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  • Writer's pictureAntiques in Oxford


Earrings have been an established part of women's and men's jewellery collections for thousands of years.

Unlike rings and necklaces, earrings ebb and flow with the fashion tides, disappearing for years and resurfacing as a staple accessory - a status that they hold today.

Ear piercing is one of the oldest known forms of body modification and earrings were among the first examples of adornment for human beings. They were well documented throughout the Egyptian and Classical civilizations. In more recent centuries it was men who were seen proudly wearing earrings, at times as a status symbol. One need only think of Charles I with his impressive pearl earring.


Throughout the 19th century earrings were largely designed in the pendant shape, although styles and materials varied according to whether the pieces would be worn during the day or in the evening. 143121


Art Nouveau plique-à-jour enamel earrings, circa 1900. The style of earrings made during this period still favoured the pendant design and these particular earrings encapsulate the trend for delicate organics. 143146 As we moved into the 20th century, hairstyle trends began to greatly influence the designs used for earrings. The flapper haircut rocked the fashion world; the slick short bob left the neck and ear lobes exposed, which saw the pendant earring entering a new phase. To complement the hairstyle, earrings produced during the so-called 'roaring 1920's' were often composed of a thin line, possibly set with gemstones or diamonds and terminating in a large drop.


A pair of peridot and diamond pendant earrings offered in the sale are a contemporary example of Art Deco form.


The most significant redesign of the earring came in the 1930's. Hairstyles remained short, either pushed behind the ears or arranged on the top of the head. With the ears left exposed, a more compact form of earring developed to flatter this look. The compact earring continued to be a prevalent design style in the decades that followed.

Two key design features of earrings became prevalent during the 1930's. The first was the ear clip fitting, invented so that women could wear earrings without piercing their ears. The second design element was the detachable drop feature. The compact earring, enveloping almost the whole earlobe, could be added to with a matching drop set with complementary gemstones to the surmount.




The economic struggles of the 1930's led to a demand for harder working jewels; jewellery was worn in various ways to maximise investment. It was not until the 1970's that styles began to depart from the norm. This decade saw a dramatic broadening of what was considered 'in vogue' in the fashion world. One of the most pioneering developments was the hoop earring, inspired by the burgeoning trend for African American fashion.

Couture jewellery brands all interpreted the hoop style and one of the most popular was the 'hoop-on-hoop' design. A larger hoop was suspended from a smaller hoop surmount, frequently carved out of hardstone or lavishly set with gemstones.

This freeing of the design rules continued throughout the subsequent decades and today we can embrace a wide range of earring styles to complement any outfit or hairstyle.

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The late Anthony Gardner (1938-2023), a notable London-based jewellery dealer and collector specialised in both the Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts periods.  He established The Purple Shop in the 1960s


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