When it comes to jewelry that does double duty as art, you really can't beat the beauty of a cameo. Some of the most valuable cameos are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they feature intricately carved portraits set in gold and other precious materials. The workmanship on these pieces is beyond amazing.
If you have a vintage or antique cameo, there are a few lessons to be learned from these super valuable pieces. While yours might not be worth six figures like some of the cameos on this list, it could still be a major treasure. The key is knowing what to look for and what makes a piece something truly special.
Gold-Mounted Agate Cameo of Jahangir - $350,000
Measuring about two inches long, this delicately carved portrait cameo of Jahangir, the fourth Mughal Emperor of India, was made sometime between 1610 and 1630. It's carved in pure agate and set in gold with the back side of the pendant engraved with a floral pattern. This piece sold at Christie's for $350,000 in 2019.
There are several reasons this cameo is so valuable, but one is the age. At around 400 years old, it's one of the oldest and rarest cameos out there.
Princess Lobanov-Rostovsky’s Emerald Cameo - About $200,000
Recently discovered in a European vault, this cameo is an absolutely exquisite piece of jewelry art, and it's easy to see why it's so valuable. Made of a 120-carat emerald, which is one of the most difficult stones for artists to carve, this cameo has a highly detailed face of a woman. It belonged to Russian Princess Lobanov-Rostovsky, who likely added it to her collection around 1900.
This cameo sold at auction for 181,250 Swiss Francs, which is about $200,000 USD. The precious materials (emerald, gold, and diamonds) are part of what makes it so valuable, as well as the fine craftsmanship and interesting history.
If you have a cameo with precious metals and gems, it's almost definitely worth a lot and should be appraised by a jeweler. You can tell what the metal is by looking at the markings on the back of the piece.
Antique Emerald and Diamond Cameo Brooch - $150,000
Dating from about the same era as Princess Lobanov-Rostovsky's cameo, another emerald cameo brooch sold at auction for almost as much. Going for $150,000 in 2020, this emerald cameo features a woman with flowing hair surrounded by leaves. An exquisite diamond setting frames the brooch, which is about 2¼ inches in length.
In addition to being made of precious materials, this cameo is a really good example of the art movement of its time. This adds to its value. The natural themes and flowing lines are very Art Nouveau.
Sculpted Onyx Cameo of a Bearded Warrior - About $100,000
Featuring the bust of a bearded warrior carved with a cat on his helmet, this unique piece dates back to the 16th century. It was part of a collection assembled in the 1700s and has a provenance (or historical record) that proves its authenticity. Its unique design has a frame of multicolored jewels and gold scrolls.
This piece sold at auction for 91,000 Euros or about $100,000 USD in 2009. Part of its value is its age and provenance, but it's also worth a lot because of its fascinating design and craftsmanship.
Diamond, Enamel, and Cameo Bangle - About $98,000
Provenance, or the story of a piece, can really add to the value of an antique cameo. This bangle belonged to Elizabeth Taylor, which makes an already valuable piece even more special. It sold for about $98,000 in 2011.
This bracelet, which dates to about 1850, has an intricately carved figural scene set in a gold and diamonds. Emerald green enamel adds a pop of color.
If you know about the history of your cameo and have documents to prove its story, you can expect to get more for it. Buyers love knowing the story of a piece.
Carved Sardonyx Medusa Cameo - About $86,000
Another very old piece, this carved sardonyx Medusa cameo dates back to the 17th century. It features the gorgon's head carved in stone with hissing snake hair. The frame is gilt-covered bronze set with carnelian and lapis lazuli. This piece sold at auction in 2009 for 79,000 Euros or about $86,000 USD.
There are several things that make this rare cameo valuable, including the age, intricate carving, fine materials, and unique design.
Many cameos feature women's heads, and these can be worth a lot. However, if you have one with a unique motif like a mythical creature, it could be worth even more.
Carved Opal Cameo of Iris - About $67,000
Although this piece is more than six inches long and isn't really jewelry, it's such an exquisite and valuable cameo that it needs to be on the list. Carved of opal in shades of blue and grey, it features the goddess Iris carrying a vase and flying toward the sun. It's set in ivory and gilt bronze.
It dates from the late 19th century and sold for 61,000 Euros in 2009, which is about $67,000 USD. The beauty of this piece significantly affects its value.
Agate, Diamond, and Enamel Cameo Necklace - About $40,000
If one cameo is good, six cameos are even better. This amazing necklace was made in France in about 1880, and it features six delicately carved agate cameos. They are set in 18k gold and diamonds with pink and green enamel decorations. It's an amazing piece.
This necklace sold for about $40,000 in 2022. It has some condition issues, such as a crack in one of the cameos, that may have reduced the value a bit, although it still exceeded the auction estimate.
Major condition issues can decrease a cameo's value. If your cameo has chips, cracks, or other damage, it is likely worth less than one in pristine condition if all the other factors are equal.
Early 20th Century Cameo Brooch - About $37,000
A much newer cameo can also be valuable, especially if the workmanship is top-notch and really classic for its era. This early 20th century brooch is full of lovely Art Nouveau details like a delicately carved cherub and flowing ribbons. The cherub is carved in agate and surrounded by diamonds and enamel with hanging pearls.
This Russian-made gold cameo brooch sold for 30,000 pounds in 2013, which is about $37,000 USD.
Aquamarine and Ruby Cameo Brooch - About $25,000
A cousin of emerald, aquamarine is another very difficult material to carve, so cameos made from this stone are especially valuable. This cameo brooch was made around 1870s and features a female mythological figure. The carving is very delicate.
This piece also includes other precious materials, which add to the value. The setting is gold with diamonds and rubies. It sold for 20,000 pounds in 2011, which is about $25,000 USD.
Gold and Hardstone Cameo Brooch - About $25,000
Hardstone cameos are among the most valuable, but this can mean a lot of things. Basically, hardstone is any type of semi-precious or precious stone that's used for carving - often agate, carnelian, onyx, and quartz. Some cameos are made of shell or other materials, but they tend not to be worth as much.
This hardstone cameo was made in about 1870 and shows a woman in profile, possibly the second wife of Napoleon I. The carving is surrounded by an elaborate gold frame. It sold in 2013 for 20,000 pounds or about $25,000 USD.
Lapis Lazuli Cameo of Emperor Marcus Aurelius - About $22,000
This beautiful cameo dates to the 16th or 17th century and is carved in a brilliant piece of lapis lazuli. It features a bust of Emperor Marcus Aurelius with curly hair and a beard. The cameo is set in gold and has a scrolled frame.
This piece sold for 20,000 Euros in 2009, which is about $22,000 USD.
Gold and Gemset Jade Pendant With a Cameo Agate - About $15,000
Although many of the rarest and most valuable cameos feature portraits of people or mythological figures, cameos can also show other things. One motif you might see is flowers. This carved jade pendant is set with an agate cameo showing flowers. It's accented with gems and gold.
Unusual settings like this can make a cameo more valuable. This piece sold at auction in 2015 for 11,875 pounds, which is about $15,000 USD.
Carved Onyx Cameo of Athena - About $15,000
A carved onyx cameo with the head of Athena was another valuable piece that set auction records, selling for 13,750 Euros in 2009 or about $15,000 USD. Athena is in profile with an owl carved on her helmet.
This piece was made in the 17th century and has a gilt bronze frame.
Chalcedony and Gold Cameo by Castellani - About $13,000
Selling for 12,350 Euros in 1969, which is about $13,000 USD, this beautiful and valuable cameo illustrates the importance of an artist's signature. Essentially an element of provenance, the signature helps to identify the history of the piece.
This cameo is made of chalcedony, a softly colored stone that has a beautiful glow.
If you have a signed cameo, it might be worth a lot. The artist's signature can show that the piece is handmade and unique, which can add value.
Find Out More About Potentially Valuable Cameos
Although most cameos aren't worth many thousands of dollars, they can be very valuable. If you suspect you have a valuable cameo, it's important to look into it in more detail. Identify whether your jewelry is vintage using clues like the style of clasps and hardware, signs that it's handmade, and features that date it to a specific era. Then consider having it professionally appraised. If you think you might have something special, there's a good chance you really do.