From Princess Madeleine to Rihanna, almost every celebrity seems to be adding cameos to their outfit. This antique jewelry, which was once lost in the past, is now back in fashion!
And, what is more exciting is that the value of these old decorative accessories has doubled. A well-maintained, original cameo can cost anywhere from $3000 to $10,000+ in the current market.
Don’t believe us? Well, let’s walk you through the 19 most valuable cames in today’s post!
What are Cameos?
A cameo refers to a decorative accessory that has been in use ever since the times of Ancient Egypt. It features a typical oval-shaped base with relief carvings.
In case you don’t know, relief is a traditional sculptural method that involves carvings visuals on a solid material. Both the carvings and the base are of the same material.
That said, a lot of different kinds of materials are found in antique cameos. These include:
- Conch shell
- Precious gemstones like Onyx
Some cameos also have gold or silver carvings, which make them appear extremely beautiful. However, the main feature of antique cameos is their hand-crafted imagery. You will usually find portraits of notable people, mythical creatures, and landscapes.
These hand-carved, detailed reliefs are typically set in gold or silver and used to adorn pieces of jewelry such as necklaces, bracelets, pendants, and rings.
History of Cameos
Cameos have been a part of several civilizations since ancient times. It’s truly difficult to point out where these decorative accessories first originated. However, their first use seems to have appeared initially in 15,000 B.C.
Back then, Ancient Egyptians carved rocks to record important events. They would also carve patterns, mythical creatures, and other things. Similar usage was also found to be a part of Roman civilization.
Gradually, the cameos evolved to become small ornaments and pendants. They were particularly popular during the Victorian Era. It was when Queen Victoria ruled from 1837 to 1901.
Women used cameos in jewelry like necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. They were also being used as heirlooms and inheritance accessories.
Fast forward to the present, the antique cameos are mainly considered a collectible due to their high value. Antique enthusiasts create elaborate collections to display and study. Meanwhile, celebrities use them in their outfits as a fashion statement.
However, locals usually wear fake cameo replicas. It’s primarily because although original cameos are popular, they are unaffordable for the common people.
How Much Are Cameos Worth?
Cameos are worth a lot of money. On average, you can expect their values to start from $3000 and go beyond $10,000!
But let’s not forget that the worth of cameos depends on a lot of factors. These include:
An authentic gemstone cameo in good condition will cost more than a stone cameo in poor condition. Similarly, cameos from ancient times will have higher price tags than vintage ones.
That said, you can spark a good bargain on antique cameos at online marketplaces like eBay and Etsy. It’s because most of the sellers are either unaware of the true value of the antique or are just trying to get rid of the ancestral burdens.
So, if you have got an eye for details and evaluation, you can actually find antique cameos for $1000 or below. But if you stick with auction houses and expert antique sellers, expect the values to range above $3000.
19 Antique Most Valuable Cameos
Here’s a list of the authentic most valuable cameos in the world. Please note all of them have been sold or auctioned.
1. Antique Shell Cameo Pendant – $1,375
This antique shell cameo pendant has a finely carved scenery in which three figures are seated on a bench. Two are women while the other is a baby. Below the bench, one can observe another scene where a man is kneeling down, and a horse is standing nearby.
The intricate scenery is carved on an 18K gold base. There are no damages or wear on the cameo pendant. However, it’s small with the measurements of 2 5/8-inch X 2 1/8 inch.
It was probably meant to be used along with coral and pearl strands.
Belong to the Victorian era, this antique cameo brooch and pendant is truly an exquisite piece of art. It features a 14K gold frame with beautiful foliate design carving. The center of the cameo shows a female portrait.
Overall, the cameo is 2-3/8 inches tall and 1-7/8 inches wide. It has a pin at the back that allows it to be attached to any surface. You can use it as both a pendant on a necklace or a brooch on clothes.
3. Antique Italian Cameo Brooch – $1,525
This stunning antique cameo is from around the 1870s, which makes it extremely rare. It is a small, oval-shaped cameo that measures 2.25-inch x 2-inch.
The highlight of this cameo is its imagery that shows a determined Zeus. His face is in absolute calm, with the eyes staring distantly. However, his face is on top of an eagle who seems to be attacking the snake with its wings aloft.
So, the concluding feel of this amazingly carved cameo is controlled power and authority.
4. Antique Signed Hard Stone Cameo Brooch – $2,450
With a hardstone base, this Etruscan-style cameo has a breathtaking design. The gold frame has granules, prongs, and carved patterns to create a regal textured look. Meanwhile, the center of the cameo shows a Roman lady’s portrait.
She is wearing a beautiful dress with double-drop earrings and a cross necklace. The fancy hairstyle comprises curls, ornaments, and bead strings. All this suggests that the portrait might be of a notable personality from the past.
However, the true origins are unknown except for the fact that this cameo dates back to the Circa era. There are also two signatures on the cameo from the artist.
5.Antique Handmade Shell Cameo – $2,500
This antique handmade cameo has a shell base with an 18K gold design.
As you can see, the leaves are gold while the portrait and the base are made from a shell. There are also tiny blue stones embedded in the leaves, unlike most cameos. This gives the cameo a fashionable look.
It is usable as both a brooch and a pendant. However, there’s no pin at the back for attachment.
6. 19th Century 14K Gold Men’s Stone Cameo Ring – $2,750
Although cameos were typically famous amongst women, the male members of the society also liked wearing these decorative accessories. This 19th-century men’s cameo ring is a great example.
It features a man’s portrait in stone material. The cameo is attached to a 14K gold ring that has a simple carved design.
You cannot make out the details clearly due to the monotonous dark-colored base. But, the cameo is pretty much in good condition. There are no prominent damages except for some wear and scratches on the ring.
7. Antique Gold Chain with Hardstone Cameo – $5,000
This antique hardstone cameo is basically a locket chain. It has the usual oval shape that measures approximately 26.0 x 19.0 mm.
The cameo features a carved image of two baby angels flying together. It is surrounded by a textured gold frame with tiny rose-cut diamonds placed in a beautiful pattern. There are also four 3.8mm white pearls on the frame that adds a contrast to the gold-black look.
As for the chain, it has a traditional loop design. It can be detached from the cameo locket and used independently.
8. Antique Moonstone Cameo – $5,227 (£3,800)
The unique combination of moonstone and sapphire makes this antique cameo very special. It has an oval-shaped moonstone base and carving with a sapphire stone border. The little round-cut blue stones are perfectly aligned around the cameo.
Its center shows a female portrait. The curly hairdo with ornaments indicates the cameo is from the Victorian era. However, it’s not older than that because of its outstanding condition.
The antique was sold on Mar 04, 2021, for £3,800.
9. Antique Coral Cameo Necklace – $5,500
With 12 antique cameos in one necklace, there’s no way this collectible would have been sold for low values. The necklace comprises 14K gold and is approximately 19-inches long.
Each coral cameo has an intricate golden pattern border. Meanwhile, the carving features a maiden wearing a beautiful floral crown. Despite being monotonous, the details in the cameo are vivid and clear.
There is little to no damage visible on the antique. It is shiny, polished, and well-preserved.
This cameo is not just an antique, but an important artifact. It depicts the beautiful Greek adolescent Antinous Vertumnus who was the favorite of the well-known Emperor Hadrian.
Antinous was very popular due to his stunning beauty. He was idealized to be the perfect male beauty, which led to him being the favorite of the Emperor. However, he soon tragically died by drowning in River Nile.
The well-maintained cameo shows Antinous from his prime youth days. It dates back to the 1860s but has no damages. Also, the frame features a unique Etruscan Revival style artwork that further contributes to the value.
11. ANNÉES 1820 GRAND CAMÉE AGATE GRISE Il – $6,506 (€5,500)
Dating back to the early 1820s, this ANNÉES cameo is probably one of the oldest cameos in this list. It has no fancy gold base, borders, or design. Instead, it is just a plain oval-shaped cameo made from agate.
So, the primary reason it’s so valuable is its age. Also, the cameo features a detailed man’s portrait. The unusual direction of the face and hairstyle indicates he’s an important personality.
The cameo was sold on Jul 12, 2021, for €5,500 in France.
12. Antique Silver Topped Gold, Hardstone Cameo – $7,000
This antique features an oval-shaped hardstone cameo that shows a portrait of a classical man. He has a beard with short, curly hair. The outfit represents the typical old-age toga.
What’s more exciting about the cameo is that there are 47 old diamonds studded into the bracelet. They weigh around 2-carats in total. There are also six long strands of white pearls that form the bulk of the bracelet.
The presence of clasps allows one to detach the cameo and use it independently as a brooch or pendant. No wonder this amazing antique is valued at $7,000!
13. Antique Yellow and Gold Agate Cameo Pendant – $9,000
The agate cameo pendant is not in the best of conditions. But, it has a few features that make it a rare find.
Firstly, the cameo has a portrait of an aristocratic lady that is very unusual. Most cameos have random Roman and Greek women carved on them. Moreover, the 18K gold base and the frame have a wire loop detail.
There are two loops so that the pendant can be used in both bracelets and necklaces. You can also notice the minute pattern on the borders to create texture.
14. Important Antique Cameo Family Tree Necklace – $10,452 (£9,000)
You’ll find a lot of cameos in the form of brooches and pendants. But, this particular antique collectible uses cameos to depict the family tree in a necklace.
There are 17-links with each cameo showing two faces; one man and one woman. It’s believed that this cameo necklace traces back to the 1750s and represents a reputable southern Italian family.
The blue enamel design at the border is very beautiful. There’s a large cameo at the bottom, which serves as the main feature or pendant of the necklace.
15. Antique Art Deco 14K White Gold Carved Shell Cameo – $11,000
With a white gold frame, this antique art deco cameo is very rare. It doesn’t use the usual 14K gold but the white alternative. Also, the frame has an unusual shape.
You can observe that the portrait itself is oval-shaped and made from a shell. It’s surrounded by open filigree work that ends in an octagon-shaped frame.
Furthermore, the cameo is versatile and multi-purpose. It’s designed to be used as both a brooch and a pendant.
16. Antique Cameo Diamond and Enamel Bangle – $12,304 (£9,000)
This antique bangle features three shell cameos. Each depicts a white putto standing with its finger on the chin. In case you don’t know, a putto refers to winged infants who act as angelic spirits or symbols of love.
The cameos have a typical gold frame with nine small diamonds embedded on the sides. On the top, there is a small green bow with a relatively bigger diamond in the center. The green, red, and gold combination of colors give this antique a regal look.
It was sold on Dec 29, 2020, for £9,000.
17. Antique Hard-Stone Cameo – $12,992 (€11,000)
The antique hard stone cameo is quite simple and plain. It has a hard stone base with a yellow-gold border. The frame is very thin as compared to other cameos.
As for the carving, it shows the side profile of a man with curly hair and a laurel wreath. The eyes of the man seem to be shocked, though his face is calm and focused. It’s unsure whether he is an important personality or not.
The top of the cameo has a small loop, which suggests it was used as a pendant.
18. Carved Agate Cameo Profile Portrait Of Napoleon I – $16,000
It’s pretty understandable why this antique is one of the most expensive cameos. The collectible features the portrait of Napoleon I who was the french emperor from 1804 to 1814.
The detailed portrait shows Napoleon’s face in the right direction. He has short-cropped hair and a laurel crown. The artist’s (Nicola Morelli) signatures are also present on the antique.
There are no borders or frames in the cameo. It’s made from agate, which was the most common material during those times. Although much of the carvings are undamaged, there are stains and spots on the cameo.
19. Antique Pearl, Diamond, Ruby, and Enamel Cameo – $16, 290 (£12,000)
Here’s the most expensive cameo on this list. It was originally sold for £12,000 on Feb 09, 2021. So, according to the exchange rate of 2021, the price equals $16,290!
The antique belongs to the 16th century and depicts a very famous personality – Julius Caesar. His portrait is not much detailed but displays his facial features well. All around the oval-shaped cameo is a beautiful varicolored enamel.
It consists of cabochon rubies, pearls, and old-cut diamonds.
How Do I Know If My Cameo is Valuable?
If you own a cameo, it’s highly important to find the value. You can never know if the old, passed-down cameo in your jewelry box is worth $$ or $$$.
And so, knowing the worth can help prevent loss by demanding the right price for the collectible. Below, we have discussed 5-main factors to evaluate the worth of an antique cameo.
Antique cameos are at least a hundred years old. So, they are automatically considered more worthy than the vintage most valuable cameos.
However, there’s a general rule – the older an antique is, the more pricey it will be.
It’s why you should focus on finding the date and origins of the cameo. Here are a few tips on dating an antique cameo:
- Observe the nose shape in the portraits. People with delicate straight noses indicate the cameo is from the Victorian era. Meanwhile, strong Roman noses are from the early 1860s.
- Shell cameos with mythological scenarios are from the 18th to early 20th century.
- Lava stone cameos are usually from the Victorian era.
- Cameos with C-clasp on the back are from the pre-1900s. Safety catches are an invention of the 20th century.
- 9K gold wasn’t legalized until 1854, and gold electroplating was first patented in the year 1840. So, cameos with these metals are all made after the 1840s.
Of course, the older an antique is, the rarer it will be. But, there are certain features of the cameo carvings that make them unique and increase their value. These include:
- Subject – collectors highly value cameos that feature portraits of notable figures or mythical creatures.
- Face Direction– usually, the subjects in cameos are looking in the right direction. However, left and front-facing cameos are rare.
- Gender – you will find female portraits in most cameos, but males are uncommon. It’s why their worth is more.
- Complexity – simple cameos are worth less than complex ones. And, by complex, we mean highly detailed portraits and landscapes.
- Signature – cameos with artist signatures are considered to be gems. They not only verify authenticity but allow collectors to study the artist’s work.
Cameos are made from a variety of different materials. The ones comprising common materials like agate and hardstone have lower values.
However, the presence of gold increases the price significantly. You should expect the cost of a high-quality gold cameo to be above $2000. That said, the most expensive cameos contain precious stones like diamonds and pearls.
Unlike most antiques, cameos require little maintenance and care. The majority of antique cameos stay in good shape for a long time. You won’t find chipped paints or heavily scratched bodies.
It’s why a cameo with prominent damages holds little value. You should expect a stained, poor-condition cameo to sell for less than $1000 – if it’s not rare.
If you own one, you only need to wash it in soapy water once a year, and then rub a little mineral oil all over the front and back and leave it to soak in for a couple of hours. Wipe it down and dry it off, and put it in your jewelry box.
Rare antique cameos are high-value assets. You can easily sell them for $3000+ on online platforms like eBay and Etsy. As for auction houses, expect a rare antique cameo to sell up to $10,000+!
So, if you’re a cameo owner or collector, store your highly-prized antiques in safe places. Take good care of them by rubbing some mineral oil over the metals. Wash the carvings in soapy water at least once a year and completely dry them before storing them.
We hope this article was insightful. If there are any questions or thoughts, do share them with us in the comments!