out of over 100.000 seashells species existing in the world have been
used for more than one century in the
jewellery business; they provide material
for the most appreciated artists, the cameo cutters of Torre del Greco.
The craftmen from
Torre del Greco use the different colours of the seashell’s layers in
order to produce a relief
The most used shells for this
purpose are Cassis madagascariensis, Cypraecassis rufa, Cassis cornuta,
Cypraea tigris, Strombus gigas and Pinctata margaritifera. The first four are by far the
most largely used, while
the first two are the most appreciated ones in fine cameowork.
The most important steps in the cutting process are: first layer removal,
marking, profile moulding, sandling, placement in colophony, designing,
skecthing, engraving, finishing, polishing and oil removal.
In the Malacological Museum of Cupra Marittima a whole section is
dedicated to the world of cameos. Also the latest works of the cutters
of Torre del Greco are presented periodically.
In 1993 the museum promoted the monography “Cameos: Jewellery from
Seashells“ written by T. Cossignani and published by L’Informatore
Piceno. This book reveals a thousand secrets of an art
jelously kept secret in Naples. The book is unique in the world
and includes the masterworks of the main contemporary cameo cutters.
The shells used by the cameo cutters offer an infinity of possibilities;
the use of these shells is enormously widespread. For cameos,
handcrafters use the outer coating of the shell (cup), which is the
principal material for this handcraft. Sometimes also the inner lip (the
second cup) of the largest shells of Cassis madagascariensis
can be cut like the basic part, called “crown”. Practically
all the rest is used for various purposes. From the thick lip the
handcrafters get the material for earings, broches, necklaces etc. Those
cut from the layers of Cypraecassis rufa , Strombus gigas
and Pinctada margaritifera are
especially appreciated. Some lips are moulded rapidly
to make amulets of fortune while other sculptures are carved with
care and turned into pieces of art. From the rest of the Cypraecassis
rufa shells, without the
outer coating , the craftsmen of Torre del Greco carve light-holders to
sell in the sanctuaries or as souvenirs. There are attempts of imitation
which come into concurrency with the commercial cameo sector but there
is no need to say that they
find it difficult to lodge themselves into the environment of artistic
production. The only thing they’ve succeed to do in China is the cameo
production in plastic, though this has nothing to do with the precious
objects made in Torre del Greco. The only shell which we can cut with
the machine is Pinctada margaritifera. It has an homogeneic nacreous
lining and that’s why it also allows the production of iridescent
cameos without the contrast of the colour that usually gives the value
to the cameo sculptures.