Share your favorites on Show & Tell

An Opal Cameo Brooch/Pendant by Wilhelm Schmidt, circa 1900

In Fine Jewelry > Opal Jewelry > Show & Tell and Fine Jewelry > Cameos > Show & Tell.
Opal Jewelry36 of 108Unusual Coober Pedy Cat's Eye Crystal Opal in Art Deco 14k WG & Diamond RingAmerican Art Deco Platinum & Diamond Ring w. Marquise Shaped Opal
Love it
Like it

ManikinManikin loves this.
BelleEpoqueBelleEpoque loves this.
BluboiBluboi loves this.
AmandajaneAmandajane loves this.
CelieneCeliene loves this.
melaniejmelaniej loves this.
Agram.mAgram.m loves this.
racer4fourracer4four loves this.
Toni1969Toni1969 loves this.
vetraio50vetraio50 loves this.
auraaura loves this.
EfesgirlEfesgirl loves this.
Peasejean55Peasejean55 loves this.
TassieDevilTassieDevil loves this.
kyratangokyratango loves this.
See 13 more
Add to collection

    Please create an account, or Log in here

    If you don't have an account, create one here.

    Create a Show & TellReport as inappropriate

    Posted 7 years ago

    (117 items)

    This combination brooch/pendant features a neo-classical opal cameo of Mercury, carved in boulder opal by Wilhelm Schmidt (1845-1938).

    The hand fabricated frame is 12ct gold and measures 25 x 23mm, the cameo is about 14 x 12mm. The unsigned frame is suggestive of the Arts & Crafts period, and was probably made circa 1900.

    Schmidt's cameos are found in jewellery by John Brogden, Child & Child, and the Giuliano family. Although it's not documented I believe he also carved for Marcus & Co (USA), as their famous "dawn" opal pendant is typical of Schmidt's work. A major collection of his pieces are in The Geological Museum, now part of the Natural History Museum in London, and there are others in the British Museum.

    One of the earliest records in the history of Australian opals are Schmidt's comments to gem collector, Abraham Booth, who owned numerous fine examples carved by the talented Schmidt. "In reply to your wish to be informed when opal cameos were first cut in Europe, I may mention the date of 1874, when I invented the new process of cutting opal cameos in such a manner as to utilise the matrix of rough opal for the ground... Mr John Brogden exhibited the first one, which I cut, amongst his other exhibits at the Paris Exhibition, 1878"

    Wilhelm Schmidt's life and work was documented by the late Gertrud Seidmann in her article "Wilhelm Schmidt, The Last Neo-Classical Gem Engraver", in Apollo Magazine No. 317 in July 1988. This tells the story of a great carver who led an extraordinarily full life, practicing his craft while living in Germany, France, Britain and the USA.

    I'll put a few clickable links in the comments below to some notable Schmidt pieces on-line.

    Opal Jewelry
    See all
    Antique, Solid 9ct Rose Gold, Natural Australian Opal & Natural Emerald Ring. AF
    Antique, Solid 9ct Rose Gold, Natur...
    Vintage Inspired Oval Australian Opal Engagement Wedding Ring 14K Yellow Gold
    Vintage Inspired Oval Australian Op...
    Antique 1900s 4ct Natural OPAL Gem 10k Yellow Gold Signed Ostby & Barton Ring
    Antique 1900s 4ct Natural OPAL Gem ...
    Vintage 375 9ct Gold Blue Opal Ring Size N 2.82g Women's Hallmarked 445028
    Vintage 375 9ct Gold Blue Opal Ring...
    Antique, Solid 9ct Rose Gold, Natural Australian Opal & Natural Emerald Ring. AF
    Antique, Solid 9ct Rose Gold, Natur...
    See all


    1. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 7 years ago
      British museum piece by Carlo & Arthur Giuliano:
    2. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 7 years ago
      Labradorite cameo parure made for Brogden, British Museum:
    3. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 7 years ago
      Some extraordinary pieces that passed through Bonhams:
    4. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 7 years ago
      Marcus & Co. piece is the 4th image in this CW article:
    5. kyratango kyratango, 7 years ago
      Superb! I only previously saw stick pins with these opal cameos and you made me learn today about Wilhelm Schmidt.
      Thank you Paul for sharing such interesting piece and links!
    6. kyratango kyratango, 7 years ago
      Found this other one, Bonhams sale London April 22th 2015, lot#22
    7. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 7 years ago
      Hi Kyra, love to find one of those stick pins!

      If you ever see very finely carved opal stick pins, or other Victorian type jewellery with neo-classical subjects where the opal and matrix layers are cut from one piece of stone, they are probably by Schmidt.

      There are modern wanna-be opal cameos where the opal layer is stuck onto matrix, but they don't compare.
    8. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 7 years ago
      I mentioned that the famous Marcus & Co. opal pendant of "Dawn" will be by Schmidt. In her Apollo magazine article Gertrud Seidmann told how Schmidt supplied cameos to the USA from early in his career, and emigrated to New York with his family around 1915, when aged over 70.

      However the definitive proof the Marcus & Co pendant is by Schmidt is the subject, which he produced in several variations, including one in The Geological Museum collection. Seidmann explains this is probably derived from Marchant's 'Fortuna' after Guido Reni, and adds that a Child & Child version had recently appeared on the London market.

      Fortuitously in the same Apollo magazine, in an advert on pg 32, this Child & Child version is shown, along with another brooch of the same subject. These leave no doubt the Marcus & Co. piece is by the same hand. I've scanned in the advert on this link:

      Love to know what the prices of those two were back in 1988!
    9. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 7 years ago
      In the small world category, I was looking at the 'dawn' cameo just yesterday, following a different line of pursuit. It is such a masterful use of the material & perfect for the actual subject:,_Guy_Head,_c._1793_-_Nelson-Atkins_Museum_of_Art_-_DSC08946.JPG

      The carver cleverly converted the arch of the 'hell mouth', the entry to the Underworld, of the original into a rainbow, which both shows off the opal & identifies the subject. James Ronca identified his cameo of this subject as Psyche carrying water from the Styx to Venus, but there can be no doubt who is depicted on the opal piece.
    10. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 7 years ago
      P.S. - See:
    11. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 7 years ago
      Hi cameosleuth, thanks so much for the info, 61,000 Euros was a good result, 10 times the guide price, I wonder if any of that related to the provenance from the Yves St Laurent collection?

      There's further background info on the Ronca-Marchant-Reni derivations here:
    12. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 7 years ago
      I have no doubt that latest provenance was a significant factor in the prices realized by all items from the St. Laurent collection.

      It seems a considerable stretch to liken the Iris/Psyche to the Reni Fortuna, which differs also in that Fortuna is looking behind her, when the Guy Head painting of Iris is virtually a perfect match & is old enough to have been a model for both Ronca & Luigi Pichler.

      I was sorry not to be able to find either the Woolner Rainbow or the Ronca ivory carving anywhere on line, only the Journal of the Royal Society listing it as a work in ivory. Do have to wonder whether it was in fact the same or similar. The Rudoe article states the Woolner is a medallion but other sources say it was a bas relief. Is it possible Ronca did not want to submit 2 works both called The Rainbow/Iris to the same competition & so changed his title for the shell work to something perfectly plausible? The first time I ever saw a cameo with this scene I interpreted it as Psyche carrying water from the Stygian Marshes.
    13. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 7 years ago
      Hi cameosleuth, I agree when you look at the composition of the opal cameo scenes there can be little doubt about the Guy Head Psyche derivation, and that, as you say, Schmidt has quite brilliantly modified 'Psyche carrying water from the Stygian Marshes' into 'Dawn'. Well spotted!

      I suppose Gertrud Seidmann was expecting Schmidt's sources to come from the world of cameo carvers. However her article portrays Schmidt as intelligent, widely read and cosmopolitan so it's entirely possible for him to have known Head's work.
    14. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 7 years ago
      I think the original behind all of them is the Iris by Guy Head. What could be more appropriate than to render her in iridescent opal? Schmidt may not have known the Head or the Ronca; he may well have seen a cast of the Pichler.

      Just came across this one, which looks suspiciously like yet another example of the type:
    15. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 7 years ago
      And then there is this one:

      Unlike some of the others, which do appear to have more of a rising sun in the background, the 2 IDed as being by Marcus & Co. definitely have a - radiant - rainbow back there. Think artist had to inlay multiple segments of opal to get this effect?
    16. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 7 years ago
      Agreed, here's the link to the Skinner auction:

      Since Schmidt (for I have no doubt these are all his) had to cut out a section for the diamond and mount, he certainly could have cut out a further section to inlay the rainbow around the sun.

      Now that we know the Iris derivation I have to suspect Schmidt was being very clever in using the rainbow, because of course Iris is the personification of the rainbow.
    17. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 7 years ago
      The element of the setting IDed as a serpent looks to me more as a stylized botanic feature, but the crowing cock is of course symbolic of sunrise as well as of France.

      Can easily imagine there was enough demand for these gorgeous pieces for Schmidt to make a number of them, with some variations dictated by individuality of each stone, others so that owners could feel they had a completely unique piece.

      If Judy Rudoe replies to my inquiry concerning Ronca & Woolner, will let you know. :)
    18. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 7 years ago
      A bit more Schmidtiana is about 3/4 of the way down at:
    19. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 7 years ago
      Hi cameosleuth, so is the attribution as Pheobe on the German site spurious? I found another similar attribution of the same painting here:

      However it looks to me like the "Phoebe" painting is a later and less detailed copy of the Guy Head original.
    20. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 7 years ago
      Suspect what we are seeing is what I think of as the Xerox phenomenon: just as a photocopy of a photocopy of a... degrades, loses detail, begins to look more like something else, art works repeatedly copied from earlier works (& cameos copied from other cameos) have a way of altering with each iteration. (Another comparison would be the game of Telephone.) The subject of Head's painting is very clear & the title it is known by is too detailed to have been assigned casually. Although it is fairly obscure now, evidently this attractive image made enough of a splash in its day to be reproduced, no doubt sometimes as etchings or prints that were less than faithful, leaving some scope for reinterpretation & renaming. My guess would be that Schmidt was aware of both the Iris & Dawn/Phoebe (Light) identifications & kept his franchise going by executing pieces of each motif.
      As a mythological aside, there is absolutely no what I call 'mythologic' to depicting either Aurora or Phoebe, whether the Titaness or Artemis under that name, (or, for that matter, a sea nymph) flying high above the world, the River Styx below, bearing a small water pitcher. The title of the Head painting explains it all.
    21. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 7 years ago
      Some further info for cameosleuth from the 1988 Apollo article, Schmidt did a version of "Dawn" with Psyche, his "Cupid & Psyche" in The Geological Museum.

      I've scanned in the pages with the Schmidt cameos and the Key to those cameos here:

      Unfortunately the Cupid & Psyche cameo has faulted with time and split through the centre between Cupid & Psyche, strangely appropriate as in myth Cupid and Psyche are cleaved apart by the sunrise.
    22. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 7 years ago
      I like your mythologic incorporating the crack into the scene as a meaningful element. Cupid pursuing Psyche, after the relief by John Gibson, was a very popular cameo subject. Think we can safely surmise that the Cupid & Psyche is a later work than the first Iris/Dawn. It is as though Schmidt, having realized how well rainbows & sunrises work in opal cameos, them sort of a signature.

      Off topic: I would love to post a cameo of mine with a clear Iris carrying water but cannot get my photos to load, even though jpg format & reduced to fewer than 500 pixels each. Have received no reply to my request for help. Help!
    23. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 7 years ago
      Hi cameosleuth, I have a vague recollection there is a stand-down period on your first post while the CW moderators evaluate it, perhaps that's the problem?

      In the meantime if you can upload your image to any other site and get a clickable URL you can cut and paste that URL into these comments.
    24. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 7 years ago
      Nothing shows when I go through the process of uploading. When I try to submit, it is rejected for lack of pix. Second suggestion a good one & will soon as my site administrator figures out an uploading problem there. I am starting to sense a pattern. :( Thanks for great suggestions.
    25. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 7 years ago
      Let me know if this does not work:

      I am also seeking any help on the signature; a Filippo in Rome, but not Tignani or Rega.
    26. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 7 years ago
      Hi cameosleuth, yes your link works. The minimal depiction of the Styx as a separate element contributes to a striking piece, obviously after the Guy Head 'Iris'. Good luck with the signature search!
    27. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 6 years ago
      And did we see this one?
    28. kiwipaul kiwipaul, 6 years ago
      Hi cameosleuth, I would've liked to be at that Bonhams auction with cash in my pocket! A very nice unattributed piece by Schmidt. Prices were cheap in the depths of the Recession. It's another one that confirms your thesis re Guy Head's 'Iris'.
    29. cameosleuth cameosleuth, 5 years ago
      I don't remember seeing this one & too lazy to go back & check all the links above:

    Want to post a comment?

    Create an account or login in order to post a comment.