Jewelry & Watches

Cameo Jewelry Is Having a Moment

Dolce and Gabbana's Alta Gioielleria Collection joins a rich history of intricately carved faces.

Every age, it seems, gets the face jewelry it deserves. Greeks in the 5th century BC, for example, mastered the art of carving stones in projected relief and immediately began sculpting images of their beloved Olympian gods. Romans continued the tradition but added political visages to the mix; citizens wore cameos to express devotion to public figures, like very decorative proto–bumper stickers.

Medieval times inspired religious cameos, and the Baroque period favored muscular forms and busts of the two Caesars. The 18th and 19th centuries witnessed a boom in glyptic art due in no small part to the discovery of Pompeii in 1748 and the resulting trend in Grand Tour travel.

Hemmerle diamonds and bronze earrings (price on request),, 1860s amethyst, pearl, and ruby pendant.

Cameos depicting classical scenes and profiles reigned supreme, Cupid and Psyche being particularly popular—note the centerpiece of what has come to be known as the Cameo Tiara, a gift from Napoleon to Josephine in 1809 that is now in the hands of the Swedish royal family. See also the cameos in the excellent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I particularly like to visit a black-and-white one carved by the 19th-century Roman Luigi Saulini that depicts a goddess and the women of her court.

So when did jewelers begin to carve portraits of contemporary, albeit anonymous, beauties in stone? Marc Auclert, a decorative arts historian whose Paris store, steps from Place Vendo?me, is a treasure chest of ancient intaglios and cameos fashioned a new, points to the 19th century. Neoclassicism had waned, and jewelry and fashion were accessible to a broader public. It is likely, he says, that the women buying and wearing the jewelry were more tempted to do so if they saw familiar faces staring back at them from the brooches on their lapels.

Both of these traditions—the classical figure and the portrait of a lady—are on view in the most recent Dolce & Gabbana Alta Gioielleria collection. Thirty-two one-of-a-kind pieces, each handcrafted, were presented to clients in Palermo in September, and they will be part of a series of events hosted by the Italian house in New York this spring.

The Dolce & Gabbana Alta Gioielleria Collection includes 32 unique pieces. Dolce & Gabbana Alta Gioielleria coral, gold, and diamond brooches (prices on request),

The Alta Gioielleria collection represents Dolce & Gabbana’s commitment to the high art of jewelry and to forging an identity within it. The classic male profile of one brooch—almost lifelike in the detail in its hair and expression—is done by hand in prized elatius coral and finished with amethyst and aquamarine.

The face of a graceful beauty with Rapunzel hair is carved by master artisans in pink coral and set with 1,300 rubies. The pieces are born out of a venerable jewelry tradition, but the boldness of the design and the exuberance of the color disrupt it in the best way possible.

This article appears in the May 2018 issue of Town & Country.

*This story originally appeared on

*Minor edits have been made by the editors

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