The earliest known use of shell for cameo carving was during the 15th and 16th centuries. Before that, cameos were carved from hardstone. The Renaissance cameos are typically white on a grayish background and were carved from the shell of a mussel or cowry. In the mid 18th century, explorations revealed new shell varieties. Helmet shells from the West Indies, and queen conch shells from the Bahamas arrived in Europe, thus sparking a big increase in the number of cameos that were carved from shells.
This large English cameo brooch is a Victorian era piece (ca1880) and is hand-carved! Set in a dramatic 15kt gold Etruscan frame, the profile of a young woman graces the center of the piece. Highly detailed, the hand carved image includes a strand of pearls around her neck, individual strands of hair gathered into an elegant up-do, and a hairpiece resting at the top of her head. The background appears to be some form of agate stone, which has wonderful natural colors and shows a variety of banded white stripes on the reverse side of the piece. A delicate Etruscan wirework frame with beadwork detail surrounds the cameo, an exquisite and artistic touch. The untouched patina lends to the depth of the design and the feel of true antiquity. The brooch fastens with a bar pin clasp on the reverse side. It is a wonderful example of Victorian cameo jewelry and would look impressive fastened to a favorite garment!
Measurements: The piece measures approximately 2" tall, 1 7/8" wide, and 1/2" thick. The total weight of the piece is 26.3 grams.
Condition: The overall condition of the brooch is excellent. Besides normal surface wear, there is no apparent damage to the carved cameo or gold setting, and the Etruscan details remain intact. The clasp fastens securely and is in good working condition. The surface of the gold retains its natural patina, which is normal for a Victorian era piece and adds depth to the design.