We hear a lot about statement brooches – striking, individualistic, and looking superb on suit jackets – but, to me, earrings are what catch the eye first. The type of earring depends, of course, on the person’s hairstyle. A person who wears their hair covering their ears is likely to wear a different style of earring to someone who has a ponytail or very short hair.

What are the common earring styles? They are: dangle earrings (including girandole, chandelier, teardrop), hoop, and stud. Interestingly, hoop earrings were the earliest form of earring excavated, with some Sumerian ones dating back to 2,500 BC. Boat shaped earrings, a version of the hoop, were also worn and continued to be popular until ancient Greece. Gold was scarce and so early earrings were cut out of very thin gold sheets and were often rolled into thin, hollow tubes. It is extraordinary that any of these delicate pieces survive today.

While the wearing of earrings has traditionally been associated with displays of wealth and standing, in pre-historic times they were also associated with worship of gods and protection from spirits.

In ancient Egypt, earrings were worn by both men and women and often took the form of a plug that was inserted through the earlobe, stretching it over time. They would be made of ivory, faience or glass.  Hoops in gold were also worn as were dangle pendant earrings. The Greeks began to use gemstones in their earrings and also wore pendant earrings, shaped like a vase or cone, and also human or animal heads. Roman women were very keen on pearls, often wearing several at once.

South sea pearls with sapphire tops, 18ct white gold (at Camberwell Antique Centre)

Earrings became less popular during the Byzantine period, with wealthy females wearing ornaments across the temple or down the sides of the face instead. Earrings were out of favour throughout the 11th and 16th centuries due mainly to concealing headwear, which usually covered all their hair and ears, as well as high collared gowns. During the Renaissance period, while headdresses were often abandoned by wealthy women for jewelled hairnets and elaborate hairstyles, ears were still covered. But hair styles and head covering would change in the 16th and 17th centuries, leading to a revival of the earring. I will discuss this change in the next blog.

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Long kidney wires with c-clasp

Before I finish, though, it is worth briefly mentioning earring fittings. Earring fittings (the bit that attaches the earrings to the ear) fall into a number of categories – hooks (known as shepherd hooks and french wires) are only used on dangle earrings, lever backs which have a post and a clip that hold the post securely (and which I find difficult to wear) are also used for dangle earrings, posts with butterfly clasps are used for stud and solitaire earrings as well as dangle earrings; and clip ons (which don’t piece the ear) which can be used for all types of earring. Early forms of earrings were pieced for hooks or hoops or the ends were squeezed together to attach to the ear.

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Stud earring with butterfly clasp