Evaluating the age of earrings by the findings

Looking at the findings of jewelry is just one way of evaluating the age of a piece but can be very helpful.  It seems there is quite a lot of contradictory information out there regarding evaluating the age of earrings by the findings, so I have outlined the basic facts that I’ve uncovered below.  However, I am sure I will be revisiting this post in the future with more details and updates as I have to admit I’m still quite unsure about quite a few things.  And you will find that the drawing above and the information below don’t quite match, even though I’ve used a variety of reliable sources.  So please used this guide with my disclaimer until I’ve learned and experienced more.  If you have any insights about it yourself, please do let me know.

Also, I should say that I’ve used the term ‘invented’ here interchangeably with ‘brought to market’ and ‘patented’ as for our purposes it is sufficient.

Prior to 1882

Before this date there were fundamentally two types of earring findings in use:  one was ‘The Shepherds hook’

Earrings

earrings Italy, 1840-1850
Back showing Shepherd’s hook
V&A Museum

The other kind the hinged kind that went through the back of the ear and hooked in at the front.

Perfect Antique Coral Gold Earrings 14 karat k 1900 Salmon 585 Austrian Antique Vintage Pierced Classic Simple

Coral and gold earrings with front fastening

1882

The kidney wire safety catch was invented.

RODDIN 1888 Catalogue
Reserved for Gari  / Perfect Victorian Coral Gold Earrings 14 karat k 1900 Salmon 585 Austrian Antique Vintage Pierced Classic Simple
Coral and gold earrings with kidney wire safety catch

1894

The screw was invented (this used to have little to nothing to rest against the ear in the early days, many were changed later as this wasn’t comfortable). These are still made today but they are not that common on newer pieces. The threads were thicker in diameter and the nut was much heavier than those that are made today.

detail

Detail of screw-back earrings.

1901

The lever back with safety catch was invented.

Antique Coral Gold Earrings 8 karat k Salmon 333 Austrian Antique Vintage Pierced Classic Simple Drop

1909

Screw back for non-pierced ears invented.

Earrings

London, 1934
Earrings with silver, opals, rubies and stained chalcedony
Showing screw back for non-pierced ears
V&A Museum

1920

The friction back earring was invented or ‘post and butterfly’.  This is still in use today and is the most common earring type today.

Pair of earrings
Paris, c.1920-1930
Earrings with platinum, gold, enamel, and baguette-and brilliant-cut diamonds
Showing back with post and butterfly back findings
V&A Museum

1934

Spring clip back invented for non-pierced ears.

Earrings

Paris, France 1935-1945
Back of Van Cleef and Arpels earrings showing spring clip back
V&A

1940s

Adjustable hinge clip for non-pierced ears.

1960s

Omega back invented for non-pierced ears.

Sources / further reading:

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