March 26 2011
Cameo-making has a long and honourable tradition in the south of Italy, usually worked in translucent, imported conch shell with a softly coloured interior and pale exterior that give contrast in the carving. Such pieces tend to be rather ladylike and staid, but the latest incarnation puts a darker, more contemporary twist on the genre which has thrown the craft once more – excuse the pun – into sharp relief.
The centre of the cameo industry is Torre del Greco near Naples, on the slopes of Vesuvius, and solidified lava rock – much harder and more difficult to carve than shell – has always been used occasionally to make cameos. But it appealed so much to Bottega Veneta’s designer Tomas Maier that he designed a whole jewellery collection of bold pieces around it, which he then had made by local craftsmen.
The cameos, in angry, volcanic shades of black, red and biscuit, are mounted in deeply blackened silver with chunky chains or superimposed filigree coils, and they complement brilliantly the rather dark, tough mood of Maier’s spring collection, managing to look both Goth-modern (especially the all-black versions) and ancient at the same time, as if inspired by original Roman cameos rather than the usual prissy version.
The cameos are hand-carved so, although this is not strictly limited edition, each piece is unique and the profile designs vary widely. There is a range of price, size and complexity, from simple rings at £330 (first picture), to big cuffs at £3,200, and necklaces, £4,170 (both second picture). Making them is laborious so quantities are small and they look set to sell out fast.