Cameo pins, rings and pendants are making a comeback on the jewelry scene. Of course, I don’t think they ever went anywhere, but jewelry trends are cyclical just like fashion and the cameo is stylish right now. I have been seeing more and more cameos, not just in my business, but in magazines and at auctions as well.
There is nothing more beautiful than a cameo that is well made and authentic, but the truth is, these days it isn’t that easy to spot the cameos that are vintage and authentic. It used to be that you knew that if your cameo was hand carved from shell, agate, marble, coral or precious gemstones. But, today the fakes are so good, it’s very difficult to tell a real from a fake.
How to Value Your Cameo
There are certain things you can do to determine if you cameo is made of plastic or of shell or stone. One is the hot needle test, which is to place a hot needle against the cameo. If it is plastic, it will melt, and then you know it isn’t real. The next is to hit it against your teeth. If the sound is dull, chances are it is plastic. Also, if the cameo is real then it will be cool to the touch.
But, what happens if your cameo isn’t carved? Not all cameos are carved and not all cameos are of women either. Cameos have been known to be of nature, mythological creatures, men and animals. They can be painted or carved and they can be from various time periods. So, how do you know the value of what was either handed down to you over the generations, or what you found in the dusty corner of that little antique shop on the corner?
- Which way does your subject face, right or left? The most common way to face is right. Note, this beautiful hand painted cameo that we have our young lady faces right. The second most popular is left, then forward.
- Women are used most often as subject matter in a cameo, but a man is worth more and an African American is worth even more, or a “blackamoor” as it is called.
- Holding your cameo up to the light it should have no chips or cracks, no matter how old it is. Believe it or not, this is the one type of jewelry is not worth more if it shows its age.
- The quality of the paint must be intact with very few if little chipping. If it is enameled, then the enamel must be in good shape with few scratches or chips as well.
How to Date Your Cameo
- Look at the hinge or pin on the back. If the pin on the back is a plain ‘c-clasp’, for instance, the brooch pin loops under a c shaped piece of metal with no ‘roll over’ fitting, chances are it’s an old/ antique brooch.
- Mythology shell cameos usually date from the 18th Century to the very early 20th Century.
- Portrait cameo’s that are painted or carved with a straight nose are usually the Victorian Era; and strong roman noses are pre-1860’s. If the nose is pert and cute, it is generally the 21st century.
- The detail on a vintage piece is more Art Nouveau and not as detailed as the laser cut pieces that are modern of today.
The Care and Cleaning of Your Cameo
The great think about the cameo is that it is a very resilient piece of jewelry, which could be why they stay intact for so many centuries. If you own one, you only need to wash it in soapy water once a year and then rub a little mineral oil all over the front and back and leave it to soak in for a couple of hours. Wipe it down and dry it off and put it in your jewelry box.
If you find that you have a cameo that is of fine value and can be dated Victorian or earlier than you do indeed have a rare and valuable treasure that you will want to hold onto for a very long time, and with just a little TLC, you will be able to do just that.