Cameo Production


How to produce a hand-carved shell cameo from the shell. Click to see the videos.

After the sardonyx or cornelian shell is selected, it is divided into two parts by a scoppatore. One part of the shell is used for souvenir items and trinkets, and the other part — thicker and more richly colored — is used for cameos.

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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.

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The part of the shell to be used for cameos, called the cup, is then divided further by a cutter, called "tagliatore".
The back of these pieces of shell are then smoothed and rounded by the aggarbatore, and it is ready to go in the carvers' hands.
It is then stuck onto a short wooden stick, 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.
After drawing a sketch of the subject matter on the shell, the carver uses  traditional cameo carving tools called bulino already used 5000 years ago and reintroduced by Italian carvers several hundred years ago to create the image. Most carvers sit near windows to take advantage of natural light, doing all the work by hand. Cameos can take a few days or months to complete.