Is Your Cameo Real? Here’s How to Find Out

November 24, 2020

Vintage Lady's Shell Cameo Brooch/Pendant, Eros & Psyche

By Chelsea Reed

Cameos are timeless heirlooms in many households. Chances are, you probably have one. Their graceful depictions have been a fashion favorite in Western Civilization since the 3rd century BC. A cameo is a relief carving behind a different colored background. Their popularity as jewelry adornments has endured throughout the ages, especially in the Victorian Era. Authentic cameos are carved from natural materials such as shells and stones. They commonly depict portraits and mythical scenes. These delicate beauties can become quite valuable over time - some sell for hundreds and even thousands of dollars!

Is your cameo valuable? To find out, you will need to determine if it is indeed an authentic cameo. Plenty of “mock cameos” have circulated the jewelry market for almost a century. These tips can help you spot out the “real McCoy” from a fake one. 

Check the Back to Get on Track

There is strong evidence that a cameo carved from a shell is real. If you can feel a slight curve on the back of your cameo, then it’s likely made from a shell. There’s a good chance it’s real! If the back is straight, however, don’t despair. Real cameos are also carved out of lava rock, stone, or coral. 
Use Your Five Senses
Late Victorian Style Lady's Shell Cameo Brooch, Greek Goddess FloraActually, you only need two out of five. (Tasting the cameo is not recommended!) Some collectors claim you can tell by touching the cameo with the inside of your wrist or your neck. The theory behind this is that shell and stone materials are cold to the touch, while plastics and resins are warmer at room temperature.

Another way to tell a cameo’s authenticity is to hold it up to the light. If you see some light pass through the back, it could be real. A plastic cameo is more likely to be solid. Be careful with this method, though - some fake cameos look very close to the real thing. They may be translucent, too!

Matte Finish Matters

The value of some traditional gemstones is determined by how the cut sparkles and shines. Not so with a cameo. Real cameos should have a soft matte sheen like a stone or seashell, while imitation cameos often cast a glossy surface. “Mock” cameos made from glued pieces of plastic and glass were popular in the 1930s and ‘40s. They’re attractive costume jewelry, but real cameos are much more valuable. The only exception to this rule would be a mock cameo’s rarity and historical significance. Which brings us to the final point of advice…

Get in Touch With a Professional

Determining the authenticity of a cameo can be tricky even to a trained eye. If you’re still not sure, it’s worth it to have the piece evaluated by a trusted professional. Did you know that Seaside Art Gallery has beautiful estate jewelry? Each cameo showcased at the Gallery is real and insurance appraised. 

Wondering what your cameo heirloom is worth? Try these tips to find out. You could have an invaluable treasure waiting to be discovered! And if you’re looking for a piece to add to your cameo collection, Seaside Art Gallery is a great choice. You can rest easy knowing that all cameos for sale are genuine.

Chelsea Reed is a copywriter who writes online content, articles, blogs, and websites from her base in North Carolina.

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