10 giugno 2022
by Silvia Inghirami

Operation Cameo


“Unique,” Gino Di Luca says with pride, not just for his company but for the territory in which he lives. “Shell cameos are made only in Torre del Greco.” A 100% Italian product for 215 years: “Sailors brought shells from Central America and our ancestors used them to create jewelery. The color is a bit like agave, but the peculiarity of a cameo compared to a stone is that you can’t use machines and lasers to engrave it. Each piece of shell is unique and so is each of our cameos. Unique pieces, with the charm of imperfection.”

For more than two centuries, the art and craft have been handed down from parent to child. Gino learned it from his father and mother, both engravers, while his grandfather was in charge of marketing. After the war, they worked for other people, then later they set up their own company. In 2011, they started a new adventure with the brand 'Cameo Italiano' to target foreign markets. From craft production to a turnover of €2.5 million and global presence. How did the adventure start?

“I am the third generation and I realized that we had to take a leap, to make cameos known all over the world. In the 1990s and up to the early 2000s, almost all production was intended for Japan. Now Japan represents about 21% of exports and China has reached 16%. Then there is the United States, and South Korea offers interesting prospects. The goal is to take not just traditional cameos but also modern pieces out into the world. Every fall and spring, we renew the collections. At the heart of it all are our 40 master engravers, who create works of art. We need to communicate better. We want to look ahead, to explain what we do. There are only around a hundred engravers in the district, but there are some talented and interested young people. I think that, from a commercial point of view, the cameo is still at the start of its journey.”

In Japan, the demand is for high-end products for collectors, but there has been no generational renewal. “We tried to reinvent the classic cameo to reach a different audience and attract young people. In Italy, where we sell in 400 stores, there have been some wonderful surprises: our creations are popular even if they remain a niche product. At international fairs, we have registered a very strong interest among the Chinese. So we launched some distribution projects: we were stopped by COVID-19 but, in 2022, we should be opening five single-brand stores in luxury shopping malls on the island of Hainan. We hope to conclude negotiations in Shanghai and Beijing.” Each country has its own tastes. The Chinese and Japanese admire the same collections, that is, the more minute pieces. They love contemporary design but also the vintage styles. In Italy and Europe, however, it is the new style that is popular, and not the classic. The North American market loves everything that harks back to Italian artistic tradition but they also wear showy jewelery.”

Every fall and spring, we renew the collections. At the heart of it all are our 40 master engravers, who create works of art

What’s the most expensive cameo? Gino is unfazed by the question: “In addition to producing with the Cameo Italiano brand, we work with jewelry designers and makers. We made limited edition cameos for Lizworks, based on drawings by American artists, such as the famous photographer Cindy Sherman: rings, earrings, a necklace, all very precious items. In 2019, we displayed the collection in the windows at the Hotel Cipriani, during the Venice Biennale. Cate Blanchett saw them and asked to try them on: she wore our earrings for three days. What’s the price? It depends on many things: the size of the shell and the time it takes the master engraver. Those exhibited in Venice cost $20,000.”

The traditional Cameo is the portrait of a woman. However, floral design is in great demand, especially roses: if well made, the petals seem to be moving in the wind. Then there are cupids, ballerinas, Roman allegories. A small proportion are experimental and are more daring: monkeys, exotic birds, symbols. Countless famous people who have worn a cameo: from Giuseppina Bonaparte to the Queen of Sweden, the actress Meryl Streep, the singer Rihanna.

“We have also recently started out on social media and we have started a communication plan for young people. There has been a great deal of interest. There are positive signals from e-commerce. Our collections also include cameos mounted on leather bracelets, items suitable for young people. I am confident,” he explains, “because in Torre del Greco, lots of young people have embarked on cameo-related training courses and I believe that this will lead to new things.”

And do foreigners see the cameo as a typically Italian-made product? “It is a niche item, but we have no competitors in the world. Not even the Chinese have tried to imitate us.”

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