A cameo brooch is a brooch or pin which is made with a cameo, a special type of carved jewelry which was very popular during the 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition to antique cameo brooches, some of which are quite valuable, many jewelry producers also make replicas. A modern cameo brooch often has a pin attached directly to back which can be used to attach it to clothing. Older brooches were suspended from ribbons which were pinned to garments, and have a loop of metal in their setting through which a ribbon can be run. Typically, a cameo brooch is a portrait of a woman.
A cameo is a carving done in relief, and is typically designed so that it has two colors. There are two ways to accomplish this. The first is to use a seashell or stone which has natural colored bands. The carving can be artfully designed so that the figure is in a lighter color and the background is darker. In some cases, the color contrast may be enhanced with the use of bleach or dye. The other technique is to use two different stones, or layers of glass, gluing them together with care to form a seamless cameo.
Rings, bracelets, and necklaces can all use cameos as well, but the cameo brooch is a classic presentation of the form. Stones such as onyx, agate, sard, bloodstone, carnelian, and amethyst have all been used to create cameos, and many Victorian cameos were made with seashells. Italy has been a source of cameos for centuries, ever since they became popular among the Romans. Italian artisans also make cameos from glass.
The idea of carving stone to create art is probably one of the oldest art forms. The earliest documented cameos are from the sixth century BCE, in Greece. Originally, they were probably related to intaligo, a carving used to make a seal. When pressed against wax or clay, the depressed design on an intaligo turns into a raised seal or crest. The cameo jewelry of the Greeks spread to the Romans, and then onwards through Europe.
In some cases, a cameo brooch is passed down as a family heirloom. A professional may be able to determine whether the cameo brooch was hand carved or not and date it. It is also possible to purchase a cameo brooch from an antique shop, but you may want to seek out additional information about it to ensure that you are buying a genuine antique. Mass produced modern cameos are also available for people who want the look of a cameo brooch without the cost of an antique. In all cases, the cameo should be cleaned gently with a soft cloth or jewelry brush, and you should avoid subjecting it to strong sunlight or harsh cleaning chemicals. Wrap the cameo in cloth when it is not being worn to prevent scratches.