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The Cameo: From Tradition To Modernity

by Julie MIALET 04 Feb 2022

The word "cameo" originates from the Italian "cameo" which means "camaïeu".

Le cameo is the result of a historical technique of bas-relief engraving applied on hard stones. This is called "glyptic". Engravings fall into two broad categories: intaglios, when the design is hollowed out, and cameos, when it is raised. The characters depicted thus stand out against the lighter or darker background. The cameo was once present in different forms: on jewelry, dishes, combs, belts, vases, military helmets...


The cameo story:

The first cameos found date from Greece and Ancient Rome. These were carved in onyx, sardonyx or carnelian and represented important figures such as gods, goddesses, heroes, rulers, important religious...

The cameo will be fashionable again during the Renaissance thanks to the Italian artistic influence and this, until the 19th century. He was adored by great personalities such as Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria and even Napoleon Bonaparte who, in 1804, founded a school dedicated to this art: the Atelier Royal.

In the 19th century, the craze around cameos was such that to satisfy all requests, materials that were less expensive and easier to shape had to be used such as porcelain, colored glass, ceramics, shells, ivory, coral (near Naples) and even lava from Vesuvius.

The cameo was also a means of asserting one's social status because it was very prestigious.


You can make cameos with several kinds of more or less hard stones such as:

  • Quartz: rock crystal, amethyst, etc.
  • emerald
  • Garnet
  • Hyacinth
  • Beryls: Aquamarine, Lapis Lazuli
  • Jaspers
  • Agates
  • Marble
  • Chalcedonies: chalcedony, sardony, onyx, carnelian
  • seashells
  • Lava


Some historical cameos: 

Bracelet in cameos and rubies of Marie-Antoinette by Mellerio dits Meller

Cameo of Augustus in sapphire, ruby and pearl

Crown of Napoleon in cameos

Josephine set in malachite cameos


The cameo these days:

This art, forgotten for a long time, is now making a comeback in jewelery and jewellery. An era where vintage is increasingly appreciated.

On the catwalks and red carpets, the cameo is making a comeback to dress the icons. 

Katy Perry at ARIA Awards in 2014

Rihanna with her brand Fenty, has devoted an entire line to this marvel but in an XXL version. She therefore imagined neo-cameos with the effigy of a black woman, wearing macaroon braids.

Fenty Cameos Collection

Thus, the artist has achieved the perfect balance between tradition and modernity. The very classic side of cameos and pearls then mixes with the ultra-trendy side of XXL and the central motif with strong symbolism. 

Fashion houses do not hesitate to reinvent the cameo, with new shapes and new materials to make it much more modern.

This is the case for example of Lanvin which will use resin and rhinestones or Miu Miu with plexiglass.

Lanvin cameos necklace in resin, rhinestones and metal

Miu Miu cameo earrings in plexiglass

If you are interested in cameo jewellery, do not hesitate to discover what Les Pierres de Julie offers in store…

We are also available for any free expertise of your cameo jewelry, for this you can send an email with your photos to

Whether you're interested in buying a piece of jewellery or a stone, a free jewelry appraisal or jewelry resale, Pierres de Julie welcomes you to its Parisian boutique in the Village Suisse, a stone's throw from the Ecole Militaire and the Esplanade des Invalides.

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