco-Roman empires, where cameos enjoyed a golden age. The decline of the Roman Empire, however, brought with it a period of dormancy for cameo development. It was not until the Fifteenth Century, during the Renaissance, that cameos resurfaced as an art form and medium for jewelry. The Medici family of Florence, great patrons of the arts, is credited with restoring cameos as jewelry. At about the same time, a very high quality agate mine was discovered in southern Germany. This region soon became the center of cameo technology and by by the beginning of the 19th century possessed the most important agate deposits in the world. Over the past one hundred years, this area pioneered, and is largely responsible for developing and refining, the techniques used to carve and color today's cameos. The once rich deposits of these mines have been exhausted and the world is now dependent on South America for its supply of high quality layered agate material for cameo carving.

Blue Agate Cameos . The layered agate material that is used in producing agate cameo gem carvings is usually cut from agates with even parallel layers, a lighter layer above a darker one. The Brazilian agate used in today's cameos is naturally multiple shades of gray in color, ranging from a milky white translucent to dark gray. The lower and softer layer is dyed to produce the highly desirable rich blue chalcedony color while the lighter colored upper layer, which is harder, does not accept dying and remains white or milky in appearance. Only 2% of all agate material mined is of quality suitable for detailed cameo cutting. It is important to note that of this small percentage an even smaller percentage can be dyed blue, making the enclosed cameos precious and rare. the exquisite motifs and silhouettes featured in Harris Michael cameos have been carved in relief, employing the use of a highly sophisticated ultrasonic etching process and elegantly framed in karat gold.

Shell  or Coral Cameo Carving. Shell carvers are very particular about the kind of shell used for hand carving cameos. The shell is broad and well colored horizontally with light colors on top of darker colors. Most shells originate in the Bahamas, West Indies, and Madagascar.
    The master carver will select the shell to be used, outline in pencil the shapes of the cameos that will be formed from the shell, and then supervise the entire carving process. Because each shell is different, each cameo will be original and unique. The methods used to carve shell cameos haven't changed in thousands of years: the carvers use very sharp steel gravers with handles that fit the hand of the carver. With these incredibly sharp, precise tools, the most intricate details can be obtained.

Cameos are Desirable Heirlooms. Whether the cameo is a pendant, ring, bracelet or cameo pin,  Harris Michael Jewelry's cameos are genuine works of art and are considered an investment that will be cherished for generations to come.
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