By Danielle Olivia Tefft, Jewelry Writer
Note: This article was first published on the Ruby Lane Blog and the now defunct Yahoo! Contributor Network.
Real cameos are those made out of natural materials. The most prized of these are shell and hardstone cameos. Many people don’t realize that vintage costume jewelry “fake” cameos, which are made out of manmade materials like glass, plastics (nowadays hard resins) and ceramics, can command prices that compete with those of real cameos. In addition, many “fake” cameos are combinations of two or more materials, such as molded celluloid (an early plastic) glued onto glass or stone.
It all depends on the maker, scarcity, and desirability of the plastic cameo to the costume jewelry collector. There are some Bakelite plastic cameos from the 1930s and 1940s that are currently commanding higher prices than expertly carved shell cameos! In addition, to further complicate matters, many vintage costume jewelry designers incorporated real cameos (shell and hardstone) into their designs.
So how does one properly distinguish between a real shell or hardstone cameo and a plastic or resin imposter? Listed below are some helpful tips:
1. Real shell cameos have a matte look to them, not a shiny look like a lot of vintage plastic cameos have.
2. Turn the cameo over and inspect the back. Real shell cameos have concave (curved) backs. Think of the shape of a conch shell from which they are generally carved from the outside to the inside. Those shells are all concave (curved).
3. Shell cameos have a wonderful translucent quality, like porcelain, when held up in a strong light or sunlight. However, some plastic cameos may be thin enough to see through like this, so don’t rely on this as your only test.
4. Always look at the cameo you are going to purchase under a jeweler’s 10X loupe, regardless of the material. Real shell cameos have tool carving marks.
5. Some say that if they touch a cameo with their wrist, chin, or tooth (not recommended) it will be cold if it is shell or stone, and warm if it is plastic.
6. Fake cameos that have been glued together layer by layer may contain real and fake materials combined, making them difficult to distinguish them from real cameos. Consider having a reputable jeweler in your area examine the piece for authenticity if the cameo you are considering is suspect, and/or the asking price is very high.
7. Please don’t try the old test of poking the piece with a hot needle, which in theory would go through any plastic easily, but not shell or hardstone. If the piece is old and made of a soft plastic, you will damage it. If the piece is newer, many modern resins are so hard the needle won’t pass through them, so this test won’t reveal anything about them!
1. Personal Experience
2. “Cameo Jewellery Guide,” sites.google.com/site/cameojewellery/.
3. “The historical Cameo,” victorianbazaar.com/cameos.html.
4. “Italian Cameos,” cameosnow.wordpress.com/.
5. “Italian Cameo Jewelry,” squidoo.com/Italian-Cameo-Jewelry.
6. “Cameo Heaven Tutorial,” cameoheaven.com/tutorial.html.
7. “resin cameo - resin cameo products manufacturers on alibaba.com,” alibaba.com/showroom/resin_cameo.html.
8. “What is a real Cameo?” oneofakindwis.com/2008/vintage-jewelry/what-is-a-real-cameo-vintage-plastic-cameo-or-antique-shell/.
9. “Identifying Valuable Cameos,” ezinearticles.com/?Identifying-Valuable-Cameos&id=995927.
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Danielle Olivia Tefft is a professional writer with a lifelong passion for gems, jewelry and fashion. She is a GIA accredited jewelry professional and the owner of online antique and vintage jewelry shop, Treasure Box Antiques. Current projects include ghostwriting jewelry and fashion blogs for clients worldwide. When she is not writing, she spends time in the garden, spoiling her cats and traveling with her significant other. Would you like to hire her to write for you? Visit her website danielleoliviatefftwrites.com for more information or email her directly: email@example.com.
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