Glassmaking craft’s one of the finest and most skilled example is cameo glass. Cameo glass is a multilayered glass that is decorated with figures and forms carved through the layer so that it stands out in relief from the surface and the colored layers form the contrast of the picture. Such glassware is manufactured by blowing two or more layers of glass together. The expression cameo applies to any carving in the picture in which the picture is raised above the surrounding surface.
Ajka Crystal’s cameo products are all made of 24% lead crystal. The base color is a thin layer of crystal on the inside of the product and is in most cases either clear or opalescent. The outer layers which have to be carved are on the outside. The high quality crystal must provide strength for the article and since it takes the color of other crystal layers in contact with it, a huge variety of colors can be achieved. There are two main method to case glass: the gathering method and the cupping method. The first method includes putting glass of one color in a gather with the blowing iron and then adding glass of another color from an other pot to coat or encase the glass in the first gather. The second method involves making an open cup and blowing glass into it of another color with the blowing iron. Mostly both methods are used to create the blanks needed for the cameo products. If the blanks are ready the relieves in the glass have to be formed. There are three common techniques to remove unwanted glass for the cameo crystal piece: either with hand cutting tools or the engraving wheel or hydrofluoric acid. The first method is a very time consuming process demanding special skills to be able to utilize those small cutting tools in an exact and delicate way. The engraving wheel offers a quicker solution and it is used extensively by cameo glass producers. It is used most often in combination with the other two methods. Hydrofluoric acid has an excellent characteristic that it erodes glass, so it can be used for removing certain unwanted parts or layers.
Those parts that are wished to be saved are handled with a special type of wax that is resistant to hydrofluoric acid. The depth of the acid cutting in the glass can be modified by changing the strength of the acid. The cameo glass maker using the combination of the techniques described above must cut away the surface of the glass to reveal the proper color and the expected design. Usually the engraving wheel follows the acid cutback process and then the surface of the glass is polished thoroughly. With the number of crystal layers increasing and with more cutting work displayed the production gets more and more complex and difficult. As the designs displayed on the cameo glass pieces of Ajka Crystal is rather complex, they are mostly sculptured with hand tools which need the greatest skills from the three techniques. What is brand new in Ajka Crystal’s technology is that the craftsman use high pressure sand to blow away the unwanted layers.
Some of the finest examples for cameo are carvings on delicate pieces of Art glass. The Romans developed the technique to imitate carved scenes on semiprecious stones. They managed to create awesome pieces that date back to Augustan and Julio-Claudian periods from 27 BC to 68 AD. It is not yet known how the Roman glassworkers – often referred to as vitriarius – could manufacture cased glass blanks essential for the cameo glassworks. Probably they applied one of the techniques described above. The task of the cutter or engraver – diatretarii – is better researched by the historians. The cutting, grinding, faceting, carving and polishing glass was practiced in antiquity using various tools. Most probably th engraving wheel was known to the Roman craftsmen. Even though the technical level achieved by the Romans cannot be compared to modern manufacturing technology, their result are remarkable. The most famous cameo glass piece is the Portland Vase. A cobalt blue colored piece of art with intricate cameo decoration and vivid relief. The vase was probably manufactured around the first century BC. In 1783 the famous Duchess of Portland bought it and in a short period of time made the vase extremely popular.
Cameo glass around the turn of the XXth century
The revival of cameo glass can be dated in the 1876 and can be described by the workmanship of Benjamin Richardson, John and Joseph Northwood, who were the first to develop the art of carving away the unwanted glass layers to produce the images in relief, and their apprentices George and Thomas Woodall, Joseph Locke. Public demand for cameo glass grew tenfold and the technique was spread throughout France, Bohemia and the United States. Emile Galle is one of the most well known from the glass artists of his age. He was not only a dominant artist, craftsman in the Art Nouveau period but he made also a great teacher and director. Number of new techniques of glass decoration were developed by Galle, who signed his pieces with „GR” or Galle and Reinemer. Actually it was a rarity to find signatures on glass before Galle made it popular. He introduced his first cameo glass piece in 1889 at the Paris exhibition that made him world-known among glass manufacturers. His product met vivid demand from well off collectors and enjoyed great popularity until his death that followed in 1904. After his death unfortunately the quality of glass produced under his name slowly deteriorated and its reputation dropped. Still even today he is regarded te best and even if there we other glassmakers who were producing very good quality glass Emile Galle is respected as the master. The Daum brothers demonstrated high skills in acid-cut work with enamel and gold decoration.
Their products were very popular and widely demanded. The Daums developed some unique techniques of their own but in their pieces of art the influence of Galle and other manufacturers is also reflected. The products of Daum are usually signed with „Daum”, „France”, „Nancy” or the cross of Lorraine. Other famous art glass manufacturers included Schneider, Muller, Kosta, DeVez, Mont Joye, Meisenthal, Vallerysthal, D’Argental. Baccarat, Delatte, Saint Louis who contributed to the success of French style cameo glass during the 1890’s and early 1900’s.
Cameo glass products are among the best collectible art pieces that one can still easily afford. There are however only very few companies who produce handcrafted cameo glass today. The high quality that is an important characteristic of Ajka Crystal products includes lots of working hours, skills and superior glass manufacturing technology. These pieces of art may seem costly but if you take some antique cameo pieces of a century ago, their price will be around ten thousands of dollars each. One should look out and beware of cheap machine engraved products as the real value of cameo glass lies in its complex manufacturing process that needs skills, time and passion for glass and art. These pieces of a lost art were treasured once by Roman emperors and now they can be a part of your art glass collection.
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