Earring Art

history of earrings

Distinctive and beautiful handmade earrings in aluminium, copper, silver and glass

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Ear piercing is one of the earliest and most universal forms of body modification. Prehistoric jewellery survives to this day, made from bone, stone and shells, and was likely to have been worn for protection much as we wear certain crystals and talismans today. It may also have signified rank or social status.

Earrings are mentioned in the Bible several times, e.g: Genesis 35:4, Exodus 35:22 and Judges 8:24.

The discovery of how to work metal was pivotal in the development of jewellery making and gradually jewellery became more decorative and intricate. In Amesbury, Wiltshire an archaeological excavation revealed a Bronze Age man buried with weapons and a pair of gold earrings. Gold was often buried with the dead so that it could accompany the deceased into the afterlife.

Ancient Egyptian earrings are amongst the most rare and exquisite archaelogical finds ever discovered. They were often worn as talismans against evil forces and fashioned from such semi-precious stones such as turquoise, lapiz lazuli and carnelian, each colour having a special meaning. Often glass would be used in imitation of semi-precious stones and they also used enormous amounts of gold which they associated with the sun and the deity Ra. Gold was also associated with eternal life and so was used for royal coffins and funery equipment such as furniture and jewellery to be used in the afterlife.

Archaeological evidence of male earrings has been found in Persepolis in Ancient Persia, which was the ceremonial capital of the Archaemenid Empire circa 550 to 330BC.

The Romans, 753BC to 509AD, used a wide variety of materials in their earrings due to their extensive trade network. They wore gold hoop and drop earrings featuring amongst other materials, pearls, emerald, peridot, jasper, carnelian, lapiz lazuli, onyx and amber.

The earrings worn in mediaeval Europe (1200 to 1500) were indicative of a highly class conscious society. Gold, silver and precious gems were worn by the nobility, while the lower ranks in society wore base metals such as copper or pewter. Precious gems (usually polished rather than cut) and enamel (ground glass fired at a high temperature onto a metal surface) provided colour.

Renaissance earrings became more elaborate and colourful, with enamelling on all sides and increased coruscation of stones due to new cutting techniques. Jewellery reflected the importance of religion in day to day life.

In the 17th Century gemstones became more readily available due to expanding global trade and further advances in cutting techniques increased the sparkle of gemstones.

By the 18th Century diamonds came to dominate in earring designs although little 18th Century jewellery survives due to the high value of diamonds which were sold or re-set according to the latest fashion.

The 19th Century saw huge industrial and social change but earring designs were often evocative of ancient Roman and Greek designs or Medieval and Renaissance periods. Earrings with naturalistic motifs such as fruit and flowers was also popular in this period due to the widespread interest in botany, with the colours of the flora being imitated with gemstones.

The Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th Century came about as a response to increased mechanisation. Individually hand crafted earrings, which showed off the natural beauty of gemstones, became fashionable.

In the subsequent Art Nouveau period, more sinuous organic earring designs developed using horn, enamel and glass.

In the period 1920 to 1950 strong geometric designs dominated in everything from architecture to jewellery, influenced by the Middle East, Egypt and from the Cubist Art Movement. Earrings often displayed a glamorous concentration of gemstones.

Today's earrings can incorporate not only the traditional materials used in the past but many different materials including plastics, paper and textiles, making modern earrings into a wearable art form.

Artistic earrings
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