A cameo brooch is an ornamental piece of jewelry that is attached to clothing or worn as a pendant. Most brooches had a fixture in the back making it possible to wear it as a brooch or pendant. Brooches were and are normally made of metals like gold and silver.
Cameo brooches have been popular from ancient to current times. They were made out of shell or hardstone such as agate, carnelian and onyx or gemstones. Shell cameos are considered more informal than hardstone or gemstone cameos.
Conch shell is often used for cameos. Divers going ninety to one hundred feet under the sea’s surface look for just the right shell. Only twenty-six out of one hundred thousand species of shells are suitable for cameo carving and the carver is very particular about the shell that is used. It must be flaw and fracture free. The shells must have light colors on top and dark colors on the bottom giving it a three dimensional look after carving. It is then hand polished.
Coral was another pretty shell used for carving. You also see cameo brooches carved out of gemstones such as opal, lapis, emerald, amethyst and rubies of course costing much more than shell or coral.
You will find that the most popular design for a cameo brooch is the face of a woman. Her hair was usually pinned up with dangles of curls and wisps of hair floating around her pretty face. Sometimes she would have a necklace with a diamond in the center and delicate flowing clothing. Other themes for hardstone cameos were gods and goddesses, birds and flowers.
To clean a cameo, lightly dust and rinse with warm water. Gently dry with a cotton cloth. It is recommended that your cameo be oiled with mineral oil, not olive oil, as it may turn your cameo yellow.