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Francessa Villas Be Free ring
Francesca Villa’s Be Free ring

As a daughter of antique dealers, Anna Porcu grew up handling cameos. But she wouldn’t wear one as a brooch or pendant. “I needed to make them powerful and wearable in a different way,” she says.

The Italian jewelry artist has created one-of-a-kind bracelets and necklaces that combine 19th and early 20th-century cameos—small-scale raised portraits or scenes, often mythological, carved in materials including shell and agate—with leather for a contemporary look. Her work, featured in sales at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, is part of a wave of contemporary jewelry that is modernizing the form, which has roots in the ancient Mediterranean.

Amedeos Momentarily Lost in a Royal Jungle
Amedeo’s Momentarily Lost in a Royal Jungle

Now, another Italian, Francesca Villa, makes colorful, one-off “Be Yourself” rings, which pair antique and vintage cameos with precious metals, gemstones, and enamel. A recent brooch by Munich-based Hemmerle updates a 19th-century agate Medusa cameo by teaming it with diamonds, aluminum, and white gold.

Other jewelers have drawn on the historic technique to make cameos. Liz Swig, founder of US creative platform LizWorks, collaborated with photographers Cindy Sherman and Catherine Opie on jewelry launched at the 2019 Venice Biennale. Amedeo Scognamiglio, whose family have been cameo carvers in Naples
since the 19th century, has, he says, “reinvented the old iconography” with designs including skulls and monkeys. His contemporary brand Amedeo has turned what was often considered to be “grandma’s jewelry” into something worn by celebrities, including Rihanna.

gold ring with a cameo of George IV, circa 1820
gold ring with a cameo of George IV, circa 1820

The renewed interest is apt for a tradition that has enjoyed revivals in popularity over the centuries, including during the Neo-Classical period, and the British Georgian and Victorian eras. A gold ring with an onyx cameo of George IV (dated circa 1820) features in the Style & Society: Dressing the Georgians exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London, until October 8.

Marie-Cécile Cisamolo, a jewelry specialist at Sotheby’s, says the “resurgence” of cameo jewelry extends to the auction market. Sotheby’s sold a Neo-Renaissance gold-mounted agate cameo pendant featuring the profile of Charles V of Spain for €6,048, three times the low estimate, in October 2022.

“You can have an important piece of history around your neck or on your finger, but it’s understated,” says Cisamolo. “Since Covid, people want to wear jewelry that has quality without being too showy, and cameos hit the spot.”

Photos: Courtesy of Francesca Villa; RFMAS ITALIA; Hemmerle. Maximilianstrasse 14. 80539. Munich. +49 89 24 22 600. hemmerle.com; Royal Collection Trust I © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

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