Cameo jewellery is found in many forms but brooches are probably one of the most popular forms. In the early 19th Century brooches set in gold or silver were luxury items and were the privilege of the rich so brooches of this era are usually of high quality. In ancient times a brooch was also known as a fibula or broach.
Brooches were often used as both fashion accessories or as fastenings for cloaks and other garments.
Dating Cameo Brooches
Clasps are one of the things which should be examined first. During the Georgian and Victorian era a “C” Clasp was commonly used until it was replaced by a safety clasp around 1900. The “C” Clasp takes it’s name because it looks like the letter C. This makes dating cameo brooches a bit easier than other cameo jewellery.
Early “C” Clasps tended to have longer pins as in the image of the Georgian “C” Clasp. The pin sticks out beyond the edge of the brooch and is very long compared to the overall length of the brooch. The image of the Victorian “C” clasp is still long, but not as long as the Georgian clasp. The Victorian brooch can be accurately dated as it has the silver hallmark for Birmingham 1892.
The third brooch down dates from the Art Nouveau era. Here the pin only goes to the end of the brooch itself.
The fourth brooch shows a modern, locking clasp.
Having said all that, it is not always possible to date accurately from the clasp alone. During the years clasps can get broken and replaced, so a modern clasp does not necessarily mean that the brooch is not old. Also, sometimes later designers may have used older type clasps. Whenever examining the piece you should also look for signs to see whether the clasp is original to the brooch. Many cameos during the Victorian era could be used as pendants as well.
Cameo Brooch Styles
The style of a brooch can also help to identify the age of the piece but it also needs experience with handling of the item as fashions come and go. Victorians would copy styles from previous eras just as we would today. One of the ways to tell them apart is whether they are hand-made or mass produced. That is really only possible to tell from handling an item and from experience so it will not be covered here.
In general, during the years 1800 to 1810, the styles followed neo-classicism. This style was encouraged by Napolean. Influences were adopted from the Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. This was probably due to Napoleons travels to these parts of the world.
Shell cameos became very popular during this era with many depicting mythical creatures and classical groups. Sometimes genuine artifacts were set in gold with designs of laurel leaves, Greek keys and palmettes. Mosaics also became popular and could also be used to surround a cameo.
Frames made of silver or gold cannetille, similar to filigree, became popular around 1830.
The early Victorian era, 1837 to 1860 saw a change in jewellery styles to that of Romanticism. Seed pearls, grapes, bows, mother-of-pearl, tendrils and leaves. Tiny flowers and enamel, especially in sky blue and navy were also popular so this is another thing to look for in the cameo mounts.
After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, black became customary in both clothing and jewellery. If the cameo jewellery is carved in jet, black onyx or black glass, it is very likely to be between 1861 and 1901.
A revival of neo-classicalism emerged once again, resulting in cameos of gods, goddesses and other classical figures.
Advances in technology meant that precious stones could be cut to fit any settings. Stones such as garnet, turquoise and coral also became popular.
Between the 1860’s to 1880’s, Italian cameos mounted bold hardstone cameos into fine yellow gold. Twisted wirework was popular and popular subject matters were gods and goddesses such as Apollo, Diana, Mars and Mercury.
The 20th century saw a decline in cameo jewellery. The quality of those that were made dwindled due to mass production but recently they are beginning to become popular again.