Antique Victorian Cameo Set

May 18th, 2018 by James L. Sweaney, CGA, FGA. GG

Agate Cameo Necklace and Earrings, circa 1870

This just in– an exciting antique necklace and matching earrings with Agate Cameos, from the Victorian era. Hardstone cameos were associated with mourning jewelry starting as early as the 16th century. Sets like this came into vogue during the reign of Queen Victoria after the death of her beloved husband Prince Albert in 1861. The tassel places this set squarely in the Mid Victorian period, circa 1870-1880

The set consists of a necklace with a centerpiece of fabricated 1oK rose gold, set with a banded agate cameo and freshwater pearls. The center setting is basically a box fabricated by hand from sheet gold. The front is lavishly decorated with hand engraving and taille de epergne enameling. Taille de epergne is a variation of champleve enameling where opaque enamels– usually black– are fired into engraved lines forming a design. This necklace is especially nice compared to others we have seen because of unusual shape, the added leaves and natural pearls, and of course, the tassel. Overall condition is very good, considering the set is ~150 years old!

Left and right facing earrings

The earrings feature matching agate cameos, beautifully made with hand engraving and taille de epergne engraving. One cameo facing left, the other faced right so they both face forward when worn. The earrings are nicely articulated- the middle section is hinged the top where the earwires attach and the little engraved “skirts” below the cameo are also jointed.

Anticlastic handmade chain

The interesting 17 inch chain is completely handmade of 5 mm anticlastic (having opposite curvatures at a given point) wire rings, assembled into units and soldered.

Cameos and intaglios were very popular in the 1800’s. Cameos have the carved figure raised above a level surface, usually of a contrasting color, while intaglios are carved down into the surface, opposite that of a cameo. Kind of like navels– inny or outy!

Shell cameo from the 1920’s

Moonstone intaglio from the 19th Century

Hardstone cameos are most often carved from banded agate so that the carved figure is a light color that contrasts with the dark base layer. This set is black and white, others can be brown and white or orangy pink and white. Hardstone cameos are more expensive than cameos carved from shell because the carving isĀ  difficult and time consuming. As such, hardstone cameos are more rare than shell cameos and are very collectible.

Sold as a set only, I-27903, this wonderful antique necklace with matching earrings is now showing in our estate department, Tuesday thru Saturday, 10 -5:30.

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