The word "Agate" is derived from the
Sicilian River Achates where agates were probably found in antiquity. Agate is a
very special semi-precious stone which is classified as a banded chalcedony or
micro-crystalline quartz. The individual bands or layers give this stone its
uniqueness and character.
The art of cameo engraving can be traced as far
back as the second and first centuries B.C. to the ancient Greco-Roman Empires
where cameos enjoyed a golden age. The decline of the Roman Empire also brought
with it a period of dormancy for cameo development. It was not until the
fifteenth century during the period referred to as the Renaissance that cameos
resurfaced as an art form and as a medium for jewelry. The Medici family of
Florence is credited with restoring cameos as jewelry. At about the same time a
very high quality mine wad discovered in southern Germany. This region soon
became the center of cameo technology and by the beginning of the 19th century
possessed the most significant agate deposits in the world. Over the past
one hundred years, this area pioneered and is largely responsible for developing
and refining the techniques used to carve and color today's cameos. The once
rich deposits of these mines have been exhausted and the world is now dependent
on South America for its supply of high quality layered agate material.
The layered agate material that is used in
producing agate cameo gem carvings is usually cut from agates with even parallel
layers, a lighter layer above a darker one. The agate used in today's cameos is
naturally multiple shades of gray in color, ranging from a milky white
translucent to dark gray. The lower and softer layer is dyed to produce the
highly desirable blue chalcedony color; while the lighter colored upper layer
which is harder does not accept dying and remains white or milky in appearance.
Only 2 percent of all agate material mined is of
a quality suitable for detailed cameo cutting. It is important to note that of
this small percentage an even smaller percentage can be dyed blue making the
enclosed cameos precious and rare.
The exquisite motifs and silhouettes featured in
this collection have been carved relief style, employing the use of a highly
sophisticated ultrasonic etching process and elegantly framed in karat gold.