Holy, holy, holy

The fad for body piercing comes and goes but its most popular form - ear piercing - seems to have always been with us, and, unlike other forms, is rarely considered subversive.

The idea started in the Orient. In Ancient Egypt earrings were worn by men and women and were used to adorn statues of gods. The earrings were heavy, and long deformed earlobes were common. In Roman times, jewellery was disapproved of but after the second century AD designs became more elaborate until the Byzantine period, when fashionable ladies wore large ornaments on their ears.

Earrings were not prominent again until the 1500s. They made an appearance in Italy around the 1530s, with a simple design, usually a plain gold hoop with a single pearl drop, but the fashion for high, stiff ruffs around the neck curtailed their use. In the 17th century designs became more elaborate and three-drop earings were popular for the next two centuries. As it was rare to find pearls of equal size, matching earrings were valuable, and much sought after. Around 1660 the girandole emerged, consisting of two elements worked into a coherent design, for example a ribbon-bow shape carrying three pear-shaped drops.

In the 18th century, the fashion for hair worn off the face and low necklines suited decorative earrings. Jewellers started setting stones in open mounts to allow the light to shine through. Complete sets of jewels, known as parures, started to be worn, comprising of a necklace, bracelets, a pair of pendant earrings and often a tiara. Around 1830 long earrings that reached the shoulder became all the rage, reaching lengths of 12cm.

Earclips started in the 1930s, allowing earrings to be shaped upwards and cover the upper part of the ear. Earrings today come in every possible shape and form. Now vintage earrings are back in fashion, popularised by super-models, who are usually one step ahead of the game.

Susannah Conway