Antique and Vintage Cameo Gems Online - How to Spot a Fake!

Offering up a Third "chapter" in my series for the cameo buffs out there ;) Today I'd like to discuss some truly Valuable information... especially when looking to purchase Antique and vintage cameo gems online~ How to spot a fake! It can be Extremely difficult to learn this and it's immensely important when you collect not only for pleasure, but for investment as well. Truly the best way is to shop on a credited Venue like Ruby Lane, where dealers are experienced, knowledgeable and Honest. However if your like me and you find yourself drawn to attend the occasional 'live' antique fair, estate sale etc... You will need some key points to help you on your quest :)

Shell cameos can be quite easy to spot~ The best "test" would be too hold up the piece to a strong light source. If the shell illuminates and light passes through it is indeed shell. On occasion you may come across a piece that was carved to absolute perfection... be a little weary!
Some tips in spotting a molded piece that is trying to be passed off (or un-knowingly offered) as shell would be that the background or 'shell' color is two toned and the medium is quite thick... You will see in holding this up to light that it will not have the glow that genuine shell does.

Ivory! aah yes a tricky medium~ Keep in mind that True Ivory has grain lines... you might need a loupe to distinguish celluloid and man made plastic or "french Ivory" from the real thing... Here are a few hints:
Manufactured ivory colored mediums have lines and graining that are very linear and equal distant apart. These are also lighter in weight than natural Ivory. Genuine Ivory grain will not be 'perfect" and almost has a pearlescent appearance to it. It takes sometime to Master being able to distinguish Genuine from man-made.

In considering the Victorian era you have several mediums that were used for mourning gems... Jet, Vulcanite and Gutta Percha were among the most popular.

  • Jet is Shiny with a brilliant luster and sheen. It's Coal black, warm to the touch and was the original sought after medium when Mourning gems were all the rage. It is very light weight so it will float (or sink slowly) when in water. Also if you rub it on a rough surface it will leave a brown after-mark.When Jet became illegal to mine for other substitutions were used to show the loss of a loved one and state of mourning...
  • Vulcanite was one of these mediums~ This non expensive substitute feels rubbery to the touch and will have a brown hue from exposure to the elements over time.
  • Another popular mourning medium is Gutta Percha... Many people say it taste's salty (a little odd to test this way perhaps?) and it ranges from brown to black in color. If you rub the piece against fabric briskly it will elude a rubber smell.

Coral is another ooh so tricky medium that takes care when distinguishing genuine from man made. One easy tip to keep in mind is that coral is natural and is a gem of the sea! So pitted imperfections are the first thing to look for... and relish in as this shows without a doubt that the piece is true :) If coral has a dull uniform look it's likely not real... Although take note that many carvers would strive to have the front of their work of art illustrating true perfection so often times coral flaws will be seen on the reverse or back of a treasure.... it's where I look first when looking to identify faux from the real thing :)

Lastly, I will touch on Tortoise shell - The real deal fetches top dollar among collector's. This gorgeous medium was highly prized during the 1800's and remains so today :) Hues of Chocolate, amber and lemon visually intoxicate and delight! Due to the high cost you'll want to be sure to have some important tips on hand so that you are investing in genuine and not in the later substitutions. You will need a loupe for sure when examining. True tortoise shell is very light weight and possesses an almost three dimensional quality when under magnification. Also the later plastics are a bit flexible, where the real-deal is quite rigid. Keep in mind that originally although some pieces were heated and molded they were Hand crafted... Under a high powered source you will note tool/carving marks on genuine pieces. They won't look 'perfect' even when rendered by the most talented and skilled hand. You will also see the mottled patterns of genuine shell... color variations and growth marks. Being able to distinguish this medium takes much hands on experience :)

Thanks so much for your time in reading as I"ve enjoyed sharing... Hope this little tutorial helps my fellow collector's out there :)

Joy Korzenko

Joy's Tiny Treasures

Joy's Tiny Treasures on Ruby Lane is run by Joy Korzenko and is located In Long Island, New York. Specializing in Antique and Vintage Cameos, I strive to offer A+ customer service, an Exciting selection of items for every collector's taste's and pricing to suit all budgets :) Layaway's are encouraged so please do come browse~ Open 24-7 for your shopping convenience!


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