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Want to get your hands on Vintage Cameo Rings? Learn about the history, value, the most collectible types, and tips for purchasing.

vintage cameo jewelry

What is a Vintage Cameo Ring?

A cameo is relief carving (a raised positive image that is higher than the background) of a figure or small scene that basically creates a miniature sculpture. These little pieces of art are typically carved into shells, stone, gemstones, coral, lava, mother of pearl and occasionally plastic or glass.

A Vintage Cameo Ring is a cameo that has been set into a ring. Cameos can be fashioned into necklaces, pendants, bracelets and pins.

buyers guide to vintage cameo rings

History of the Vintage Cameo Ring

It is thought that cameos get their inspiration from as far back as the 15,000 BC. Here, you will find the use of petroglyphs, figures and symbols carved into rock, to communicate between different peoples and record significant events. This use of carvings was then translated into portable carvings, cameos, that would depict religious, moral and other message.

Early Greeks and Romans used cameos to depict images of their gods and goddesses, mythology and biblical events. Here we see the first use of cameos as a way to showcase beautiful women. During this time period, you will often see earrings and signet rings, as well as some that were mostly just large works of art. You’ll also see some mythological depictions representing love and seduction. Young women would wear these as good luck charms and ways to express desire.

Cameos seemed to take a break in popularity, but were revived again during the early Renaissance and in France with the Neoclassical revival. You can find cameos as coronation crown decorations as well as military accessories such as swords and breastplates. Apparently, Napoleon was so enamored by cameos, that he founded a school to teach the art of cameo carving!

Much like other jewelry trends, Queen Victoria had a hand in making cameos popular. She loved the trend so much so that it eventually led to them being mass produced.

As mentioned, cameos can come in many forms of jewelry. The Vintage Cameo Ring is a beautiful way to showcase a cameo as you often see such ornate mountings.

Materials of Vintage Cameo Rings

  • The oldest cameos are usually made from semi-precious gemstones such as onyx and agate. Sometimes they would be layered, with the background having a different color than the raised carving.
  • Romans would use glass, during the Roman period. These are rare to find, as not many were produced. You will see some with a blue glass background and a white carving on top.
  • Carnelian shell is the most commonly used material for cameos. They will have a light orange or peachy color, which allows some contrast.
  • Mother of pearl cameos provides a beautiful opalescent effect. These will appear light gray or bluish-gray in color.
  • Plastic cameos often represent Costume Jewelry. While some of these are still old, they aren’t as valuable as the other materials. 
  • Cameos are mounted in a variety of materials, such as gold, brass, silver, steel and jet. 
  • Coral was popular during the Victorian era as a symbol of good luck. 

Value of Vintage Cameo Rings

The rarity of a cameo will determine it's value, not necessarily its age. For example, Renaissance cameos are more valuable than Roman ones because the Romans produced more of them.

The Most Collectible Cameos

  • The most desirable cameos are made of agate and incorporate three to four layers of color. 
  • Hardstone cameos are rarer than shell cameos. 
  • Cameos made from colored stones such as opal, lapis, amethyst, emerald, and ruby are more rare and therefore, more expensive. 

Tips for Purchasing A Real Vintage Cameo Ring

As with many other jewelry trends, Vintage Cameo Rings are being reproduced. You’ll want to be sure to follow some of our tips in order to purchase a true Vintage item.

First, you’ll want to try to identify what your cameo is made out of. Try to hold your piece up to get some light to shine through it. If you feel you can see through the material, there is a chance your piece is made of out of shell (which is a good sign). Occasionally, some plastic is thin enough to see through, so this shouldn’t be your only test.

Since these pieces are old, you should be able to see some cracks or crazing. Some items may have been extremely well taken care of and that is where a loupe can come in handy. Even if the items has been well maintained, you should still be able to see some carving marks. These small indentations should help to determine that the cameo was made out of a shell instead of a smooth uniform plastic.

Settings can also help determine the age. Many cameos mounted in brass were from the 1940’s, when they mass produced. If anything is plated, it would be after 1840s. During the 1880s, silver was a popular mounting material. Most quality cameo settings will have a metal marker stamped into the piece.

If you feel your cameo might not be old, try researching the motif online. Often, newer cameos depict the same image, and if you see yours over and over again, chances are it could be a reproduction.

Ask your seller for a guarantee in writing, to ensure a refund if it is not to your liking, or you find the cameo to be not high-quality. Always request a bill of sale that details the item and asserts that the cameo is an authentic, antique hardstone cameo. The name and address of the seller should be included along with a promise of exchange or replacement if the product is found to be problematical.

how to buy vintage jewelry - a vintage cameo ring

Where to Purchase a Vintage Cameo Ring

Vintage Cameo Rings can be purchased on the internet at sites such as Etsy, Ebay and Rubylane. Vintage Stores and Antique Shows may have some as well. With all methods of purchasing, be sure to use some of our tips above to truly feel confident in purchasing a Vintage item.

My favorite place to shop online for vintage jewelry is Etsy [See a list of my favorite Etsy shops]

Here are a list of some excellent Etsy shops that carry a good collection of items for you to browse through:

Tips for Purchasing Vintage Cameo Rings on Etsy 

  • Make sure you search within the Vintage section.
  • Look for shops with lots of positive reviews.
  • Read the shop's "Shipping and Policies" tab before making a purchase decision.  
  • Read reviews and buyers feedback, only buy from shops with consistently happy customers.
  • If you find a shop you like, add them to your favorites so you can find them again.
  • Be specific in your search keywords.

How to Take Care of Your Vintage Cameo ring

Like any other Vintage Ring, a Vintage Cameo Ring should be cared for. The cameo is very resilient, which is why these pieces have lasted for so long.

  • You can gently rub the item in warm, gentle soapy water, with a soft gentle cloth or toothbrush. Don’t let it soak in water. 
  • Also, as these can crack, it is often recommended to use a mineral oil every few months. You can use your fingers to gently rub the oil, but then wipe the oil off. 

Conclusion

Vintage Cameo Rings are great examples of historical works of art. These beautiful carvings can last many years, if taken care of properly. Hopefully you’ll be able to pass your piece down for many generations to come!

If you have any questions, please don't hestitate to ask, we are glad to help! Leave your questions in the comments below and we will answer!

Happy Hunting,
Andrea

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Andrea

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  1. Ooo I just love cameo jewelry. My grandmother had a pendant with a woman’s profile on it. I believe it was made of shell. I have seen plenty of plastic fake ones. But I have always wanted to invest in a pretty little piece for myself. I never used Etsy before, its just that I’m afraid of purchasing something from Etsy and finding out later that it isn’t authentic. Is there ways to go about preventing to be frauded on Etsy for things like this?

    1. Hi Sophia,

      Two things you can do to make sure you are getting an authentic piece is to look at customer reviews of the shop you are looking to buy from, and talking directly with the seller. Find out how passionate and enthusiastic the seller is about vintage jewelry. Ask them questions about the piece you are interested in. If you get any weird vibes, like they aren’t fully answering your questions, or something feels fishy, trust your gut and look elsewhere. 

      You can also read our article on the Best Vintage Jewelry Shops on Etsy. These shops are all run by amazing people who are very knowledgeable and would never sell a fake piece. You can read tips for shopping on Etsy within that article as well. 

      I hope that helps dispel your fears about shopping on Etsy 🙂

  2. Hey, I really like your website! The design is clean, fresh and has that touch of modern vintage. This article in particular caught my eyes – the cameo ring is really very beautiful. Love the carvings! Does it come with the pearls as well as they match wonderfully. Thanks for adding on that bit about its history – makes the item even more novel.

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