Shell cameos are carved from a single piece of shell. Shell is soft, so it is very easy to carve. Shell cameos are usually two colors. Shell cameos have a thin concave back, with the exception of abalone and mother of pearl which are usually flat on the back and somewhat thicker. Coral Cameos are usually a single color, and also have a flat back.
Agate cameos are carved with the same technique that shell cameos are carved. Agate has one main advantage, because the carver is able to see the layers of color from the side and knows that these layers will basically be flat. Stone is much harder to carve. A good hard stone cameo is often under carved at the junction where the portrait meets the flat plaque. At a quick glance stone often looks like an applied cameo, however upon closer examination one can determine it to be stone.
Amber Cameos are rather new to the market place. Amber cameos are carved from natural amber with the reverse intaglios being hand carved. Practice will make it easier to tell molded cameos from carved cameos: Usually natural materials are carved, while glass and plastic materials are normally molded but could be carved though not very likely. Molded cameos can be two colors by the simple device of pouring one color into the mold in a thin layer and then following with a thicker layer of another color.
If you are buying for value distinguishing the type of cameo could be very important. However, if you are buying because you simply "love" the piece, then determining the type of cameo and the value are not nearly as important. We suggest if you are purchasing a cameo because you want to add it to your jewelry wardrobe then choose what your heart falls for, just be certain you are not overpaying for what you are getting.
Cameos make a wonderful fashion statement! And they never go out of style.
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