The origin of cameos is shrouded in mystery. Some say variations of the cameo appeared in Ancient Egypt, while others refer to Ancient Greece and Rome. The early forms of cameos were usually carved out of shell, which has a natural curve that made them difficult to set. Historically, cameos featured a portrait of a woman against a contrasting background. Subjects of the cameo continue to evolve, making many more varieties available.
Today, cameos can be carved from shell, glass, stone or molded plastic, which is common for costume jewelry. The cameos available at Rio Grande are made from high-quality banded agate rough mined in Brazil that is sent to Germany for carving. This stone rough offers a flatness to the layers that make it easier to create consistent designs and also make the finished cameos easy to set. Though the banded layers in the agate are naturally occurring, after arriving in Germany, a proprietary process from the 19th century is used to dye the agate for consistency and to increase the contrast between layers.
The first cameo of every design is hand carved by a master carver from a cameo blank to create the unique portrait. During carving, material is removed to expose the contrasting layer and create the design, leaving a raised surfaced. After the master piece is finished, each following cameo is ultrasonically carved to duplicate the initial design. Because no two agate blanks are the same, the ultrasonic milling process is a manual process and each cameo of the same design will have minor differences in contrast. Ultrasonic carving delivers the benefit of a hand-created design while making these miniature works of art affordable.
We offer a wide selection of portrait cameos, nature and animal cameos, message and symbol cameos, as well as religious and spiritual cameos. Rio Grande's collection of black agate cameos and red agate cameos—available in oval, round and special shapes—makes it easy to create distinct jewelry pieces for your customers.
Rio Grande carries a selection of Alphonse Mucha cameos. Each of these cameos features a famous work of art by the Czech Art Nouveau artist and comes with a mini poster of the original lithograph.