- US Size: 4.75
- Total Carat Weight: 10.98 ct
- Precious Metal Weight: About 1.80 dwt
- Precious Metal Material: Tests between 12-14k yellow gold (slight rosy undertone); catalogued as 13k, therefore.
- Weight: 2.44 grams
- Markings: None
- Era: Mid-Victorian, est. c. 1860s
Buyer Notes: The cameo is ever so slightly loose within the bezel mount. Though an easy fix, the price has been set to reflect this characteristic. Also, it might be that the coral carving, itself, dates to the 18th century (its carving depth and style reflect 18th century tastes), while the gold backed split shank setting dates to the 19th century (its styling reflects 19th century tastes). It was not at all unusual for travelers to purchase loose cameos abroad and have them later mounted as they so desired. This means that this piece is likely an amalgamation of two different centuries of handiwork.
- Center Stone Type: Genuine natural coral
- Center Stone Dimensions: 16.7 x 11.8 x 7.7 mm
- Center Stone Carat Weight: by formula, approx. 10.9796 ct (Remember, coral carat weight is calculated a bit differently than diamond carat weight due to its differing specific gravity of 2.680); because of the variations in the carving, it is safe to say between 9 and 10 coral carat weight.
- Center Stone Shape: Carved Oval Cabochon
- Center Stone Color: Bright orange-red
- Center Stone Clarity: Blackish natural inclusion in lower right
Hand-carved by an Italian artisan hundreds of years ago, this cameo is made of genuine coral, also Italian, and bezel set in a 12-14k yellow gold split-shank ring. The figure featured is the Roman mythological Bacchante character, a priestess who also followed Bacchus, the god of wine, agriculture, and fertility. The Greek mythology equivalent of this figure is the maenad who was a follower of Dionysus.
Bacchantes were said to be dressed in fawn and fox skins with flowers and fruits intertwined in their hair, and decorate themselves with snakes. In myths, such women would be in a constant intoxicated frenzy, raving over their god-leader, sexually open and free, prone to tearing into the animals they came across in the forests, and known for explicitly dancing and practicing rituals and rites under the moon.
Images of these celebrants of Bacchus and Dionysus often decorated ancient vessels called kraters, which were used to hold mixtures of water and wine for parties. At these symposiums, one man would be elected as the designated “lord of the common drink” whose sole task was to keep tabs on the inebriation level of the attendees, using a krater to proportionately dilute the remaining wine with water as the evening wore on.
Cameo rings depicting Bacchante figures grew to popularity during the Georgian era, and again during the Victorian era; front-facing cameos were most common in earlier carvings, and profile views were prevalent in later carvings. This ring’s evident chiseling techniques, facial characteristics and metal handling indicate that it likely dates to the late Georgian or early Victorian periods.
Beginning in the mid-1700s, it was common for wealthy British and colonial young adults and newly-weds to depart on a “Grand Tour”, a sometimes years-long trip to famous parts of Europe, and most centrally, Italy. Often, cameos were purchased as souvenirs from the artisan himself in Italy, and would be mounted into a ring, brooch or necklace according to the purchaser’s preferences and specifications once back home.
The portrait is in relatively high relief, with rounded features compared to later Victorian Bacchante carvings which mimicked Greco-Roman stylism and garb. The cameo is ever so slightly loose in its bezel, and could use a trip to your jeweler for a professional tightening of the setting. Upon close appreciation one can make out bulbous fruits crowning the cameo’s head, petaled flowers tucked within her flowing hair, snake-like details draped to her shoulders, and wild animal furs cloaking her décolletage.
The gold shank is split on the shoulders, meeting together at a repousséed arrow point that is capped by a circular shape. The lower half of the shank is left smooth, and the backing of the cameo itself is solid gold. As the cameo is carved with natural coral, there is a dark inclusion just below the neckline, inset in a carved portion of the design.
Perhaps this ring bears a souvenir cameo from a soul-searching twenty-something of 18th or 19th century Europe, a reminder of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure into the heart of Italy, a little memorial to the luxurious self-indulgence of being young and free.
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