Our carvers do all the work by hand, therefore they are sitting next to the window in order to take advantage of the natural light. Cameos can take a few days or a few months to complete. It depends on the depth of detail.

 

 At the end of these preliminary procedures, the trimmed shell is struck onto a short wooden stick with shellac (tree sap), making it easier to handle, and its rough outer layer is ground down to the right thickness. At this point the artist allows the form of the piece to inspire his choice of subject.

The back of these pieces of shell are then smoothed and rounded b the aggarbatore, and they are ready to go into the carvers hands.

The "coppa", the part of the shell to be used for cameos, is then divided further into smaller pieces by a cutter called the "tagliatore" following the instructions of the "segnatore".

After being divided in two, the thicker and colored part is signed with a waterproof pen by a segnatore, who decides cameos shape according to shells' shape. This is the moment when the segnatore decides the form that he cameo will take: rectangular, oval, or elongated. As with precious stones, the cut is carefully studied to ensure that the piece of shell is exploited in the best way possible.

After an Initial selection, in which the form, size and thickness are assessed the shell is cut into two with a steel saw. The less valuable part is used for souvenirs and the best part, the "cup" or "coppa" (the "belly" of the shell) is then smoothed and trimmed.

Carving a cameo is a very delicate operation....Click Video button to watch.

 

How Hand-carved Shell Cameos Are Made...

After drawing a sketch of the subject matter on the shell, the carver uses traditional cameos carving tools called bulino . These are the same carving tools that were used 5,000 years ago and reintroduced by Italian carvers several hundred years ago to create the figures to be engraved, from the traditional women's profiles to more complex designs.