Cameo Necklace

What is the first thing that comes to mind when one hears the word ‘cameo’? More than often, it is the image of a well-known celebrity making a special guest appearance in a film or a television series. The accurate term would be cameo appearance, as was performed by the venerable actor/producer Bruce Willis in the romantic comedy ‘Notting Hill’ featuring the beautiful Julia Roberts and the debonair Hugh Grant in the now famous Portobello in London. But cameo can also refer to the engraving of a gemstone or the carving of a miniature image rose from the original background. Imagine the miniature posture of Queen Victoria engraved in an oval shaped cavity, attached to a necklace of pearls and perfectly positioned below the throat of the reigning Queen Elizabeth of England. That is what we mean by a cameo necklace.

Cameo jewelry was in turbulent fashion back in the Victorian era, and since has been a symbol of aristocracy. Queen Victoria and Catherine the Great have been known to be the forerunners in introducing cameo jewelry which was later taken up by the women of nobility and thus the fashion trend pervaded to other parts of Europe. The cameo used to be carved not only in jewelry items such as necklaces and rings, but also in signet rings bearing coat of arms, coins and vases.

Cameo necklace could contain anything from engraved miniature models of royalty, models of couples, portraits of mythological figures, flowers, figures of war heroes, animals etc. Most cameo necklaces bear the portrait of ladies-an aloof upright profile with a sharp features and a pointed chin, engraved on a shell or a precious stone. These necklaces were passed from generation to generation and it was often noticed that the princesses wore cameos featuring miniature engravings of their grandmother queen. These necklaces bore essence of royalty, family prestige and culture that would convey the style and demeanor of the ancestors. Most cameos were done on shells, which at that time was relatively inexpensive and easier to carve. Of course, the royalty would not have had to condescend to such cheap material; their cameos were preferably engraved in gemstones. The shell cameos were mostly worn in daytime in informal occasions. The mythological figures contained gods and goddesses of early Greece, figure of Zeus riding in his chariot and mythological female figures like The Three Graces, the daughters of Zeus. Birds like eagle were used as cameos as well and cameo of flowers still remains a modern practice of date.

Different materials could be used to make cameos: gemstone, shell, onyx and the like. Also, young women were known to have worn cameos to express desire and seductive overtures in the Hellenistic times. Cameos were fashioned not only by women but men too who wore it so as to convey their tradition and heritage. Pope Paul II was a fan of cameos and so was Napoleon. Cameos of early periods are treated as important archeological artifacts which spoke of the culture and practices of a European time period. There were distinct ways to find out the period from which the cameo was dated, one of them was from the minute details of the engraved image-the shape of the nose, the length of the profile and likewise.

Cameo necklace may not be categorized as the most fashionable piece of jewelry in these parts of the world, where gold, silver, artificial stones and artistic ornaments made of clay and metal has ruled the jewelry market for years. But the regal jewelry which exudes royalty in its most imperious manner undoubtedly has a classic appeal of its own.

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