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One of the most ancient jewellery crafts able to turn any material – whether as precious as emerald or as humble as wood – into a dazzling adornment is known as glyptic art, or the art of carving hardstones.

The earliest known evidence of glyptic art comes from China, where a pair of carved agate earrings from the fifth millennium BC were recovered. In addition, a series of miniature falcon silhouettes sculpted in gold and turquoise were found in an Egyptian tomb dating from 3040BC.

The term is derived from the Greek word gluptikos and glyptics initially referenced the art of engraving precious stones to create a raised design in the form of a cameo or otherwise a hollowed-out design known as intaglio. Cameos became popular again during the Renaissance and reached their apogee with Napoleon Bonaparte. The French emperor, eager to legitimise his power by referencing the quintessential Roman symbols, championed the art of cameo and had his image engraved numerous times. Napoleon’s support for glyptic art culminated in founding a school of engraving in Paris and, in 1805, extending the prestigious Prix de Rome (reserved for painters, sculptors and architects) to engravers.

Nowadays, glyptic art seems to be back to the centre stage of jewellery.

In its latest high jewellery collection Sixième Sens, Cartier presented some enchanting glyptic work by in-residence master glyptician Philippe Nicolas. A 131.89-carat octagonal-shaped citrine enshrines the formidable Cartier panther meticulously sculpted in the heart of the stone in the act of advancing towards its prey. In a brooch, lilac-coloured agate is morphed into mellow, velvety petals embracing a pear cut diamond mirroring a briolette-cut diamond suspended from this charming high jewellery flower.

At Dior Jewellery, Victoire de Castellane injected life into Dior’s iconic rose with petals of sculpted rubellite. Piaget’s glypticians, instead, crafted a bouquet of pink, purple and ivory roses on the dial of its latest Altiplano High Jewellery watch.

In the Chanel ring ‘Constellation du Lion’, a Lion, lying its paws on a star centred with a 1.5-carat brilliant-cut diamond, is sculpted from a single piece of onyx.

Pearl prodigy Melanie Georgacopoulos let opaque hippopus pearls sink into a cushion of carved mother of pearl coiling around the wrist in a bangle.

In contrast, Hemmerle employed the art with humour to carve jade in the shape of the iconic Leibniz biscuits in a pair of earrings.

But glyptic is not the preserve of high jewellery. Bibi van der Velden has teamed up with a glyptician in Bangkok specialising in carving 40,000-year-old mammoth bones to create an array of delectable earrings, pendants and rings featuring a menagerie of alligators, dragons and unicorns. Alice Cicolini’s romantic aesthetic is replete with carved stones, such as a chic Summer Snow Triple Ring featuring flowers carved from dendritic opal.

They might not sparkle like diamonds, but these mini wearable sculptures often end up stealing the show.