- 1 The origins.
- 2 The Roman Empire, ancient Greece, the Hellenic period.
- 3 Middle Ages and Renaissance.
- 4 The 1500s and the great navigators: men and earrings.
- 5 The earrings and the splendor of the eighteenth century.
- 6 The nineteenth century and the recovery of the classic style in jewelry.
- 7 The Industrial Revolution and the first jewelery mass productions.
- 8 The earrings in Africa, Middle and Far East.
- 9 The earring in the contemporary era.
The origin of the earring, like that of other jewels, dates back to the prehistoric era, to the early Metal Age. Like other types of ornaments, the earring was born as an object with an apotropaic value, as a talisman or good luck charm. The first archaeological finds have brought to light copper and bronze earrings; only later were they made in silver and gold.
Although currently the earring is more suitable for a female clientele, in ancient times it was born as a sign of distinction, especially for men.
It seems that the earliest earring belonged to a man, a Sumerian king who ruled the city-state of Ur (in present-day Iraq). The meaning of such an ornament in ancient times was that of royalty and power. The first book of the Bible also talks about earrings, defining them as talismans.
One of the first models found consists of a metal rod twisted in a circle. Gold earrings of a more complex shape date back to 2400-1900 BC. C .; they had the shape of a wrought metal plate, from which hung long chains ending in triangular pendants, such as those widespread in ancient Egypt, where they were considered objects of value and a sign of high social status, intended for men.
The Roman Empire, ancient Greece, the Hellenic period.
During the Roman Empire, the taste for precious ornaments had a significant boost. Disc-shaped earrings with hanging deities or flowers were very popular. Among the Greeks, the earring was a much loved accessory and this made its use increasingly widespread even in women.
In the Hellenic period, the first bijoux, earrings and jewels in gilded terracotta were born, and Taranto became a thriving center of this production as well as of classic goldsmithing. The earrings had a wide diffusion among a wider public and also among nomadic populations and tribes and for the less well-off classes they became ornaments of custom and custom. The deities who adorned the earrings of this period were Nike, goddess of victory and Eros, god of love. Also famous are the dangling earrings that end with a bird such as the swan, the peacock and the dove, which refer to symbolic meanings, while in the hoop earrings lion, bull, lynx and gazelle heads are sculpted.
Middle Ages and Renaissance.
The Middle Ages saw the flourishing of the goldsmith’s art and, consequently, a great production of jewels with set gems, pearls and gold, but at that time the earrings were considered by the Church as profane ornaments, because they went to ruin, with small holes in the lobe ear, the perfect work of creation. They were, therefore, banned and banned, if not for a few rare exceptions. Sumptuary laws sanctioned disciplinary rules that regulated luxury and earrings became an ornament for prostitutes and courtesans. In Italy, it was only in Sicily that the use of earrings resisted these restrictions, thus becoming part of custom and tradition.
Earrings became the most popular jewel in the Renaissance. Intended for predominantly female use, they were considered a facial embellishment and a sign of wealth for women of a certain rank. The goldsmith’s art expressed itself in that period in very varied forms. We find pendant earrings in the shapes of flowers, birds and animals made with the inclusion of large irregular pearls in enameled friezes. After the stalemate in the Middle Ages, during the English Renaissance we find many examples also in the paintings that portrayed male figures.
During the 1500s, the earring had the pearl as the protagonist of excellence. In the Renaissance era, the ladies loved to adorn themselves with large and irregular pearls from the South Seas, the so-called Baroque pearls.
In the popular tradition there was a great recovery of the therapeutic properties of the stones: the pearls warded off heartache and heart disease while the red coral was used to relieve pain and to restore joy; topaz cured madness and rose quartz helped love. Great artistic compositions made of solid gold and rich in precious stones, mostly colored, and the development of the great Sicilian and Neapolitan goldsmith tradition, characterized by the use of precious corals and finely carved cameos, date back to this period. Italian models, with slight textures and enamel motifs, were imitated throughout Europe. French earrings had eccentric and extravagant shapes, such as those mentioned in the inventory of Mary of Scotland (1561) – and were used, following the example of Henry III, also by men.
At the time, it was generally fashionable for men to wear earrings. This custom, born in Spain, also extended to the court of Elizabeth I of England (1558-1603). In a portrait perhaps by William Shakespeare, the writer wears an earring in his left ear and it is believed that at the time this was a symbol of loving bond with a woman who wore an identical one. At that time it was not only poets or nobles who wore an earring, but also more eccentric and infamous characters, from which the current image of this jewel in its masculine declination probably derives. It was the era of great sea voyages, the opening of trade routes to Asia, and European sailors were exposed to cultures in which body piercing was a widespread practice.
The earring became the jewel worn by sailors and pirates as a good luck charm, thinking that by piercing the ear (acupuncture point that corresponds to sight) they could have a better view at sea and get the job of lookout. More common is the practical function of the earring which, in the event of drowning, if the sea had returned the body to a distant shore, would have served to pay the burial costs. Some engraved on it the name of the city of origin, probably in the desire that the remains could be repatriated to receive a worthy funeral.
Later, among seamen, the practice was consolidated according to which earrings were worn as a trophy in memory of great navigations, such as crossing the Equator or crossing Cape Horn.
In case of navigation from West to East, the jewel was secured to the left ear, the one facing the Cape, while sailing in the opposite direction and much more difficult, due to winds and currents, from East to West the right ear.
The earrings and the splendor of the eighteenth century.
In the 1700s, in the halls of high society, the earring became more and more sumptuous, taking the form of a bow or lace, the so-called “en girandoles” earring. The diamond began to be widely used in jewelry: the earring had to shine even in the evening, in the light of candles, framing the face of a noblewoman. If on the one hand the earring became a sign of pomp and vanity, on the other, in the same period, the rhinestones originated, widely used among the lower social strata; among the latter the earring still maintained a great symbolic and propitiatory value.
The years of the French Revolution saw the growth of the Enlightenment culture and the rejection of the excesses of the past; prudence suggested hiding any luxury and jewels, in general, disappeared, only to reappear in all their splendor with the advent of Napoleon.
The nineteenth century and the recovery of the classic style in jewelry.
The emperor of France was a lover of luxury and precious ornaments and his wife dictated the rules of a new, sumptuous court fashion. Napoleon recovered what remained of the crown jewels, destroyed or stolen during the Revolution, having them readjusted for Joséphine Beauharnais by great jewelers such as Nitot.
The campaigns of Italy and Egypt brought back echoes of the past and the era of imperial Rome, whose jewels were emulated, enriched with splendid precious stones and shapes that recalled their style. The famous painting by Jacques-Louis David, in which the coronation scene is immortalized, is a manifesto of the new style imposed by the sovereigns. The tiaras, among the most popular jewels, were often accompanied by sets and the earrings became a complement of great beauty and excellent workmanship, reflecting the splendor and grandeur of the French court.
With the Restoration, the impoverished aristocracy returned to a more sober lifestyle and the use of colored and less precious stones was widespread in jewelery. The earrings were lightened in fine filigree, inspired by those rediscovered in the Etruscan tombs of Lazio and found in the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum at that time, keeping alive the goldsmith’s vein inspired by classical Rome, which was very fashionable at the time.
With the economic revival of the 1830s, there was a renewed interest in precious objects and jewelry. The earrings of this period, inspired by naturalistic motifs, became real cascades of diamonds and pearls, in the form of small bouquets, flowers, leaves, birds, plants.
Romanticism and the Gothic style.
The second half of the nineteenth century saw the spread of the romantic movement throughout Europe. Born in Germany at the end of the eighteenth century, Romanticism was consolidated above all in England, in every artistic and cultural manifestation, rediscovering a Gothic style, with medieval echoes, sometimes gloomy, which in jewelry expressed themselves in the use of cabochon-cut stones, enamels and motifs that portrayed ladies and knights and scenes from the lives of saints or shapes such as the four-leaf clover and architectural elements such as the pointed arch, typical of Gothic cathedrals. In the earrings of the time, as in all the goldsmith production of that period, we find different symbols of the loving and religious language: the knot, a symbol of sentimental bond, the bow, flowers with the meaning of a pledge of love and fidelity and the three elements that symbolize the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, that is, the cross, the anchor and the heart.
There was a period of austerity in jewelry, which saw the use of pearls as a very fashionable ornament and even the spread of ‘mourning jewels’, sometimes with a macabre imprint, containing small cavities in which locks of hair or memories of a missing person or even jewelry made from the braid of a deceased person’s hair. Fortunately, alongside this severity, we find much more joyful jewels, especially earrings, in every shape and style, with diamonds, pearls, gems even of little value, but of various colors or simply in gold, became a very popular ornament. , enhanced by hairstyles softly gathered above the nape of the neck.
The Industrial Revolution and the first jewelery mass productions.
The Industrial Revolution marked the advent of the first machines and the optimization of production processes. The advent of electroplating, which allows the metals to be covered with a very thin layer of gold or silver, and the press allowed the production of pieces in series in a short time. Jewels, also accessible to the middle class, due to the low costs and the not excellent quality of the workmanship.
Alongside this medium-level production, the discovery of large deposits in South Africa gave great impetus to the spread of diamonds, in the most varied cuts and settings. The earrings became lighter in the metal, but they became very precious because of these stones, often coupled with pearls, which are also in great demand.
The earrings in Africa, Middle and Far East.
However, earrings do not always have an ornamental meaning. In Africa, in particular, earrings have a magical, ritual and religious meaning. Goldsmith productions are expressions and symbols of prosperity and protection. In Mali eighteen rings are put in the lobe of the future bride to ward off evil and slander. In many tribes, drop earrings, sometimes very large, or the insertion in the lobe of a cylinder or a disk, botoque, increasingly large, which widens the lobe to the size of the palm of a hand, are widespread. Once the botoque is removed, the lobule hangs like a folded string, a result that is also achieved with the use of heavy pendants.
In the Middle East, crescent-shaped earrings are very popular, a shape that recalls the maternal feminine, made of silver, a favorite metal in Islamic countries, according to the common belief that this material has a propitiatory meaning.
China has a millennial tradition of goldsmith production. Jade was preferred to any other precious stone and is still widely used today. But pearls also played an important role in Chinese culture, appreciated and preserved as precious treasures, exclusively reserved for the nobles of high lineage and the royal court. Women have worn earrings adorned with pearls, gold, jade and precious stones since the Han dynasty, and these jewels served at the same time to determine the level and importance of a concubine: the queen wore three pairs of earrings with pearls of the East , while the concubines only one. Even today, China is one of the largest pearl producers in the world. In Japan, however, women didn’t wear earrings until a few decades ago. It is a country where the earring has only begun to be used in modern times and earlobe piercing is a recent practice.
The earring in the contemporary era.
The earrings have come down to our days, full of history and meanings. For many, men and women, they are an indispensable accessory that characterizes the figure and the face. The passion for this jewel is not only a question of style, but it is also an element of seduction; just imagine long pendants that caress the neck or sparkling drops of diamonds that illuminate the face, emphasizing femininity and grace. Sometimes they are accents of color, a game of geometries and shapes that make a person’s style unmistakable.
Precious or ready-to-wear, the earring defines our identity and our uniqueness. The variety is such as to amaze. Body piercing has given rise to a series of variations of this object, making it an integral part of our body. Often it is difficult to separate from the earring, unless it is large in size. On the earlobe or pavilion, outside the nostril and in any other part of the body, it is the most popular jewel of all.