Manufacturing and care of cameos


First, the cameo is shaped then attached on to a wooden stick with a hot, waxy compound called ‘pece’.

Then the design of the cameo is chosen. If the subject is complicated, the first plane is drawn and carved away then subsequent planes are drawn on the remaining surface.

Electric drills may be used during the first phase of the work to remove the outer crust and for the overall shaping of the cameo. In the later stages, hand chisels are used to refine the shape and the design details. The extent to which hand chisels are used is subject to the skill and dexterity of the carver. For commercial productions mostly electric drills are used for speed. The differences between hand and electric tools on the cameo are hard to distinguish unless examined by an expert.


Cameos are delicate pieces of conch shell that must be treated with care and attention.

With time it is normal that cameos may become a little dirty and suffer from some surface discolouration, or ‘patina’. Usually they can be cleaned and restored with a mild soap and a soft brush. When the patina forms thicker onto the cameo surface, it is advisable to use some pumice dust and a soft brush to gently erode the patina crust off.

Pumice dust must be used cautiously as it is abrasive so it is best to always see what results can be achieved using the mild soap before resorting to its’ use.

After cleaning, the cameo should be dipped into oil. Regarding oil there are different theories as to which oil is best to use. I advise to always choose a transparent oil to avoid staining. Some people use ‘Singer’ oil for sewing machines as it is very clear oil. Otherwise a very common oil to use is ‘kitchen oil’ but this is odorous. Consequently, the oil I choose to use is Johnson Baby Oil.

After dipping in oil, rinse the cameo in soapy water and brush lightly, then leave to dry.

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