How to determine if a cameo is real.

How to determine if a cameo is real.
6 years, 8 months ago 1

It is commonly believed that the most valuable “real” cameos are those carved out of shell.  In fact, expertly carved hard stone cameos like agate, carnelian, and onyx are much more valuable than their shell counterparts. However, there are many other natural materials that cameos can be made from including gemstones, ivory, lava, coral, jet, bone and mother of pearl.

There are many techniques to determine if  a cameo is a real shell or hard stone cameo versus a plastic or resin imposter. I do advise caution with all of these techniques as advances in material composition and manufacturing make it difficult to tell quality imposters from the real thing. If determining the real ‘market value’ of the cameo is important to you, your best bet is to take it to a qualified jeweler.

However, the following tips may help you weed out the obvious imposters before you spend money for an appraisal.

Real shell cameos have a matte look to them, not a glossy or shiny look that a lot of vintage plastic cameos have.   Turn the cameo over and inspect the back. Real shell cameos have concave (curved) backs. Think of the shape of a conch shell or other shell that a cameo may be carved from and you will notice they are generally all concave (curved).  Shell cameos have a translucent quality when held up in a strong light or sunlight. From the back you will see the entire silhouette of the design. Some plastic cameos may be thin enough to see through like this, so don’t rely on this as your only test.

it the wide selection of cameos in our shop

Another tip is to inspect the cameo you are going to purchase under a jeweler’s loupe (or strong magnifying glass).  Look for tool carving mark

s in real hand carved cameos regardless of the material some marks will be visible.  Some people can tell by touching a cameo to their wrist, chin, or tooth (I don’t recommend this) if it is shell or stone it will feel cold as opposed to plastic which feels warmer by comparison.

Use caution if you plan to try the poking the piece with a hot nee

dle. A hot needle will melt the plastic easily, but not shell or hard stone. If the piece is old and made of a soft plastic, you will damage it and even though it is plastic it may be very valuable.  If the piece is newer, be aware that many modern resins are so hard the needle won’t pass through them, so this test won’t reveal anything about them!


“Cameo Jewellery Guide,”

“The historical Cameo,”

Personal Experience

One Response

  1. nikki says:

    Hi there can you help me identify the cameo that i have, left to me from my grandmother

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