Engraving gems was known as a luxury art form of ancient civilizations. Though the sizes of the gems are maybe small, the artistry could very well compare with monumental marbles in terms of the artistic skill required in the field. People in the past used to wear these engraved gems mounted on rings.

The first history of engraved gems dates back to the civilization of ancient Mesopotamia and from there it gradually spread to places like Minoan, Greece, Persia, and then to Egypt. The tradition was then lost at the end of the Bronze Age but the 6th century BC saw its return. From thereon, the 5th and 3rd century BC saw the details on the gems getting finer and the designs more exquisite. 

The Romans made major advancements in the field; they went on to make glass from which cameos were cut which provided more colour to work with. Along with rings, they made the sizes bigger so that they were able to wear the gems as necklaces. It is also believed that the Ancient Greeks and Romans offered many of the engraved gems to their Gods.


Intaglios and Cameos 

Intaglios and cameos are referred to as engraved gems that are carved with images and scriptures. There are a few differences between intaglios and cameos. The design of intaglios consists of cutting depressions into one of the sides of the gem, whereas in cameos, the extra material of the gem is cut down to remove excess which will then leave a raised curved image.  

The high price of engraved gems comes from the fact that they are made from precious and semi-precious stones. This includes the likes of garnet, sapphire, carnelian, agate, jasper, chalcedony, rocky crystal, and amethyst to name a few. The gems can then be set in either silver, gold, or bronze mounts or be left as it is. This also added to the prize of the gemstones. The kind of material that is used, the size of the stone as well as the colour of the gem is in complete accordance with the taste of the customer. 




Making and purpose of the engraved gems 

In ancient times, the making of engraved gems started with cutting gems by hand and by the use of tools iron tools such as pointed drills. 

 This was then combined with abrasive powder to complete the design. Most of the gems were drilled in the centre so that it became easier to be mounted.

Engraved gems were initially used as seals to ratify documents as signatures did not yet exist, but with time engraved gems became more of a fashion item. They displayed the interests and beliefs of the wearer.


Different types of Motifs

The designs that were engraved on the gems consist of all kinds of images and scriptures. Some gems were designed with mythological figures while others consisted of animal portraits. Then some gems displayed the portrait of their owner and some which had inscriptions written to identify the owner. A few of the engraved gems also included the name of the artist who worked on the gems. 






Survival of Engraved Gems

Engraved gems have usually been a find of archaeological excavations. Most of them have been found due to chance alone. A lot of engraved gems were found when Roman and Israeli baths were drained; it was believed that these gems were probably dropped when people from these times were taking baths.

In recent times, they have been preserved as souvenirs in various museums and different tourist spots and are available for tourists to look at and admire.