Earrings are the most popular form of antique jewelry today. While other forms of jewelry abound, it is difficult to find good quality, interesting antique jewellery earrings.
Why are antique earrings so desirable?
Ever since Eve adorned herself with a fig leaf, humankind has looked to jewelry as a mode of identity social standing, to identify with a cultural group, to link with the past, to impress others, to express ourselves. Mythological, religious, symbolic significance and historic links are part of it all, but the biggest reason we wear earrings, is for its wonderful aesthetic appeal.
Women hardly need to be persuaded that “You are what you wear”. Earrings frame our faces – the most seen and outwardly relevant part of our bodies. Simply put: they make us look good.
Earrings have been and are, made of every material available. We value earrings made with precious metals and set with precious stones most. Adding a designer name always helps, whether it be ‘by Appointment to ….’ or the latest wave in fashion-fundis. To me, little made today compares to the antique earring, both in design, workmanship and historic appeal. Earrings are undoubtedly, little works of art. While some great earrings are made today, nothing compares to antique earrings worn by our grand and great-grandmothers.
I have found surprising similarities in antique jewelry made across the continents, over the centuries in earrings imbedded with gems or simply twisted wires. We don’t need a time-machine to know that there must have been trade between Europe and India. We just need to look at their jewels to see that cultures were crossed.
Types of earrings: There are many types of earring, from those that simply slip through a tiny hole in our ear-lobe, to huge entities that extend and distend the lobe over a period of years, or worn on a variety of locations up and down the outer ear. Many earrings are little ornaments suspended from wires that penetrate the earlobe. Chandeliers and Girandoles in 3 sections, so heavy that they were supported by ribbons tied to the hair. Long pendants. Drops. Hoops. Poissarde earrings with an S-shaped wire, supposedly worn by fishwives in France and highly sought after in that country today. Studs – simple and small, worn flat on the lobe with a rigid post through the ear. Clip-ons, an innovation of the early 20th century and still in use today, come in every form and are especially useful for people without pierced ears.
Prior to the 20th century, most earrings were inserted in the ear back to front. Today the opposite is the norm. Most antique earrings have replaced wires and often replaced surmounts. We really should not hold this against them. After all, the new wires are much more comfortable and easy to insert. And, let’s be forgiving – How well have we held up over the years?
A whole host of more complex forms of earrings exists in societies, like India, where the earring is much more than a simple adornment. When we look at some of these creations, it’s mind-boggling to consider the extent of self-mutilation involved in wearing them.
Modes of Fastening: Many earrings suspended from wires have no clasp at all. The wire simply goes through the lobe and hopefully, never falls out. To avoid accidents, often a means of catching the bottom of the wire exists, usually in the form of a c-catch. Russian earrings often have a triangular catch to hold the wire. Studs are held by little gadgets called ‘butterflies’. Today, nice comfy butterflies made of plastic make pushing these tight against the back of the lobe less nasty. Clips with a variety of clasps, often called French backs or Omegas, shaped like the Greek letter. Screw-ons – a short-lived fad of the early 1900’s for masochists longing for the days of the Inquisition. Replace them with posts. Latch and lever backs are less common.
What should you look for when shopping for earrings?
Aesthetic appeal, craftsmanship & technical skill, condition, historic or other symbolic value, provenance, designer names, intrinsic value of materials and most of all, yet again, personal taste. I particularly love earrings with a sense of movement and sometimes, a sense of humor. Ask yourself what you want to wear: Classic or Bling? The great thing about earrings is that you can have lots of them to suit every mood and occasion.
“Dress to Impress”!! Clever women know the earring secret. It isn’t the outfit, but that subtle something – the earring, that truly makes the look.