Jewelry History: Earrings

Earrings are one of the most popular styles of jewelry because they come in such a huge variety including button, stud, solitaire, clip-on, chandelier, french wire, hoop, huggie hoop, threader, gauged, and even magnetic.

Earrings have been around for thousands of years.  In 1995, a five thousand year old mummy was found.  He or she was wearing a pair of earrings.

2000 Year old Earrings from Jerusalem

2000 Year old Earrings from Jerusalem

It is believed that earrings actually came into fashion as a way to ward off evil spirits. Since many people believed that evil spirits could enter your body through any its openings (mouth, nose, eyes, ears); earrings were a way of dissuading a spirit from gaining entrance through at least one opening. If there was metal placed through the ear, the spirits would stay away, because they did not like solid metals.

As the years progressed and more people began to wear earrings, the original purpose seemed to wear.  What was once a talisman transformed into a sign of wealth. The larger the earrings or the more lavish the display, the more power one had. Roman emperors and nobles wore the jewelry to show their power and wealth.  It was believed a well crafted pair of earrings said more about the man than his mouth.

As the Roman empire fell and Christianity took over many things changed.

Since earrings were originally worn to ward off evil spirits – a paganistic polytheistic belief – and others wore them to flaunt their wealth, it comes as no surprise that many Christians felt earrings were a demonic sign. There were, however, many men and women who wore them – even in the Bible – but to do so was flashy and un-Christian.

At the same time, there may have been another reason that earrings fell out of favor for several generations.  During that era, earrings were worn by slaves.  In fact, slaves were required to have their ears pierced, and most people did not want to associate themselves with the lower caste.

As time progressed, and stigmas died down, more and more people started wearing earrings. They became a status symbol for men and women. For pirates, they were like medals of honor.  Every true pirate was said to pierce one ear with a gold hoop if they survived a wreck.  Others say a pirate pierced his ear if they crossed the equator.

Native Americans and tribes all over the world have practiced the ear piercing tradition. Mostly, its popularity and endurance is seeped in religious history – be it a tribe in Africa or a Julius Caesar (he had his ears pierced).  Today, we owe the earrings’ popularity to the variety that arises from such a rich history.  The styles we wear today all have different backgrounds.  There is a different story for each and many have gone untold.  Regardless, what was once a spiritual tradition is now a multimillion dollar industry.

Next time you slip on your favorite pair, think about the 5,000 year old mummy.  Think about Caesar and the Romans, think about the slaves and think about the swashbuckling pirates.

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