Friday, July 15, 2011

From Ancient Ruins to Shells in Napoli

Turning Shells into Works of Art

Our day in Napoli (Naples, Italy) was drawing to a close, but we had one more thing to see before returning to the Star Princess.   Touring the Amalfi coastline from the water and exploring the ancient ruins of Pompeii were highlights of our day so far.  The final stop of our tour was a local Cameo Factory where we observed artisans applying skills handed down for generations, intricately carving seashell or coral into beautiful jewelry-true works of art, and beautiful keepsake souvenirs.

Not Just any Seashell...

can become a cameo.  In fact, only six out of over 100,000 seashells species existing in the world are selected to make a cameo.  The shell divers search for specimens 90 to 100 feet below the water's surface looking for high quality shells with no sign of flaws or cracks. The conch shell family is the best fitted shell for cameos. Among them, the carnelian shell is the most used for cameo carving. The most costly one is the Sardonyx shell with a thicker outer wall and a dark interior. Cameos carved from Sardonyx shell resemble marble.

The carver selects a section of the conch shell and determines where the layers of color are. The shell must also be broad and colored horizontally with light colors on top of darker colors. Usually, the darker color will be the background and the lighter color will be in the foreground.

A design is created just for that particular shell that will reveal the colored layers as it is carved, making the finished cameo three-dimensional. After the cameo is carved, it will be polished by hand. This is a very tedious process which takes good eyes, skill, and a lot of patience.

Italian Cameos

Here we were able to watch this carver as he turned a seashell into cameo jewelry.   We also had a briefing about how cameos are made.  There was free time to wander through the showroom and select a special cameo keepsake to take home from Italy.

The most popular motif for a cameo carved from shell is the face of a woman. So, when you see a woman's face on a cameo, you may deduce that it is made of shell.

See our Facebook Fan Page for our Cameo Factory album as well as other albums from our day in Napoli.   Please be sure to "Like" us so that you'll get updates as we continue our 12 Night Greek Isles & Mediterranean Cruise.



pr Pictorials said...

Hi! I've always wanted to visit a cameo factory. I'm googling info about the process and came across your blog. Could you tell me, do they ever carve with electric tools like an engraver - or is it all done with hand tools? Thank you. -Leigh

Chris Pappin said...

At the cameo factory we visited, it is all done by hand which I suspect is the case all over. The art is passed down from generation to generation.