Pearls and Cameos - A Great Combination


Well-known member
May 21, 2013
Hi all,

Pearls and cameos make a great combination, and after the little photo essay below let's see people's favorite examples.

I recently had the good fortune to discover an important historical cameo, and would love to share it,
under the pretense of a little bit of info about French Empire Cameos (and pearls, of course).

Napoleon Bonaparte used cameo portraits of himself, gifted to supporters, to promote his imperial image.

Napoleon also encouraged his wife Empress Josephine to patronize contemporary gem engravers,
and she led the fashion of the day for wearing cameos in jewelry.

In the 1807 painting below by Andrea Appiani, Josephine is depicted as the Queen of Italy,
wearing a pearl and ruby tiara, centered with a cameo of Napoleon wreathed in laurel.


Her empire line belt, detailed below, features another cameo of Napoleon as a young man, check out those pearls!


(pictures from the blog "The Ornamented Being"
and historical background from the book "Portrait Jewels" by Diana Scarisbrick)

During the Second French Empire (1852 - 1870), Bonaparte's nephew,
Napoleon III emulated his uncle by commissioning cameo portraits of himself and his family.
His supporters among the Second Empire nobility affirmed their Bonaparte credentials by wearing cameos of Napoleon I,
often newly mounted in contemporary designs.

One of the leading Second Empire cameo sculptors was Paul-Victor LEBAS (active in Paris 1851-1876).
He exhibited at the Paris Salons and worked with the jewellers Caillot & Peck, specialists in cameo settings.

Around 1851 Lebas carved the famous cameo of the young Queen Victoria for Felix Dafrique
(now in the Victoria and Albert Museum). The setting combines the red roses of Lancaster,
and the white roses of York, picked out in pearls on the left hand side.



Lebas was patronized by Napoleon III. He produced one of the first cameos of Empress Eugenie in 1855,
and carved the cameo of their son the Prince Imperial in 1865 (now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York).



You can imagine how I felt when I discovered the following cameo pendant/brooch,
which had passed through a local auction house without anyone realizing it was signed by Lebas
(shown here suspended on some nice plump 8.5mm Akoyas).


Things got even better when I was able to work out who the subject was,
Tsarevich Alexander Alexandrovich Romanov, the future Tsar Alexander III of Russia.

The cameo shows him aged about 19, when there was no expectation he would come to the throne,
and just before an extraordinary series of events.

The following year his older brother Nicholas died unexpectedly,
and on his deathbed wished that Alexander would wed his fianc? Princess Dagmar of Denmark.
Dagmar accepted Alexander's proposal and they married 9 November 1866.
Dagmar converted to Orthodox Christianity and took the name Maria Feodorovna.

Alexander and Maria had a happy marriage with several children,
including their eldest son Nicholas, who was to become the ill fated last Tsar.

Following the assassination of Alexander II in 1881, their coronation occurred in 1883
and they became Tsar Alexander III and Tsarina Maria Feodorovna.

Here's a close-up of the cameo, and below a link to some more info,
including details on how the subject was identified as Tsarevich Alexander Alexandrovich Romanov.

So how much did this beauty end up fetching at the auction? The pierce-work on the cameo border is amazing, really well executed and appears to be all hand done! That is some mastery of craft.
Hi Andrea,

Yes the gold work is pretty good, and certainly hand done, it is stamped with the French Eagle Head control mark for 18ct.

To protect the interests of the various parties to the sale I'd prefer not to disclose what I paid.

Suffice to say this one is a long term keeper and rockets into the chart of Top 20 Scores with a bullet.

Anything with Russian interest enjoys a good premium, and Imperial Romanov interest tends to take things stratospheric.
Oh you bought it! Nice going :) I was able to see a Romanov exhibition in Delaware in 1998, it was certainly amazing. I'm sure you know of, they have some pretty spectacular jewelry items.
Congratulations. I would say that this is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement, but I suspect you have a few more amazing things in store for your future. I love it when a good detective wins the day! :cool:
Hi Andrea

Yes I've drooled over the jewellery on many a time. Got to love those demantoid garnets, but never seen one in the flesh.

Are you familiar with the London Bus Phenomenon? (Never see one, then two come along at once).

Strangely a few weeks ago I also scored a Russian Imperial period gold bracelet hallmarked with the St Petersburg second Kokoshnik mark (facing right, 1908 -1926).
Actually it was through looking at pieces on that helped me identify the marks.
It's by Andre? Stepanovich Bragin, one of the Faberge competitors.

So I've never seen another piece of pre-revolutionary Russian jewellery in New Zealand, then I get two pieces with Russian interest within days of each other.
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Amazing story and an amazing find. That auction must have been an adrenaline trip of a lifetime :) Why would you keep it rather than sell it on with it's real provenance?

- Karin
Hi Karin, good question. And a bit more background. I saw it at the auction, but didn't click what I was seeing and didn't bid.

After the auction I saw the piece in the window of one of my favourite dealers.

Then the penny dropped and I examined it more closely and saw the signature everyone else had missed.

So while I had to pay some extra premium to the friendly dealer, I was able to get extended payment terms while I drummed up the purchase price.

Now, the BIG question, why not take the money and run?

I have bookcase full of old auction catalogs. Some go back to the 70's. Open them and weep.
Chien Lung jades and porcelain, Faberge, Cartier, Liberty & Co, items worth tens of thousands today, sold for a paltry few hundred quid or dollars back in the day.

I wish I'd bought and kept that Namikawa Cloisonne, the Louis Wain cat, the Rene Lalique statuette, the Archibald Knox clock, the Frederick Preiss and Chiparus figurines (all items that passed through my hands in the last 40 years).

In a rapidly changing world IMHO there is one currency that appreciates continually, and faster than anything else - high quality, unique antiques, artworks and jewellery.

One of my mates laughs at my jewellery scores, "dude, why don't you sell it - it's a new car!"

In 10 years that car will be on the scrap heap and that necklace price will have a zero on the end of it.

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Paul, I can certainly relate to that on a smaller scale. I sold a large gold bracelet, I wasn't using, for scrap to pay for my Indian ruby bracelet that I get a kick out of looking at every day even when I'm not wearing it. But I feel like hitting myself everytime I think of the other bracelet. Today I feel sure I would have used it in time and if not, the value of gold has gone up SO much since I sold it. Was there really no way I could have kept it? A little late for asking that question...

- Karin
What a lovely cameo and an amazing find! Pattye is certainly correct, you do keep us enthralled with your discoveries! Love the way the cameo looks on the akoya pearls.
Following up to Karin, and my strategy of "Keep the Best and Sell the Rest".

I'm mindful that I have a day job that leaves me just enough surplus to indulge in treasure hunting and lets me keep the good stuff.

If I had to make the daily bread from dealing, all those goodies I get to keep would instead be my stock, and continually sold off.

Even with my good eye, good luck, and 40 years experience I'd struggle to make a living in what is a very tough business.

I take my hat off to all those artisans, jewelers and traders who do it for a living, and as a consequence sell their best pieces with pride (and a tear in the corner of their eye). had a demantoid ring with a double halo of champagne diamonds that I desperately wanted (see: Of course it sold. But they always seem to get the best demantoid pieces I've ever seen! I've had the pleasure of seeing demantoids in the flesh at the Romanov and the Faberge exhibitions that I went to. I prefer the bright medium green ones, they really pop!
That is a great eye on spotting the hallmarks, even with the upcharge from buying from a dealer, your necklace will be worth quite a bit in 10 years, I'm sure. I use the same business model as you, though I collect antique jewelry for myself and I sell after 10 or so years in most cases when in need or want to acquire something different that I wouldn't be able to afford without selling something. The last few years have been about need and not acquiring unfortunately. Better times await though!
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Serendipitous Search makes Xmas Shopping Easy

Serendipitous Search makes Xmas Shopping Easy

hey Andrea - where nerd meets aspiring pirate - always puts a smile on my face.

Thought you might like to see a recent eBay score since you have some Native American on your etsy shop.

I came to this seller via a serendipitous search and nearly fell off my computer chair when I saw this bad listing:



It is of course a Vintage Zuni Silver and Coral Sunburst Necklace by Lorraine Waatsa.

I have a grown up daughter who's into Tex-Mex and Native American jewellery, and she's always dreamed of owning a necklace like that.

Made my Christmas shopping easy, and it arrived with her on Christmas Eve - Good Score!
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OMG Paul, that is hysterical! How does one get it SO wrong all the way around? I am sure your daughter was very excited to see that beauty arrive at her door :) It is phenomenal! I've done a lot of wildlife work out in the southwest and have had lots of opportunity to see beautiful Native American jewelry up close and personal. Most of what I like (the antique stuff, naturally) is really expensive for good reason, so a full turquoise squash blossom conchas necklace is still on my wishlist.
I am so glad my header makes anyone, especially anyone on this forum, smile. I wanted something that would describe me to a tee ;)
Hi Pattye, well spotted, no hadn't noticed, will pass it on, thanks
The Zuni Silver necklace is just wonderful. Lucky daughter, and I bet she loved it.
Another incredible find! I bet your daughter's jaw dropped when she opened her Christmas gift!
This is an old thread, but I had to add my mother used to collect cameos. This has always been a favorite of mine when I think of the Pearl Cameo Combo: