The Jewelry Diva - The History of Earrings Part 2

The 19th century was an exciting time in Europe and the United States. It was a century marking the introduction of mass production, technological progress, and the industrial factory system. Leo Hendrik Baekeland, an American Chemist announced his invention of Bakelite Plastic in 1909. Celluloid, Lucite, and Acetate followed Bakelite, considered the first important synthetic plastic. The 1950’s introduced Aurora Borealis (AB), which actually means "northern lights.” Aurora Borealis rhinestones have a special iridescent finish and shines with many colors, like a rainbow! There was also a clear distinction between the more conservative earrings worn during the day, and the ostentatious earrings worn in the evenings. As noted in Part I of this article, fashion and hairstyles dictated the style of earrings worn, and this continues into the 19th and 20th centuries.

  • Fun Folklore - Back in the days of sailing ships and pirates a man would wear an earring if he had survived a shipwreck, typically a gold hoop.

Following the French Revolution in 1789, long earrings were still popular. The war made precious metals and gemstones scarce. At this time, jewelry designers used polychrome enamels and semi-precious gemstones to embellish the earrings. Again, because of the scarcity of metal, the long pendant earrings consisted of a long flat and very thin gold element that linked together by a series of chains. Filigree earrings were another result of the revolution. By their very nature, they required very little metal. The lightness of filigree metal was important because earrings had reached a length of 10-12 cms. In the 1840’s, repoussé earrings were the new rage. The lightness of repoussé earrings proved wonderful to accommodate the elongated shapes.

Later hairstyles completely covered the ears again and earrings fell out of favor. The 1851 Great Exhibition in London displayed lovely jewelry; however, earrings, considered an unimportant fashion accessory at the time, were not a prominent feature of the show. The simple single stone earrings known as “Dormeuses” or “Sleepers” were popular because they were worn at night to prevent the pierced holes from closing because the majority of women were not wearing earrings.

The 1860’s-1870’s was a wonderful age of novelty and light-hearted earrings. Hair went up – earrings went on. This type of whimsical earring started in France and England and spread throughout Europe and America. Some favorite designs were windmills, buckets, hammers, humming birds, and Brazilian Beetles.

1920’s - In the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles greatly influenced jewelry. Screw-back style earrings were popular because piecing one’s ears was now a barbaric notion. Women shortened their dresses and cut their hair. Earrings were paramount in filling the gap between the “bob” hairstyle and the shoulders. The roaring 20’s were roaring and women could now vote.

The 1930’s brought the revolutionary and innovative clip style earrings. The screw back style of earring proved to be inadequate for the heavier earrings. In addition, for the first time earring designs expanded upwards, to decorate the upper part of the ear, and the style dictated that each earring in a set be designed to fit a specific ear, one for the right ear, and one for the left ear. Native American turquoise and sterling silver earrings along with Mexican sterling earrings gained in popularity.

1940’s – Unlike the geometric designed earrings of the 1930’s more sculptured shapes were gaining popularity such as fluttering ribbons and floral motifs. After 40 years of the supremacy of platinum in jewelry, gold came back on a large scale because at the outbreak of WWII, industry required platinum for producing armaments. Sterling silver and low karat gold were the metals used most often in jewelry making. Rhodium was another popular white metal because it did NOT Tarnish!

1950’s – There was an economic BOOM following the end of the war. There was a desire around the world to return to a more relaxed lift style. Earrings featured light-hearted, amusing, and frivolous designs. Bigger was better! Women were more at ease to choose whatever style of jewelry caught their eye, following many decades of uniformity in fashion and jewelry. The fashions were feminine and a narrow waist with a generous décolleté characterized evening gowns. Pearls and diamonds remained supreme. White metal, including platinum returned along with white gold and palladium. Palladium was the lightest of the white metals and was essential for creating the long chandelier earrings that were very popular. The majority of earrings were now clips and piercing was definitely out of fashion. The unsightly look of a pierced earlobe without an earring was socially improper.

Remember, “Life is Too Short Not to Sparkle” – wear a piece of jewelry everyday and color your world with color.

‘The Jewelry Diva’ by Ruby Lane shop owner Cindy Amirkhan - A Twinkle in Time. Cindy opened her shop in 2002 and has sold many beautiful and unique pieces of jewelry over the years, and she continues to dazzle her customers with new items and quality service. Cindy shares her extensive knowledge of vintage and costume jewelry with you, including historical information, styles, designers and more. We are certain you will enjoy her monthly column as much as we do. The Editors of Notes from the Lane.


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