Frequently Asked Questions

 

 

Gemstone or Shell Cameos

Guide to the difference between Gemstone and Shell cameos. Be informed to make your decision.

Contact Gareth Eckley

Call or Text: 1 250 575-3390. We are on the West Coast, in the PST Time Zone, 3 hours behind New York time.

Order Process

Standard delivery is from 6 - 8 weeks. Rush orders may be possible.

General Questions

Individually hand carved cameos signed by a master artist are very valuable. Gemstone cameos have higher value as they are harder to carve than the softer Shell. Look for a signature, high-quality finish and complexity of carving.

Layered Agate is used for most gemstone hardstone cameos. The color contrast of the top white layer and the darker background layer creates great contrast. Agate is hard, carves well, takes a fine polish and has a special quality. The translucency of the white layer allows a skilled carver to create shading effects that bring a portrait to life.

Shell is much softer than stone and is far less durable. The carving process is faster with shell and different tools are used. Most shell cameos are cheply made for the tourist trade. These are finished poorly for a cheap price. There are some skilled shell carvers who do make very fine work.

Harstone cameos can last for millenia. There are stone cameos in museums that are 2,000 years old. Shell cameos are an organic material that can deteriorate over time. Shell is much softer, delicate and needs to be cared for carefully. Avoid heat, shock and harsh chemicals. The ultrasonic machine used by a jeweler can cause problems.

There is no such thing as a laser engraved cameo. The reason is that every cameo is a relief carving and has to have a thickness to the profile. Laser engraving is where the laser draws a picture, design or logo onto a flat surface. When you see one of these you can no longer confuse real cameos to laser engraved photos.

Cheap Agate cameos are produced by an ultrasonic carving process. An original is hand carved, a die is made from this carving. This is then placed in a press and vibrated, thousands of times a minute, against the raw stone, with a cutting abrasive.

A new cameo copy can be made in minutes. This process is only cost-effective if many identical copies are made. Priced from $30 – $300.

An expert appraiser will go through these steps to assess a value.

The Material

Is the cameo carved from an expensive material or a cheaper one? In general, the best carvers work on the best material. Experienced shell carvers typically do not work on the cheaper yellowish Carnelian shell.

Gemstone carvers can carve portraits onto a wide selection of gemstones. Layered Agate is actually a less expensive material than many gemstones. However, it is the perfect material for finely detailed portraits because:

  • Agate’s hardness allows for greater detail than the softer shell
  • The translucent nature gives a subtle glow to finished carvings
  • A wider range of colors are available
  • Gemstone is far more durable. Hardstone cameo lasts for thousands of years, shell cameos can deteriorate in a shorter time.

The Carving

Is the carving, smooth and well finished? The finish may be polished or have a satin texture. Many portraits will contrast polished areas with satin features to enhance the realism. It takes time to finish a carving well.

In cheaper carvings, the finishing process is rushed or not done at all. You will see crude, blocky, choppy marks, scratches and an uneven finish.

Antique cameos are very highly valued. Those that have a provenance that links them to famous rulers such as Napolean can sell for very high prices. Hardstone cameos are the most highly prized of all cameos. The Ancient Greeks and the Romans created some superb cameos that are now displayed in Museums or private collections. These highly prized portrait jewels were often gifts from Emperors or Royalty to their subjects.

Portrait Cameo Questions

I remove all of the stone that is not 'the portrait' to reveal the face and personality of the subject. I work until the portrait springs to life. Then I stop - overworking a carving is a common mistake made by beginners.

I carve every cameo entirely by hand. I use specially made steel points charged with Diamond dust. I make many of my special tools as they are not commercially available. The carving is smoothed and polished with wooden points charged with fine diamond dust.

All portrait cameos are hand carved by a master artisan. Production techniques do not work for one-off pieces. This is the pinnacle of any carvers art and experience, skill, artistic talent and a deep knowledge of Anatomy and portraiture are needed to create an accurate life-like portrait.

Ask if they are experts in this field. Have they studied anatomy and portraiture techniques? Have they studied the great masters of portrait sculpture and portrait artists?

Do they know how to about the camera’s limitations? Many do not know that a camera lens distorts the actual image.  An expert portrait artist will correct for this.

A gemstone portrait cameo takes from 3 - 5 days to carve. A portrait cameo in Shell can be carved in 1 day. This is reflected in their value and cost. There are many variables that go into price, such as the material used, the size and complexity of the carving and the quality of the finish. Half of the carving time is spent on finishing and polishing the stone, especially in the highest quality work.

If you were asked to show a friend just two or three photos that capture the "essence" of your loved one which would you choose? These are the images that I need for your cameo jewel.My goal is to have the portrait photo that best shows the spirit and character of the person.

Does the photo tell a story? An example is how a photo of a father holding his child shows the love between them. Send me as many photos as you want. I can help advise on the best choice for the portrait cameo.

With a custom-made cameo, you may have the option to add personal details to make your gift more special. Engraved inscriptions, personal mementos, gold accents, icons, totems, signatures, etc. These details can transform from an ordinary jewel to an extraordinary and very personal gift.


Yes custom earrings can be made to match the style and/or color of your cameo necklace or brooch pin. This can be done with your first order or earrings can be made to add to a custom jewel that you already have.

Order Questions

My customers come from all over the world. Most of my work goes to the United States, the Middle East, Europe, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand. I can probably deliver to your country, wherever you are.

Payment can be made direct by wire transfer or via Pay-Pal. I will provide a quote for delivery and Customs may charge duty and tax when you import your portrait cameo jewel.

I now accept cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Dash, Monero, Z Cash, Ripple, and many others. This can make sending funds easier and cheaper for many countries. Especially where the local banking system is expensive.

Contact me via my inquiry form. Upload your photos, share your story and tell me what kind of custom jewel you want. I will contact you to connect and research. I will share designs for your jewel. When the design is selected I will start work on your order. You will have direct access to Gareth Eckley.

Customer Care

Your Cameo has been carved from a tough and durable gemstone. With normal use and care your Cameo should last many years and could well become an heirloom that is passed through the generations.

Your Cameo is set in a frame that protects the sides and edges of the stone from damage. Please be aware that any stone can break, or chip, if dropped onto a hard surface, or hit with a hard object.

For this reason, I recommend that the Cameo is insured as soon as possible, as I cannot cover this sort of damage.

Your Cameo can be cleaned at any time. The easiest method is to immerse the Cameo in a warm solution of detergent and water. Soak the stone for a while and then clean with a soft toothbrush, to remove any ingrained dirt.

The special satin finish on the cameo stone can be restored by gently rubbing the surface with a clean ink eraser. Finish by rinsing the piece in warm water and gently pat dry with a paper towel.

I advise you to take the Cameo to a professional Jeweler every few years. They will check the piece for any wear that may need attention and they will be able to clean the piece professionally for you.

Cameo stones cannot take the heat of a soldering torch, but they are safe in the Ultrasonic cleaner and can be cleaned with a steam cleaner.

If you feel that the Cameo is not a good likeness in the first 7 days of receipt then you may return the cameo for recarving. Please contact me first before sending as we will pay your shipping costs.

I cannot accept a cancellation before I have delivered the finished cameo. Photographs do not adequately show the full detail of a carving and a portrait cameo really must be viewed 'in person' to fully judge the quality and likeness.  If I am asked to change the expression of a person, say from open mouth to closed lips or from sad to happy then I must be given additional photos that show the person with this look. These photos will give me the chance to accurately portray the altered expression. I can offer this guarantee as I stand by the quality of my work.

Portrait Cameos are unique pieces of art. I do make every effort to ensure that a portrait cameo is a great likeness of the subject. Please check the Photographs of the finished cameo carefully before sending final payment. If I am asked to carve two or more cameos of the same photograph, I cannot guarantee that they will be identical. I do not create these portraits with a machine. They are all hand carved, so duplicate portraits will be very similar but not exact copies of each other.

If your order is delivered damaged, it is your responsibility to contact the shipper. Important: save all packing materials. Failure to do so can cause the shipper to deny your claim.

After the initial 7 day period, the following guarantee applies.

A Cameo should not break with normal usage. However, the gemstone itself is not guaranteed against loss or damage. I suggest ensuring the piece for its full replacement value. I would be happy to replace a missing or broken cameo stone. This would, however, be charged as a new order.

In the event of a failure of the metal setting, that has not been caused by damage from an external force I will carry out any repairs free of charge. If any metal parts have been damaged due to being hit or dropped then I would have to charge for any repair.

Please contact me in advance of sending the piece to me. I will verify the cause of the failure and if satisfied the piece will delivered free of charge.

I take your privacy seriously and that is why I will never share any confidential information that you give me, including your e.mail address or phone number with anyone outside of Portrait Cameos for any reason.

Orders for famous people may well need an enhanced degree of confidentiality. I am often asked to sign non disclosure agreements for these situations

I am happy to show your cameo online if you request me to. I will also share the story behind your cameo jewel. I am always so thankful when I am asked to share photos, reviews, and feedback from a customer.

No problem at all. Many of my cameo portrait jewels are not displayed on my website. I only show cameos with the approval of their owners.

A sympathy cameo that marks the passing of a 'loved one' is a very personal gift. The cameo may mark a very painful loss. My policy is to not show these gifts online. However, sometimes the owner asks me to share their cameo and their story.  I show some of these on my site but I do not show full names to protect privacy.

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