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* E visited North Wales' newest antique shop the other day, and left with my wallet somewhat lighter, when the Business Manager (Mrs P) took a shine to an unusual little brooch.

Fortunately Jane Williams, of Vintage Boutique, Rhos on Sea, was still researching her latest find: an impressive, mammoth-sized cameo brooch depicting characters in a classical scene (that's it in the photos), so a price for it had not then been fixed.

Jane opened her shop in December last year and is riding the current fashion for vintage costume, handbags and other accessories, supported by the evergreen demand for gold and silver jewellery and collectors' items. She worked for Capes Dunn in Manchester, has a coveted JET Diploma (Jewellery Education and Training) from the National Association of Goldsmiths, and sells fairly and reasonably.

She also reckons cameos are all the rage, with collectors buying them and not just to wear, which is perhaps just as well in the case of the one in question. It's so heavy, only the most substantial dress, or perhaps a coat, could support its weight. It is, however, a thing of beauty and considerable skill by whoever made it.

A cameo is a portrait or a scene carved in relief with a contrasting coloured background.

Gemstones like agate onyx, or sardonyx were the materials of choice for early cameos, while in the 19th century, carvers used such materials such as stone, shell, lava and coral. In all cases the lighter coloured layers of the medium are used for the subject, with the darker background acting a contrast.

Cameos made from carved gemstones were afforded by only the very rich, but in the 1760s Scot William Tassie (1777-1860) a gem engraver and cameo modeller, invented a glass paste that he used to copy important famous and ancient cameos.

Known as Tassies, they were decorated with classical subjects, portraits of royalty and figures of the day such as scholars or philosophers. When Tassie died, his nephew continued the business, producing cameos into the 1800s.

Josiah Wedgwood purchased moulds from Tassie and developed a method to create cameos from his new ceramic body, Jasperware.

His pots decorated with classical cameos became famous, their background known as Wedgwood blue.

The early 19th century excavation of Pompeii reawakened interest in cameos. Queen Victoria was a great fan and when she started CONTACT POINT . Vintage giving them as gifts, their popularity took off. Southern Italy emerged as a centre of excellence for the production of cameos, the area around Naples, with an abundance of shells and coral, being most productive. is at Rhos Jane Williams contacted 543935.

Conch were most commonly used because of colour variations between layers. In production, the rough outside layer is usually cut away and discarded, exposing the white or cream middle layer into which the design is skilfully carved. The third, interior, layer provides the contrasting colour against which the design is shown in relief. The end results are designs in a light cream-coloured layer on a pink to deep orange background.

The Victorians believed coral was able to ward off evil and it was available from red to black. Around the middle of the 19th century, cameos made from the lava of Mount Vesuvius were popular souvenirs of the Grand Tour. Carvers churned out anonymous versions using the lava, which was easily carved because it was soft and available in a number of colours. Industrialisation of the carving process followed and the quality of both carving and design suffered accordingly.

By the turn of the century, moulded cameos were being made from glass or celluloid.

Shell cameos are still carved today in Torre del Greco, a village at the foot of Vesuvius. However, in Ider Oberstein, in Germany, stone cameos are being cut by laser. Buy only from reputable sources or where guarantees are proffered. Fakes abound, made from poured plastic. However, old Bakelite cameos are rare and collectible.

Tell the difference by rubbing the piece briskly against your sleeve. If the piece gives off a distinctive chemical smell, it''s Bakelite and worth snapping up.

CONTACT POINT ? Vintage Boutique is at 4 Rhos Road, Rhos on Sea and Jane Williams can be contacted on 01492 543935.


A l hardstone cameo depicting an old man with flowing, curly beard and (right) a gold mounted cameo depicting a classical woman with elaborate military style headdress Jane Williams with the large cameo and others in her stock for sale
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 31, 2012
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