Cameos are generally made from gemstones, hard stones or shells with different coloured layers. The layers are cut and carved to create, in low relief, the design and background in contrasting colours. However the term refers to relief carving in lava, coral and shell. Cameos have been known before the Roman times, with the earliest carved two-coloured stones dating from the Sumerian period.
Jewellery from the Sumerian period was usually beads in cabochon form and sometimes stones carved for use as seals. Later during the Hellenistic period in the second century BC, carving was done by the Greeks and subsequently by the Romans, to produce cameos in low relief as ornamental pieces of jewellery. The art continued to a lesser extent throughout the Middle Ages, becoming popular again during the Renaissance period and thereafter, with intervening periods of more or less fashionability.
Cameos have been made and mounted in articles of jewellery, e.g. brooches, pendants and especially finger rings.
CameoCameoIn later periods cameos were also carved in other hard materials such as rock crystal, coral, jet, shell and similar. Josiah Wedgwood also created cameos by moulding jasper earthenware in two or more colours, and James Tassie, Webb and others by using glass paste.
The more affordable cameos are those produced from 1850 onwards, when people started to travel quite widely, and there was a revival of interest in the craft. Shell cameos, in particular, were carved in Naples and Rome to be sold to tourists, or they were exported to be used for seals and jewellery such as brooches, bracelets, pendants, finger rings and ear rings.