King of Cameos, Amedeo on turning an ancient art into contemporary jewellery
Spike Lee is a fan of the brand
New York, 11.00 pm, November 2001: Amedeo’s bedside phone rings, “Hello” he answers sleepily. “Oh hi, I wasn’t expecting to speak to someone. I was going to leave a message on the answering machine. My name is Sarah, I bought one of your Cameos and wanted to see the rest of the collection”. Amedeo responds, “Sarah?”, “Yes, Sarah Jessica Parker, I am an actress on a show called Sex and the City. I would love for you to meet Patricia Field, our Costume Designer, do you have a pen for my number?”. Amedeo smiles recalling the story, “That phone call and the subsequent meeting with Patricia Field turned our whole life around.”
He continues, “Roberto, my childhood friend, and I had decided less than a year ago to launch our brand – Faraone Mennella for fine jewellery and AMEDEO for Cameo jewellery and objet d’ art. We had just finished production of our first collection when 9/11 happened. It seemed like the world was ending and we figured, we’d sell to friends and family and MAYBE recover our investment.”
While Amedeo’s story is from the 21st century, the ancient art of carving shells, Corals, Agate and other material to create Cameos is approximately 2,500 years old, tracing its roots to the Hellenistic art of glass-making from Eastern Mediterranean. This technique came to the Romans through conquest and was employed to produce Cameos in the first century B.C. The art of Cameos flourished under Roman patronage to such an extent that its original Greek and Egyptian heritage faded from memory. Today, Cameos are associated primarily with Italian artisanship.
“I remember,I was 14 years old when I first started carving Cameos. My parents had a wholesale business for classical Cameos, which they exported globally and I would help them with drawings and other odd jobs in the studio. My mother would scold me when she caught me trying to carve shells because she worried about wastage of material. My father, on the other hand, encouraged me to practise as he was delighted to see my interest in the family business.” While AMEDEO’s initiation in this craft may have been more of a curiosity, over the years, as his skill improved, it developed into a full-blown obsession not only with the art of Cameos but with beautiful jewellery design, gemstones and quality craftsmanship. He represents a new generation of fearless young designers who are beautifully blending ancient artisanship with modern visual sensibility. “Our clients are sophisticated, wealthy, jet setting women who in essence have everything in their jewellery collection. My skull jewel becomes that one edgy piece that stands apart and allows the owner to make a statement.”
While Amedeo’s skull collection may seem very rock and roll, their design is deeply rooted in the “Memento Mori” culture of the Middle Ages when jewellery was primarily a reflection of religious beliefs. Devout Catholics wore skull rings as a daily reminder of the day of judgement, with the Latin translation for Memento Mori being “Remember, you must die”. The objective was simple, to motivate the Christian community to conduct themselves ethically.
Cameos also served as miniature shrines with images of deities or gods and goddesses carved into a ring, pendant or a brooch. Humour and playfulness are essential elements in Amedeo’s designs. Life can be severe, stressful, formal, regulated. His style allows their clients to show a different side to their personalities, a rebel, a warrior, a clown, a princess or maybe all of the above.
Whimsical design aside, Amedeo employs rare material like the Sardonyx shell, Coral, top quality Turquoise, set in Gold, Silver and embellished with Diamonds, delivering something that will appreciate over decades. Amedeo explains, “We usually produce a singular piece for each design, and also work closely with our patrons for bespoke commissions that reflect a special moment, or an intimate sentiment. Ancient Cameos provide historians with insights into the minds of the patrons who commissioned and purchased them and their beliefs at that time. Our clients are no different, and they are engaged in every step from design to production, which provides an individualised experience they cherish for a lifetime.”
To truly understand Cameos, one must look beyond the conventional parameters of jewellery, as it is akin to wearing a small sculpture. Like with art, each time you gaze upon your Cameo, you will experience something that communicates with your soul, and you will become an addict for life.