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Celtic inspired and Scottish style agate glass costume jewellery

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch info

Celtic inspired and Scottish glass agate costume jewellery is very distinctive , with the designs often based on earlier Victorian and pre-antiquity pieces. Made from glass stones (created to imitate the agates) which are set into non-precious mixed metal, they are a beautiful mix of intricate patterns and bold statement features.

Notable makers are Miracle and Heathergems (who ingeniously use compressed real heather found on the Scottish moors to create stones,) though collectors might also come across vintage producers no longer in business, such as Jacobite and Hollywood; look for ‘signatures’ and makers stamps on the back of the jewellery as often (but not always) jewellery might be signed.

Telling the difference between modern Celtic inspired and Scottish costume jewellery and older ‘real’ antique  agate jewellery can be tricky at first. As a general rule, antiques tend to be more delicate and intricate in nature; look for fine etching, flush stone settings and top quality scroll patterns. T-bar pins and long pins are a sign of antique brooches too (see here for my guide to dating antique brooches for more info). Antique Celtic inspired and Scottish jewellery is made from real agates and gemstones.

How to id identify antique vintage scottish agate jewellery and costume jewelry

ABOVE: a real circa 1870s Victorian antique Scottish agate sterling silver brooch. Notice the quality flush settings of the agate stones (each one from a part of the Scottish coastline), intricate scroll work around the sides, and long pin which sticks out from the side of the brooch.

 

More modern Scottish costume jewellery dates from circa 1950s to today, and is usually made from glass, enamel or other imitation ‘stones’. The pieces tend to be much chunkier, and often include thistles and Celtic knot work patterns (surprisingly, real Victorian antique Celtic and Scottish jewellery rarely shows thistles or Celtic knot patterns, instead using popular Victorian era scroll patterns of the time instead).

 

How to id identify real antique vs costume faux Scottish jewelry

ABOVE: a more modern costume jewellery circa 1980s glass agate brooch. Notice the chunky stone settings, Celtic patterns and ‘mottled’ stone colours of the glass (which is trying to imitate agates.

 

Here are some of my favourite Celtic inspired and Scottish costume jewellery designs:

 

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Beautiful simple Celtic cross brooch, with brown banded glass stone, made circa 1980s. A sign of more modern Celtic inspired and Scottish jewellery is the use of the cross in the design, along with Celtic patterns.

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Some costume Scottish or Celtic inspired brooches do have gemstones set into them (such as this quartz), though note the metal is still mixed/non-precious, as seen in this lovely modern brooch.

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Gorgeous circa 1970s Scottish inspired brooch. Whilst the patterns are intricate, the stones (made from glass) are glued in quite crudely, and not flush set.

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Unusual Celtic glass agate brooch, set into imitation gold colour metal.

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Chunky, bold and vivid colourful design – a hallmark of more modern Scottish agate glass inspired brooches.

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Stunning circa 1950s glass stone brooch.

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Lovely penannular style brooch, made from mixed metal and glass. Genuine penannular brooches are a type of cloak fastener rather than decoration brooch – though note the costume jewellery designs (such as this one) are decoration only, and don’t work!

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Magnificent Scottish glass agate costume jewellery brooch, set in bronze colour metal.

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Whilst brooches are the most popular type of Scottish and Celtic inspired costume jewellery, pendants, bracelets and rings are made too.

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Outstanding and rare design huge Celtic costume jewellery brooch, made with orange speckled glass stones and set into pewter tone metal.

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery cross pendant necklace

Lovely glass agate cross pendant

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Unusual black glass agate costume brooch

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery cross bracelet

Whilst brooches are the most popular type of Scottish and Celtic costume jewellery, pendants, bracelets and rings are made too.

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery earrings

Gorgeous little Scottish thistle costume jewellery earrings, with glass ‘amber’ flowers.

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Lovely Heathergems stone thistle brooch. You can learn more about the amazing way heather flowers are turned into Heathergems jewellery here.

vintage modern Celtic Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Stunning thistle design Scottish glass agate brooch

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Rare fan posy design Scottish and Celtic inspired brooch – note the good quality faux bloodstones, which have been made out of glass

vintage modern Celtic Scottish agate glass costume jewellery pendant cross necklace

Huge Celtic glass agate cross pendant necklace

 

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Very unusual circa 1960s modernist Cetic inspired brooch, with green marble stone. There is a signature to this piece but it’s an unknown maker.

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Detail of the above brooch – this is the signature to this piece but it’s an unknown maker.

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Vintage circa 1960s Scottish Celtic inspired pendant, made from glass stones, and signed ‘Hollywood’ on the back. Hollywood were a well known costume jewellery makers during the mid 20th Century.

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Stunning pre-antiquity-inspired modern Celtic brooch made with brown glass stones in bronze tone metal.

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Gorgeous Scottish style thistle brooch, detailed with blue and purple glass banded stones.

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery brooch

Stunning Celtic pattern green glass stone costume jewelry brooch – top quality, and signed ‘Jacobite’ on the back.

vintage modern Scottish agate glass costume jewellery ring

Whilst brooches are the most popular type of Scottish and Celtic costume jewellery, pendants, bracelets and rings are made too.

 

 

References and further reading:

Miracle Jewellery shop: https://www.miraclejewellery.co.uk/

Vintage Miracle and Jacobite costume jewellery info: https://www.vintageandhandmadejewels.com/signed-uk-jewellery-439-c.asp

Vintage Hollywood costume jewellery info: https://www.vintageandhandmadejewels.com/signed-uk-jewellery-439-c.asp

Heathegems shop: https://www.heathergems.com/

Guide to Victorian Scottish jewellery: https://jewellerymuse.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/vintage-and-antique-scottish-agate-jewellery-info-guide/

How to date vintage and antique brooches: https://jewellerymuse.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/tips-on-how-to-date-a-vintage-brooch/

 

I sometimes have Scottish and Celtic jewellery in my shop – please check here to see there is any in stock.

 

 

 

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Types of gold plating .. what do those letters on gold tone jewellery mean?

 

 

RG…..GF…… gold HGE……Gold bonded……GP…..Vermeil……Gold layered.

 

Have you ever looked at gold jewellery on a website and come across the above words and initials in the description? Do you wonder what they mean?

identifying initial letter stamps on gold plated jewellery fakes GP HGE tips

Read on for tips on how to identify your gold coloured jewellery!

You’re not alone. I’ve had quite a few emails over the years which have asked for my help in explaining the letters on gold looking jewellery that someone has purchased. Virtually every time I’ve had to be the bearer of bad news; they’ve been conned and their expensive ‘solid 18kgp ring’ is actually gold plated costume jewellery.

Sadly, some unscrupulous sellers give a rather ‘creative’ description of their jewellery for sale, which tries to gloss over the fact that their jewelry is not real – it’s gold plated.

So today, look no further than the Jewellery Muses’ quick glance guide to identifying letter stamps and initials on jewelry which are used to describe gold-tone/ gold-plated metal …

~ RG – means rolled gold.  This is gold sheet (usually 12K or 14k) that is rolled into a tube, and then filled with a base (ie non precious) metal such as brass.  This process gives a longer lasting gold colour than normal gold plating, and is often stamped on jewellery: 1/20 12kt GF or 1/20 14kt RG for example.

vintage rolled gold pink deco glass bead necklace

Many old vintage glass bead necklaces were threaded on rolled gold wire, which is most commonly slightly square shaped and thicker than normal wire. Rolled gold wire also develops a nice patina like normal low grade gold (eg 9k), and is not prone to wear.

~ GF – means gold filled, which is simply another name for rolled gold.  RG and GF are more durable than gold plated metal.

art deco vintage pink glass opal diamante ring

A ‘RG’ stamped rolled gold art deco ring. Note how well it’s lasted; rings are notoriously prone to damage, yet this one is nearly 100 years old and is only now showing signed of wear to the metal. Rolled gold (aka gold filled) metal is a perfect bridge between costume jewellery and more expensive fine solid gold jewellery.

~ GOLD OVERLAY – again means a type of rolled gold; a gold sheet (usually 14k) that is rolled into a tube, and then filled with a base (ie non precious) metal.

~ GP – stands for gold plating, a process which involves spraying a fine layer of gold onto base metal.  GP jewelry tends to lose the gold coating with day to day wear after a while.

vintage 70s toledo damascene pendant jewelry

The back of what was once a brilliant bright gold-plated circa 1980s pendant, which has now faded and worn out

~ HGE – means Heavy Gold Electroplate, a slightly thicker coating of gold onto base metal than standard gold plating.

~ HGP – also see HGE, means a heavier gold plate, a slightly thicker coating of gold onto base metal than standard gold plating.

vintage sapphire glass paste cz ring deco (2) (640x617)

Some rings offered online have  ‘creative’ descriptions, such as ‘For sale: solid 18KHGE white gold and blue sapphire CZ ring‘, a description which in real life means nothing more than a cheap and pretty costume jewellery ring made with a sapphire coloured fake stone and white gold plated metal.

~ LAYERED GOLD – another type of gold plating.

~ GOLD BONDED – another type of gold plating, or occasionally used to describe rolled gold.

~ VERMEIL – this is genuine 925 sterling silver which has been given a thick coating of gold (normally 14k or 18k).  Base metal which has been gold plated cannot by law be described as vermeil, only genuine gold-plated sterling silver can.

vintage shell cameo brooch

If you come across a piece of jewellery that has a ‘925’ stamp on it, but it’s gold coloured, then you have a piece of true vermeil jewellery, like this vermeil frame shell cameo brooch.

~ HAMILTON GOLD – brass toned metal with gold plated finish; generally only used on watches.

~ PINCHBECK GOLD – an early gold imitation, invented in the 18th century and made from an alloy of zinc and copper.  True pinchbeck items are very rare and worth a lot of money.  Nowadays, the term ‘pinchbeck’ generally means any type of antique faux gold.

Antique victorian carved shell cameo brooch jewelry

Many dealers will describe any type of antique gold looking metal as ‘Pinchbeck’, but real genuine pinchbeck is hard to find! Always ask a seller if their pinchbeck is real, or just their general description for gold plate.

~ GOLD TONE / GOLD – COLOUR – jewellery that is gold coloured, not real gold.

vintage 80s gold tone snake chain flower necklace drop daggers (3)

A cute gold tone necklace. Gold tone costume jewellery is often described as being made from ‘pot metal’ ‘mixed metal’ or ‘base metal’, which means there is no real gold used in the item (other than perhaps a thin layer of gold-plate)

~ GOLD LEAF – a type of gold plating.

Look out for descriptions such as “fantastic genuine solid 18k HGE gold ring”, or “solid 14KGP gold ring”.  If you see any of these phrases, words or initials in the description of a jewellery item then be aware that the jewellery will not be genuine solid gold.

Two Final Quick Tips:

~ Just because something has a gemstone in it doesn’t mean it will automatically be encased in real gold. Low grade gemstones (or lab created gemstones/lab-diamonds) can be dirt cheap to buy, and might be used to make gold plated jewellery appear more ‘real’.

 

Quick ID guide to different types of cameo .. Part 1: Plastic cameos

I’ve recently had a couple of emails from readers asking for help in identifying what their cameos are made from, so it’s given me an idea to do some blog posts on the different type of cameo available.

Let’s start with the cheapest type of cameo – one’s made from plastic resin. Generally costing between £2 and £15, they are perfect for everyday wear, and many are beautifully detailed.

Tips to identify:

  • Plastic cameos tend to feel slightly dense and heavy, and make a dull sound when gently tapped on the teeth.
  • Hold a piece of shell or smooth glass/ pebble in your hand – it’s feels cold. Now, hold a plastic cameo – it will feel warmer and softer in comparison (this is a great tip for identifying plastic beads too).
  • Stand in front of a window, and with the front of the cameo facing the window (so you are looking at the back of it), a hold a plastic cameo up to the light – it’ll be quite dense and opaque, where as shell cameos would still be detailed and quite transparent.

 

Here are some pictures of plastic cameos I’ve had, with further identification details:

 

vintage art deco plastic cameo clip on earrings

Vintage art deco circa 1930s clip on plastic cameos earrings. Note the glue marks around the face, where the white ‘face’ of the cameo has been glued onto a red background (real cameos are carved complete from one shell or hard stone). These plastic earrings have had a lot of thought put into them, as each face is slightly different, as would be the case with real shell cameos.

 

vintage 1970s plastic cameo brooch jewelry

Vintage circa 1970s plastic cameo brooch. There was a big art nouveau and deco revival in both the 1960s and 70s, and many pieces I have seen advertised for sale as genuine art deco often date from this much later period. The technique for this brooch cameo is the same as the above earrings – a separate plastic molded white figure glued to maroon background.

 

Art deco plastic resin cameo vintage brooch 1930s costume jewelry Adam and Eve

An old art deco superb quality molded plastic cameo brooch, depicting Adam and Eve from the Old Testament Bible. This stunning piece dates from around the 1930s, and was completely molded in a cream piece of plastic as one piece, with a darker beige ‘background’ painted on after the molding took place.

 

Plastic kitsch cameo girl pendant charm jewellery

Probably the most famous and well known type of cameo is this plastic side-facing pony-tail lady, first seen around the 1980s and still being mass-produce made today. Quick ID tip! Plastic cameos tend to be glued into their metal frame setting, as you can see with this one (it has a slight gap around the edges where it doesn’t sit flush to the setting. Real shell cameos tend to be flush-bezel set or prong set into the frame, with no gaps.

 

Vintage art deco plastic resin cameo brooch

A well detailed vintage art deco circa 1930s cameo brooch, made from one piece of cream molded plastic, with darker orange painted background and metal filigree detail.. Old art deco plastic cameos can be well detailed – plastic was a new and exotic material to work in, and I have a feeling the complexity of some these deco cameos may have reflected perhaps a desirability of this new ‘plastic’ material at that time.

Vintage circa 1950s plastic costume jewellery cameo brooch

I purchased this cameo brooch as a gamble a few years ago, from an online auction site, hoping it was real shell. It wasn’t – but instead was a lovely quality plastic cameo, nicely bezel set (the type of metal and brooch back dating it to circa 1950s)

 

Vintage 1980s plastic resin cameo costume jewellery brooch dancing people

Beautiful quality circa 1970s plastic cameo brooch. I’ve come across a few of this type (ie, intricately detailed romantic scenes) and they are so realistic they could be mistaken for real cameos. However, on close inspection you can see they are molded; they also are quite heavy, are not very see-through when held to the light, feel warm to the touch compared with glass or stone, and make a dull muffled cluck sound when gently tapped on the front teeth (where as shell/ gemstone will make a high pitched sharp ‘clink’ sound).

 

 

 

Further reading:

Five tips on how to date vintage brooches – with photos to help!

A beginners guide to cameo jewellery (there are pictures of two very good quality plastic cameos in this article).

 

 

 

Vintage marcasite jewellery

If you want sparkle, but prefer an understated look, then marcasite gemstone jewellery may be perfect for you.  These semi-precious stones are a type of mineral, which range in colour from silver-yellow to bright white silver. When faceted and set into jewellery, they create a subtle sparkling effect, rather than a full on glitz – perfect for adding a hint of shimmer.

Close up of loose marcasite gemstones

Above, a varied selection of vintage marcasites, harvested from old broken jewellery. Notice how some are flat-backed (near the back), and some are the traditional ‘diamond’ shape, depending on the setting of the jewellery they came from. Marcasites generally vary in size from approx 0.5mm to 1.5mm. They are seriously tiny!

marcasite gemstones size close up next to finger

Marcasites next to my pinky finger!

vintage marcasite pave sterling silver ring jewelry

Marcasites can be set into all types of jewellery, and were a popular gemstone to be used in art deco rings.

vintage marcasite swirl silver tone bridal wedding necklace jewellery

Marcasite necklaces have been worn since the 19th Century, and are still hugely popular today. This vintage beauty dates from around the 1960s.

vintage marcasite swirl silver necklace jewelry

The above marcasite necklace when worn

vintage marcasite bow silver brooch jewellery

Marcasites can sometimes develope a yellow/ brown colour over time, as seen in this adorable vintage circa 1970s bow brooch – this is simply age and nothing to worry about 🙂

vintage silver marcasite carved shell cameo brooch jewellery

Had normal glitzy glass paste rhinestones been used to frame this lovely carved shell cameo, they would have detracted from its beauty. Marcasites however, are perfect for giving a crisp finish without over awing the jewellery itself.

vintage cold painted enamel marcasite flower basket brooch jewellery

Flower basket brooches were hugely popular in the 1950s – some were plain or set with rhinestones, while others were encrusted with diamonds and coloured gemstones (depending on your budget!). Marcasites are the happy medium between costume jewellery and fine jewellery, and suit most budgets.

vintage 1950s cold painted enamel marcasite flower silver brooch jewelry

This outstanding marcasite flower brooch has been ‘cold painted’ with enamel (ie, using a paintbrush and enamel paint, rather than more complex true vitreous enamel work which involves firing powdered glass in an oven). Cold painted marcasite enamel jewellery was popular during the 1950s to 1970s, and on a personal note, is one of my all time favourite types of vintage jewellery – it transcends ‘accessory’ and becomes ‘art’.

vintage 60s marcasite collar necklace leaf wedding bridal jewellery

Vintage circa 1960s marcasite and silver tone leaf necklace

vintage marcasite clip on earrings swallow bird silver jewelry

These marcasite bird clip on earrings look like they could have been made recently – but they actually date from the 1950s. Cuteness never goes out of style 🙂

vintage 1970s cultured freshwater pearl marcasite swirl circle brooch jewelry

While a couple of stones missing from vintage marcasite jewellery is quite normal, any more and I consider it damaged and in need of repair (with prices to reflect this.

repairing marcasite stone jewellery

Repairing marcasite jewellery yourself is tricky, but can be done with a steady hand and the right tools. Firstly, you need a good stock of marcasites harvested from other broken jewellery (or buy some online). Match up the sizes to the rest of the marcasites in the jewellery you wish to repair. Next, get yourself some proper ‘jewellery cement’ such as “GS Hypo Cement” – it’s a strong clear specialist jewelry glue that has a super fine nozzle – perfect for tricky work (never use superglue – it dissolves marcasites, as I found to my horror many years ago at my first attempt at marcasite fixing!). Put a tiny dab of cement in the hole you which to place the stone in, and then pick up the marcasite by pressing your finger on it – the natural moisture on your finger will temporarily hold it on. Finally, place it in the hole, and adjust with a pin if needed. This is tricky work, and it may take a few attempts before you get it right.

vintage 1960s marcasite gold tone maltese cross teardrop pendant necklace jewelry

An unusual vintage circa 1960s Maltese cross pendant – gold tone, but set with silver colour marcasites

vintage 60s faux marcasite horse pony eloxal brooch silver jewellery

Spotting faux marcasite jewellery can be hard work, especially because modern real marcasite jewellery can look very similar to vintage faux marcasite jewellery! A good giveaway is the weight – vintage faux-marcasite jewellery, as seen in this cute pony brooch, was made from a metal called Eloxal (a type of aluminium) which was very light in weight – almost weightless! (Vintage Eloxal jewellery was usually made in West Germany and occasionally East Asia, and was popular during the 1960 and 70s because it never tarnished or discoloured). Grab a magnifying glass and have a good look at the stones – if they appear too ‘perfect’ and flush set, it could be faux marcasites (real marcasites are a pain to set straight, and are often even purposely set slightly crooked to give better sparkle and depth to the whole piece of jewelry).

vintage 1960s faux marcasite eloxal panel bracelet chunky jewellery silver celtic knot pattern

A beautiful Celtic inspired vintage circa 1970s faux marcasite panel Eloxal metal bracelet. Two give-aways in identifying the jewellery was its weight (almost weightless when held – a signature of vintage Eloxal metal), and the uniform shape and settings of the ‘stones’. Vintage Eloxal jewellery is a collectable in its own right, and I absolutely love this bracelet!

What is French Jet jewellery made from? Info and guide here!

Shopping around for black jewellery, you many come across a term called ‘French Jet’. While it sounds romantic or even like a gemstone in its own right, French Jet simply a fancy word for good old black glass.

It became popular during the Victorian period (1837 – 1901) when black jewellery was very fashionable. Genuine Jet (which is a real gemstone, most famously found in the Whitby area on the east coast of England) was the most sought after material for making black Victorian jewellery, but due to demand and increasing scarcity it was became expensive. Black glass was a much cheaper alternative.

Where the actual name French Jet comes from is unclear. The glass beads and stones themselves were usually made in the great glass making countries of Europe, such as Austria and the Czechoslovakia regions, and then sent through to other countries (including England and France) to be made into jewellery.

Other black materials used in Victorian mourning jewellery are: onyx, Vulcanite (a type of early rubber), Gutta Percha, genuine real jet, and bog oak (ancient fossilized wood type material usually found in Ireland).

Quick glance identity to mourning jewellery materials:

vintage french jet glass large earrings glass 60s

French Jet = made from glass, feels cold, hard to touch. Can be quite heavy. Shiny and reflective. Will warm up when held in you hand. Makes a distinctive high pitched ‘chink’ sound if gently tapped on teeth.

 

antique vintage victorian whitby jet two row bead necklace jewellery mourning

Genuine Jet gemstone (eg Whitby Jet) = feels warm, quite soft to the touch, with an almost plastic/ oily feeling. Makes a much duller ‘chink’ when held.

 

Onyx vintage sterling silver brooch jewellery

Onyx = very cold, hard to touch. Heavy to hold. Shiny and reflective. Will not warm up when held in you hand and will remain cold ( here’s a tip – many natural gemstones won’t warm up when held). Makes a distinctive high pitched ‘chink’ sound if gently tapped on teeth. Easily mistaken for glass – if in doubt get it looked at by an expert.

Bog Oak = usually only seen in brooches. Look under a magnifying glass to see wood grain texture. Often depicts Irish scenes, castles and motifs.

Antique Victorian Vulcanite Ivy leaves brooch jewellery mourning

Vulcanite = warm and soft like plastic. Originally black like jet, it often fades with age to a brown colour. Rub Vulcanite and you’ll smell rubber.

Gutta Percha = rare, similar to Vulcanite except one important difference – the taste test. Be careful with this, as moisture can permanently stain old Gutta Percha. With a dry tip of the tongue, gently press your tongue on the jewellery. Gutta Percha tastes very salty!

 

Some gorgeous vintage French Jet jewellery ..

Antique Victorian French Jet bar mourning brooch jewellery

Antique Victorian French Jet bar mourning brooch jewellery, circa 1880s.

Vulcanite and French jet Victorian pendant

Vulcanite and French jet Victorian mourning pendant jewelry circa 1880s – an unusual mix!

vintage 1980s french jet glass clamper black bangle jewellery

vintage 1980s French jet glass clamper black bangle jewellery

vintage 1970s french jet glass diamante black tassel drop brooch (2)

vintage 1970s French jet glass diamante black tassel drop brooch jewellery

 

french jet oval faceted pendant glass bead necklace (2)

Modern French jet oval faceted pendant glass bead necklace

vintage exquisite signed french jet 2 row necklace 60s

Vintage 2 row French Jet necklace with stunning diamante clasp, signed Exquisite, circa 1960s.

 

Info guide to cameo jewellery

Antique victorian carved shell cameo brooch jewelry

Cameo Lovin’

Cameos have been treasured throughout the ages. They are made from hand carved shell, agate, marble, coral and precious gemstones, and even made from volcano lava.


Early Cameo History

It’s generally thought that cameos originated in the Middle Eastern regions over 2000 years ago. They wouldn’t have been used for the decorative purposes we love them for today – cameos were statement objects. They might depict the portrait of the King or Ruler of the time (therefore showing political allegiance of the wearer), or show a religious icon. Cameos were also used as amulets and charms to guard against evil spirits and promote good luck. The main materials used in the making of ancient cameos were precious gemstones and hard-stones such as marble and agates – back then, shell cameos were considered inferior imitations only to be worn by the poor.

Vintage carved agate hardstone cameo ring antique jewelry

Vintage carved agate hardstone cameo ring

 



The Cameo Jewellery Golden Era


Although cameos have been esteemed throughout history (Queen Elizabeth I and Napoleon Bonaparte were famously both avid collectors), the heyday of cameo jewellery was between the 18th and 19th Century. They were loved in royal circles and the aristocracy around Europe, who at the time dictated the fashions trends of the time. This period was also the time of the famous Grand Tours,  where the wealthy members of high society would travel extensively around Europe, soaking up new cultures. Italy was an especially popular destination due to its prestigious history in arts and culture. Most of the finest cameos came from there, and were often bought as souvenirs, or sent back home as a gift for loved ones.


Modern Cameo Jewellery


By the mid 20th Century the cameos’ popularity was ending. Though they were still being produced, the quality of the carving in many pieces became poor, with figures and portraits being much cruder than their life-like predecessors of the Georgian and Victorian period.

 

ABOVE: Two cameos. The left one dates from the 19th Century Victorian period, while the one on the right is from the 1990s. Note the difference in quality, with the older cameo benefiting from far superior carving.

 

The cameo is once again seeing a new lease of life. The 21st Century is bringing new state of the art techniques to the craft, such as laser and ultrasonic stone carvings; portraits of pets and loved ones are notable growing areas. These new cameo artisans use lasers to carve the stone while working from emailed photographs, to create a perfect likeness. It seems no matter what happens throughout history, the art of the cameo survives, adapts and flourishes.

How Cameos Are Made

 

A cameo is carved from one piece of shell or stone such as agate. Shells and stones are naturally layered in colour, for example, the underside may be dark brown, whilst the top may be white in colour. A cameo-carver artisan, due to their years of training, knows how to carve the shell or stone, so that the “white” part is the picture (eg, a lady), and the background is the dark part of the shell or stone. If you do a search for cameo carving on youtube, you’ll see some good videos of this.

Cameo carving is a highly skilled craft, which involves a long apprenticeship and a complete understanding of the materials being used. The basic theory behind both hard stone and shell carving is that the artist develops a deep knowledge of how best to cut and shape a material, so the different coloured layers of shell or stone can be carved and manipulated to their best advantage. For example, a piece of agate may have three layers of colour (eg brown at the bottom, white in the centre, and black at the top). The artisans use their knowledge to take advantage of the layers, leaving the brown as a flat base, the white above this is carved as the portrait, and the black above that is carved into hair. This gives the lifelike 3-D appearance of the fine cameos we see.


‘Fake’ or reproduciton cameos jewellery


As with all fine jewellery, you’ll always find fakes and costume jewellery copies. While most people are honest in describing their cameos, you will occasionally come across people trying to pass on costume jewellery copies as a real carved cameo.  Reproduction cameos are made from plastic or glass. The most common plastic cameo depicts a side portrait of a young lady with her long hair tied in a ponytail – this is the cameo portrait you see in all the high street shops.


Plastic cameos

There are also some beautifully detailed plastic cameos depicting mythology on the market, usually dating from around the 1960s, which to a beginner may look real. Plastic cameos feel warm and slightly soft, not hard and ‘clinky’ like shell. The background can also give you clues – the colour is often a little too bright or pink in plastics. Tap a cameo gently on your front teeth if unsure – plastic cameos feel warm and make a slightly ‘dull’ thud sound, while shell and agate are hard, cold and make a lighter ‘clink’. Finally, you could always try a hot pin test (though this could damage the jewellery and its price, so it’s not recommended). Take a very hot sewing pin (hold it with pliers) and touch the cameo with it in an inconspicuous place. Most plastics will melt, while glass, agate or shell won’t.

ABOVE: Two good quality plastic cameo brooches. Note the unrealistic background colour on the left one, and the molded look of the right one.



Glass cameos

Glass cameos tend to be either one uniform colour such as cream, black or turquoise, or two contrasting colours (eg black background and a glued on opaque white portrait). Glass is cold to touch (like stone), but the quality is not there. They often look quite molded with little true detail, and sometimes have dyed areas especially around the hair that imitate ‘dirt’. Glass and plastic cameos tend to be thicker and chunkier than agate, while shell cameos are very thin. Occasionally agate cameos can be ‘faked’, with a carved agate portrait being glued to a different agate background (this is called a cameo doublet). A good magnifying glass can help you spot this



Collecting plastic or glass cameos is a fun hobby in its own right – many of them are beautiful to look at and are durable enough to worn everyday. The problem begins when people try to pass them on as real.


Cameo Themes, Valuation and Starting a Cameo Collection


Putting a value to cameos can be daunting if you’re new to the subject. Many factors have to be taken into account, including materials used (eg shell, volcanic lava or gemstones), quality of the carving, and if subject matter is rare or not. A big factor is also condition. Hold a shell cameo up to the light and you may see lines and cracks. This is not desirable, and any damage to a cameo can affect its value (unless the subject matter is rare or sought after).  Some cameos are set into solid gold or silver, though confusingly if the carving quality of a gold set cameo is poor, then it’s often not worth as much as a highly detailed top quality carved cameo in plain base metal.


Portrait Cameos

Most cameos are portraits. Right facing is most common, then left facing after that, and very occasionally you may see a forward facing portrait.



Mythological Cameos
Cameos depicting scenes from Roman mythology were made up until the early 1900s, and are always highly sought after. Popular themes are:


1.The Three Graces ( three dancing women side by side)

2. Hebe and Zeus ( a swan swooping down from the sky towards a lady)

3. Diana the Moon Goddess ( has a moon crescent in her hair)

4. Bacchus the God of Wine/ Intoxication (has grapes in the hair)

5. Athena/ Minerva Goddess of Wisdom, Warriors and the Arts (female warrior with helmet)

6. Peace- Psyche & the Dove (beautiful woman with dove bird)

7. Poseidon/ Neptune (holds a pronged trident)

8. St George and the Dragon

9. Apollo (laurel wreath in his hair)

10. Venus and Cupid (Venus is always a beautiful lady, sometimes playing a harp and if you see a small winged cherub it’s Cupid).

antique cameo brooch hebe zeus shell mourning victorian jewelry

ABOVE: A Victorian cameo depicting Hebe and Zeus (as an eagle). Note the fine quality carving of the brooch. Unfortunately, this one has a crack down one side, which in most cases severely affect the price. However, this cameo was quite special; it had a secret glass compartment at the back which could hold a keepsake – almost unheard of in cameo jewellery.



Other subjects in cameo jewellery.


Cameos of flowers are popular when beginning a collection as they can still be purchased quite cheaply. Occasionally you’ll find cameos depicting rural farm scenes, or animals such as horses. These were often private commissions, and can be highly detailed. Value depends on the theme and quality, and will usually in the same price region as the mythology cameos.

 

Georgian tiny carved shell cameo brooch lake antique jewellery Vintage carved shell cameo brooch rural peeping tom jewellery gold

ABOVE: Two rural scene cameos. The one on the left is tiny (less than an inch), and dates from the Georgian period. The right one is from the 20th Century, and shows a cheeky peeping tom boy looking at a girl bathing in the river.



Dating Cameos


Nothing beats personal experience when it comes to learning how to date a cameo. Go to antiques fairs and vintage jewellery shops and handle as many as possible. Get a feel for them – look at the metal settings, quality of carving and subject matter. Some guidelines below may help:


1. Look at the clasp. This is always a good indication of age. ‘Roll over clasps’ are modern, and won’t really be seen on pre 1920s jewellery. A plain ‘c-clasp’ (ie the brooch pin loops under a c shaped piece of metal with no ‘roll over’ fitting) are a good indication of a possible old/ antique brooch.The pin is a giveaway too. Pre 1920s pins were set in a T-shape.

2. What is the subject? Mythology shell cameos usually date from the 18th Century to the very early 20th Century. Portraits can give hints of age too, and here I’m going to share with you a dealers secret! Look at the persons nose. A strong ‘Roman’ nose indicates pre 1860s. Straighter noses are Victorian, while tiny pert noses are contemporary 20th/ 21st Century. Chunky rounded ladies are generally Victorian in origin Cameos made from Whitby Jet or lava are usually Georgian or Victorian.


Modern vintage (ie after the 1930s) cameos are usually portraits of pretty young dainty ladies, with flowers on their hair. Some cameos wear necklaces which are set with sparking stones such as diamonds. These are known as habille cameos.

 

Modern laser cut agate cameos are easy to identify, having a vivid background colour (usualluy blue or pink) and white portrait . The portraits are incredibly detailed – often too detailed! Hair is let loose and swirly, and the whole cameo has a wispy, almost Art Nouveau dreamy feel. This type of cameo also can feel slightly ‘gritty’ when gently rubbed across your teeth, whereas the old agate cameos feel much smoother like glass.


Caring For Your Cameo Jewellery


Shell cameos need a little TLC once a year. Simply wash them gently in weak soapy water and dry thoroughly. Rub a little mineral oil all over front and back and leave to soak in for a couple of hours, after which you can wipe away all the access. By treating (called feeding) the cameo in this way once a year you are protecting it from drying out and cracking, preserving it for future generations to enjoy and admire.

 

 

 

Ten jewellery stones that are totally cool (and not a diamond in sight!)

Bored of bling?

Fed up with playing it safe?

If it’s amazing character and a touch of the unusual you’re after in your jewellery, then check out these eye-catching stones  ..

 

Vintage Scottish agate and silver brooch with citrine gemstone jewellery deco

Citrine  is the official name bestowed upon orange to yellow colour quartz gemstone. When it’s this size, and bursts with this much fire, it blows other gems out of the water.

 

9k yellow gold blue topaz trilogy ring jewellery 9ct

If you want big statement rocks that ooze quality, but are also on budget, then topaz is your best friend! With its huge variety of colours and almost pure water like clarity (even in big stones – few inclusions with this baby!), topaz is the perfect go-to all rounder gemstone.

art deco foil backed glass opal pink paste ring vintage jewellery

Is it an opal? Is it a rare rock crystal? Nope, this beauty dates from the 1930s,  is made from good old glass.

vintage 60s butterfly wing earrings jewellery morpho

Though not everyone’s cup of tea, butterfly wing jewellery is made from yep, you’ve guessed it .. the real butterfly wings of the Morpho butterfly.  Before recoiling horror too much, the butterflies involved passed away naturally before being collected up and used to create stunning jewelry. There are surprising conservation aspects to this type of jewelry too – areas of South American rainforests have been saved and even re-planted for the sole purpose of encouraging the breeding of Morphos butterflies for jewellery.

Art Deco carved agate hardstone cameo ring in 9ct gold vintage jewellery

Cameos are one of the oldest forms of jewellery in the world. Get a good quality one, and it’ll be a talking point (and heirloom) for years to come.

Antique Victorian Pietra Dura micro mosaic brooch jewelry

Pietra Dura jewellery involves placing carefully selected thin slivers of real gemstone such as Malachite and Lapis Lazuli, and setting it into carved out onyx to create stunning pictures. Most examples date from the 1800s, like this exquisite Pietra Dura brooch, which originates from Italy, circa 1870s.

vintage art deco pools of light rock quartz crystal onyx gemstone undrilled bead necklace silver jewelry

Pools of Light necklaces are made from undrilled and highly polished natural water-clear rock crystal orbs wrapped in patterned sterling silver, and are sought after around the world, both by jewellery collectors and crystal healers. When one these beauties catches the light, you’ll know about it! The necklace shown has the added bonus of being made with an unusual mix of clear rock crystal and black onyx gemstone-  some crystal healers believe onyx enhances the effect of any gemstone it is placed with.

18ct gold alexandrite russian gemstone colour change jewellery 18k

Often called the stone of true gem connoisseurs, Alexandrite has a stunning quality which means it changes colour (from emerald green to ruby red) in different light conditions.  It is also very rare, and was the favourite gemstone of Russian aristocracy.

vintage blue john quartz silver drop earrings jewellery

Did you know that England has it’s very of internationally sought after gemstone? Deep in the hills of Derbyshire is a gemstone called ‘Blue John’, noted for it’s beautiful blue-purple colour and vivid golden veining.

Victorian Scottish Agate plaid pebble brooch, vintage antique jewellery

With its infinite variety of colours and one of a kind range of patterns, the humble yet beautiful agate is found all around the world. This antique Victorian brooch was made in Scotland circa 1870s, and displays the types of agate found around the Scottish coast – agate experts are able to immediately identify the exact part of Scotland each slice came from!

 

Further reading:

More info about butterfly farming and conservation:

Papillon Belle

Meet Me On The Bright Side

A blog post I wrote about about butterfly jewellery can be found here

 

The Blue John from Derbyshire, England:

Blue John on Wikipedia  – great article

Blue John mine tours can be found here and here

Here’s a past blog post I wrote about Blue John.