Last updateWed, 01 Apr 2020 1pm

The Story Behind the Stone: Carving out history

Jarrett Cocle pedestalCoclé (c. 600-800 AD) ceramic dish displays classic stylized shapes in symmetrical patterns. Photo: Walters Art MuseumCameos are an ancient art form with even the earliest examples exhibiting tremendous grace and technique. The Great Cameo of France, (Grand Camée de France) for instance, a 31cm tall sardonyx, circa 23 A.D., is the largest surviving cameo from antiquity.

Cameos as Story Tellers

Motifs carved using this ancient process were originally historical tableaux. During later times, especially from the Georgian era onward, craftsmen used cameos for creating romantic and sentimental tokens; beautiful ladies’ portraits were exceedingly popular then.

Ancient Skill – Modern Interpretation

Today, the skilled Panamanian carvers at Rainforest Design have lovingly brought this art form into the 21st century by reimagining its story-telling influence inherent to the craft. In doing so, they’ve re-energized interest in this jewelry-art for a new generation unfamiliar with earlier cameos.

Indigenous Wounaan carvers, native to Panamanian rainforests, carve what they love in durable shell. The flora and fauna all around them provide ample inspiration for creating modern designs with breathtaking realism. Holy Spirit orchids, (Panama’s national flower), irresistible miniature frogs, cheeky toucans, elegant dragonflies and other natural objects hypnotize with sublime artwork and superb skill evident in each handcrafted carving.

A Spotlight on the Past

Their latest oeuvre is a step back to a thousand years ago; carving out a window into the history of a majestic civilization thriving in pre-Columbian Panama. The carver’s current works are made in stunning homage to that mysterious culture from Panama’s Coclé Province. The early peoples likewise found artistic expression through nature all around them. Crocodiles, eagle-gods and other stylized animals adorned pottery, stone work, jewelry and other relics that survived the era.

Jarrett Cocle 1Handcrafted cameo inspired by artifacts from Sitio Conte, Coclé, Panama. Madagascariensis spinella shell, 42mm. Photo: Rainforest Design®️

Jarrett Cocle 2Pre-Columbian Crocodile God: Handcrafted cameo inspired by artifacts from Sitio Conte, Coclé, Panama. Madagascariensis spinella shell, 40mm. Photo: Rainforest Design®️

The Wounaan carvers pay tribute to their predecessors via cameos styled in rich Coclé symbolism. Today’s carvers are not descendants of these earlier cultures, but they inhabit the same terrain, and likewise revere that same landscape they call home. With this new cameo collection, they give voice to a people long gone who shared their exotic slice of paradise. Learn more about the carvers and their unique cameo art at Rain Forest Design, www.rainforestdesign.com.

Award winning trade journalist and gemologist Diana Jarrett is a Registered Master Valuer Appraiser and a member of the Association of Independent Jewellery Valuers (AIJV). She’s a popular speaker at conferences and trade shows. Jarrett writes for trade and consumer publications, online outlets, her blog: Color-n-Ice, and www.jewelrywebsitedesigners.com. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., visit her website at www.dianajarrett.com, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter (Loupey).