The Art of Cameos and my Family History

As my first entry, I asked myself what would be the most appropriate blog-post to write, without sounding too boring or transactional (God forbid!): I hate self-promotion, while I do know the importance of selling what we made, as the true and only reward proving our efforts and hard work; and I hate the idea that someone reading this would roll her/his eyes in disapproval or (even worse) boredom!

So after a few days of thinking this over, I realized that the first question anyone asked me when I tell them about my job and family history, is always: “What is a Cameo?”

As a matter of fact, most people do know what a Cameo is because they have seen it worn by their moms and grandmas, or in movies and old paintings. The “image” of a Cameo is part of our culture: in fact, we can even say that “Cameos” are so iconic, they ended up meaning things other than the jewelry we know they are: Cameo appearances in movies, are a good example of that! 

But, what really is a Cameo? What is it made of? This is sometimes the enigma I had to clarify, even with friends. 

“Is it ivory?”, “Is it coral on top of ivory?’’ , “How do you attach the top part to the bottom one?”

All these questions have always driven me crazy. Therefore, I feel like I owe you all a detailed explanation.

‘’Cameo’’ is a carving technique: carving through different layers of the same material, like a conch shell. 

Our Italian cameos, the most popular ones, are in fact carved on beautiful shells such as:

sardonyx shell products

  • Cassis Madagascariensis, aka “Sardonyx shell”,  from the Caribbean islands (the Bahamas, Turks, and Caicos, Cuba, Honduras…), presenting the typical “black and white” look when carved, due to the two layers, white on the top (outer layer of the shell) and dark brown or black on the bottom (the inner layer of the shell). Its common name, sardonyx, coming from the resemblance with the hard stone, the sardonyx agate.

  • Cassis Rufa, known as “Cornelian shell”, from east Africa and Madagascar, in its warm colors of peach-orange and cream. This shell’s common name also drawn from the similar colors of its layers to the ones of the carnelian agate stone.

  • Both shells are carved with very ancient and rudimental tools called “bulini”: to carve each cameo, a master needs to use at least 10 different bulini, in order to create those artistic dimensional designs from just two layers, carving away material from the top, by slow approximations.

    So, while you see in cameos two different colors and, by the appearance, two different materials; it’s actually one material, with its natural different layers, each different in color and feel. 

    The beauty of Cameos lie in this very unique craft: carving through layers. It takes years of apprenticeship; generations of passion; and hours and hours of dedication to complete each piece.

    Welcome to Cameo world.

    Until the next blog post! 

    Amedeo Scognamiglio

    • May 29, 2020
    • Category: Blog
    • Comments: 0
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