It’s hard to believe, but cameos, those mainstays of twentieth-century granny couture, have been around since before recorded history. Back then, they quickly became a convenient (if you can call painstakingly chiseling faces into rock convenient) way to depict stories or personal loyalties, and by the height of the Greek and Roman empires, were often carved into onyx, agate, and other hard gemstones to illustrate gods and goddesses, admired beauties, and mythological themes. For a time, they were even common accessories for men, usually on rings and military pieces like helmets and breastplates. (Pope Paul II, who lived during the Renaissance, and Napolean were both avid cameo collectors.)
Cameos became a status symbol during the Elizabethan period, when wealthy women amassed collections they showed off to envious friends. The little reliefs periodically revived in popularity until modern times, when cameos carved into less expensive materials, like seashells and resin, went mainstream.
As you can see by this news brief that appeared in the New York Times during Fashion Week in 2011, cameos are on a comeback trail. We love these contemporary interpretations that still manage to keep their vintage, those-were-the-days appeal.