While some specimens date back to the first century, the Cameo has had it’s greatest popularity during the Roman era, the Renaissance and the 19th century.
What exactly is a Cameo? Cameos are relief carvings, generally made from agate or various types of shells. Gem engravers carved each stone or shell by hand to create figures or scenes, which were raised up from their background.
Originally commissioned and owned by the wealthy elite, during the 19th century the cameo moved from the realm of the wealthy cabinet collector to a wider audience. Increased wealth among the European middle class and increased travel meant a demand for souvenirs, especially from trips to Italy. The shell cameo industry in Italy thus increased in size to meet demand.
In the earliest part of the 20th century, the cameo peaked.
At the time, the image of a woman wearing a choker was an extremely popular figure portrayed in cameos, so popular that it saturated the market and fell out of favor.
As chokers became mass-produced, and with the advent of the machine-carved cameo, the quality also suffered.
Lately, cameo’s have made something of a comeback, with modern jewelry designers expanding on the imagery and themes of classic cameos to create stunning new pieces:
(Info via National Jeweler)