Vanity drove me to buy and thus collect good antique earrings in my early days of dealing. I was 28 and my face seemed more attractive when I added earrings, especially if they had movement.
Rings weren’t for me – my hands have always been short and square with unloved nails. So, as a fledgling dealer, I was ready for my first serious pair.
It was very early on a Wednesday morning at Camden Passage antique market in London that I found them. In the window of the only shop open at 6am was a pair of early Victorian garnet earrings. It was love. I went in and examined them with my loupe.
I asked the trade price; they were 120 pounds. I had never spent that amount on anything before. Half that or less was my usual. In the late seventies money went further and antiques were far cheaper.
With a pounding heart I said I would buy them. I didn’t really know if I could sell them on quickly, and that was a necessity given my limited finances. But I was determined to take the risk.
They were the first of many beautiful pairs I’ve bought since then. I’ve kept just a few over the years. I tend to gravitate to the mid-Victorian period, as I think they suit me best. Large, long and articulated, they balance my wild curly hair. Most are gold, though I do have a silver pair in the same strong Archaeological Revival style. I look forward to showing you them in a later blog.
Good antique earrings are rare, although they were usually in fashion through most of the 19th and early 20th centuries – with the exception of the 1890s, when they were small or not worn at all.
Yet few pairs have survived. As a result they have always been relatively expensive for the modern collector.
Why have there been so many losses to the market? First, two have had to survive together without one being lost or damaged.
When short earrings were fashionable a pair might be split into two smaller pairs. A mother’s earrings might be split into two pendants by loving daughters, each to have a memento.
When pierced ears went out of fashion in the mid 20th century, many earrings were ruined by having screw fittings applied by crude workers who used lead solder, which eats into the metal it is attached to. Many were also light in weight, though they looked substantial. When made of hollow gold, a dropped earring soon becomes a crushed earring.
I have seen many examples of beautiful Victorian earrings stuck on to a bar of gold and slathered with lead solder to form a most unattractive brooch. It’s likely that these were victims of the 1890s lack of love for earrings.
This is a shame because, of all types of jewellery, earrings are the best at showcasing gemstones. Light is able to shine through them in a way that rings, brooches and pendants – all worn next to the body – just can’t manage.
If ever you come to my shop, please seek out my collection of antique and vintage earrings. I’d be thrilled to get them out for you to hold up beside your face in the light – to bring them to life.
You might also be interested in: Caring for Antique Engagement Rings!