Hand carved cameo jewellery in Venice : a classic art

People have been carving cameos into glass, gems, shells and stones for centuries, millennia even. The art goes back at least to the ancient Romans and Greeks with stone cameos surviving from as far back as the 3rd century BC Greece. In ancient times cameos were often carved into large signet rings to be used as seals for documents, used as jewellery or even as keepsake portraits of loved ones. Today the art continues in small pockets around Italy, particularly in one third-generation family run shop in Venice. Lets take a look at how the Eredi Jovon jewellers are keeping cameo jewellery in Venice alive and well!

cameo jewellery in venice

What is a cameo?

When most of us think of a cameo we imagine a carved object with a raised 3D image in relief don’t we? And it’s usually two-tone with a darker background and a classical image carved into the lighter coloured material on top. But did you know that cameos can also include a negative image or intaglio – usually used as a document seal in wax – carved into a piece of stone or shell too? The materials and methods to produce both are very similar however and the art continues to be a speciality in Italy to this day making jewellery and objet d’artes.

cameo jewelry in venice

Shell cameo artwork. Photo by Invertzoo – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7849256

How to make cameo jewellery

Most cameo jewellery starts life as a gemstone, shell or stone. In the case of shells, cameo makers like the Jovon family look for examples that have 2 flat layers of contrasting colours so their design stands out better.

cameo jewellery in venice

Cameo making in the Eredi Jovon jewellers workshop

  1. First the basic shape is cut out in the scoppatura phase and then shaped or rounded in the aggarbatura phase. Many cameos, for example, will take an oval shape for a pendant, brooch or ring whilst other Jovon cameos are more freeform.
  1. The basic blank cameo is then fixed onto a wooden handle or grip with warm pitch to give the carver a steady surface to work on.
cameo jewellery in venice

Cameo carving

  1. Next is the when the design is marked onto the blank shell or stone.
  1. And then the carving begins. The carver brings their experience, skill and passion to the carving, looking to release the image from its shell or stone incarceration. It takes time and patience and cannot be rushed but the wonderful result is well worth the wait.

cameo jewellery in venice

  1. Once the cameo is finished, the pitch fixing it to the grip is gently heated so the cameo can be released.
  1. The final stage is to mount the cameo in a silver or gold frame. And as you might expect from a quality jeweller like Eredi Jovon, they make each frame by hand to suit the individual cameo depending on its colouring, thickness and style.
cameo jewellery in venice

Blue agate cameos are a wonderful alternative

And cameos come in a few different colour combinations, the most common of which are the orange/brown and white shell colours or blue and white variety from blue agate (my favourite!)

Portrait Cameos by Eredi Jovon

Historically cameos have often depicted portraits. The ancient Romans, for example, used cameos as an early type of photo, giving them as keepsakes or to potential lovers to illustrate their beauty. And today the Eredi Jovon specialises in beautiful portrait jewellery carving cameos from photographs of your loved ones, children or even pets.

cameo jewellery in Venice

Eredi Jovon jewellers in Venice can make a cameo portrait from your photo

The whole process can be done by email with you approving a drawing from your photo before any carving begins. It makes a very personal piece of jewellery and is a wonderful gift for friends and family alike.

cameo jewellery in Venice

The Eredi Jovon history

The Gioielleria Eredi Jovon, meaning the heirs of Jovon jewellers, cameo story starts in 1934 when Luciano Jovon, a cameo maker from Naples, decided to open a shop in Venice. He chose a location on the legendary Rialto Bridge, famous for its jewellery shops, hoping that it would give him and his beautiful work the best exposure. He was right!

eredi jovon cameo jewellers in venice

Luciano’s son Bruno followed him into the family business in 1943 starting his apprenticeship in the shop’s nearby workshop aged just 13 years old. He grew up with a passion for making cameo jewellery in Venice and became a driving force for the business.

The 1950s saw a golden age for jewellery in Venice with many visitors making a bee-line for the Eredi Jovon collection as cameos enjoyed a revival in popularity. It helped Bruno to expand into coral jewellery too and in total he oversaw 55 years of business before he sadly died in 1998.

Eredi_Jovon_Cameo_Jewellery_Bruno_Jovon

The business passed to Bruno’s wife Gabriella. And today Eredi Jovon, pronounced Yovon, continues to be a family business. Gabriella still works in the shop with son Marco, the third generation of Jovon cameo makers. Meanwhile more members of the family work in the 2 nearby Jovon workshops, one of which creates the cameos whilst the other makes the frames and settings. It’s a real family affair and you can feel the love when you walk into the shop!

cameo jewellery in venice

Marco,  his mum Gabriella and brother Alessio in the Eredi Jovon jewellers at the Rialto in Venice

For more information on the history of the Jovon family jewellers why not download Marco’s free eBook here.

Call in and say hello!

So if you’re looking for a unique momento of your trip to Venice or would like a keepsake of a loved one, why not pop into the Gioielleria Eredi Jovon jewellers on the St Mark’s side of the Rialto bridge and say hello to Marco and his mum Gabriella! They’ll be delighted to see you and to help you pick out the perfect piece of cameo jewellery. Or, if you can’t get to Venice, why not check out their website or drop them a message with a photo for a personalised cameo of your child or loved one? They’ll be only to happy to help! Leave me a comment to let me know what design or whose portrait you’d choose. And in the meantime, remember that each piece is hand-crafted so you’ll be taking home a totally unique cameo. Now that’s what I call a perfect souvenir!

cameo jewellery in Venice

All photos are copyright of the Gioielleria Eredi Jovon unless otherwise specified.

Note : My visit to the Gioielleria Eredi Jovon was hosted by A Taste of Venice and Vivo Venetia a sustainable tourism organisation promoting the real Venice and offering an easy way to book interesting tours of the city’s hidden gems. All opinions are my own, as always!

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8 Responses to Hand carved cameo jewellery in Venice : a classic art

  1. Yvonne says:

    This gives an idea of the inspiration and perspiration that goes into each piece!

    • DreamDiscoverItalia.com says:

      Thanks Yvonne, what a lovely comment! Talking to Marco its clear that a lot of passion and love goes into their pieces too and they really take great pride in their work which is a real dying art. Thanks for stopping by! Happy travels!

  2. livedinitaly says:

    I completely forgot about this little gem of a shop (no pun intended). My first stop there was back in late 1977. Thank you for bring this out of the cobwebs!!

    • DreamDiscoverItalia.com says:

      I’m so happy to have triggered happy memories in Venice! I bet you’ve seen some changes though – is Venice better today or when you first visited do you think?

  3. Liz,
    Love this… and I have visited Marco and Eredi Jovan and am the proud owner of two of their beautiful cameos.
    I was fortunate enough to “win” one and one was a gift from Marco. I wrote about my visit there last spring and just love their authenticity and dedication to tradition and quality.
    Can’t wait to return.
    V.

    • DreamDiscoverItalia.com says:

      Wow, Victoria, thank you for such wonderful comments! It sounds like you are a big fan of Marco and Eredi Jovon too and I can totally agree – they are fabulously skilled and super friendly! Hope you return soon so you have more to write about – keep the great posts coming as I love reading about your adventures!! Happy travels!

  4. galanda23/ says:

    What an interesting article! I had a cameo pendant once, when I lived in Europe, but I can’t remember what I did with it. I never knew the story of these beautiful gems. Really interesting.

    • DreamDiscoverItalia.com says:

      Thank you very much Anda, I’m glad you enjoyed it, especially as you’re obviously a lover of cameos! I hope you find your cameo again or have the chance to enjoy another one in the future. Thanks for popping by! Happy travels!

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