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Bebe 9

A woman wearing very long and heavy earrings - note how the weight of them is stretching her earlobes.

An earring is a piece of jewelry attached to the ear via a piercing in the earlobe or another external part of the ear (except in the case of clip earrings, which clip onto the lobe). Earrings are worn by both sexes, although more common among women, and have been used by different civilizations in different times.

Common locations for piercings, other than the earlobe, include the rook, tragus, and across the helix. The simple term "ear piercing" usually refers to an earlobe piercing, whereas piercings in the upper part of the external ear are often referred to as "cartilage piercings". Cartilage piercings are more complex to perform than earlobe piercings and take longer to heal.

Earring components may be made of any number of materials, including metal, plastic, glass, precious stone, beads, wood, bone, and other materials. Designs range from small loops and studs to large plates and dangling items. The size is ultimately limited by the physical capacity of the earlobe to hold the earring without tearing. However, heavy earrings worn over extended periods of time may lead to stretching of the earlobe and the piercing.

Types of earrings

Modern standard pierced earrings

  • Gold Ball Stud Earrings

    A pair of gold ball stud earrings, showing the posts that pass through the earlobes, and the "Butterfly" scroll backs.

    Stud earrings - The main characteristic of stud earrings is the appearance of floating on the earlobe without a visible (from the front) point of connection. Studs are invariably constructed on the end of a post, which penetrates straight through the earlobe. To prevent the earring falling out of the ear, the post is held in place in the piercing by a removable friction back, which slides onto the end of the post to prevent it pulling back through. The most common form of friction back is the "Butterfly" or "scroll", although the "Bullet clutch" is also commonly used. Occasionally, the stud earring is constructed so that the end of the post is threaded, allowing a "screw back" to securely hold the earring in place. This is useful in preventing the loss of expensive earrings containing precious stones or made of precious metals. Stud earrings are the most common form of starter earring used when a person first has their ears pierced, as they are ideally suited to use in an ear piercing instrument such as a "piercing gun". These starter studs are distinguished from other studs designed to be worn in already-pierced ears by having sharpened points on the ends of the posts. This pointed end allows the post of the earring, when driven forward by the ear piercing instrument, to painlessly penetrate the skin and underlying layers of an unpierced earlobe. This enables the post of the earring to easily pass right through the earlobe to create the initial piercing.
  • Woman wearing hoop earrings

    A woman wearing large thin hoop earrings.

    Hoop earrings - hoop earrings are circular or semi-circular in design, and look very similar to a ring. They are often constructed of circular-section metal tubing, with a thin wire attachment penetrating the ear. The hollow tubing is permanently attached to the wire at the front of the ear, and slips into the tubing at the back. The entire device is held together by tension between the wire and the tube. Some hoop designs do not complete the circle, but penetrate through the ear in a straight post, using the same attachment techniques that apply to stud earrings. Other hoops use a straight or slightly curved bar that is attached to one end of the hoop by a hinge. This bar passes through the ear and engages in a catch located on the other end of the hoop. This style of attachment is often found on so-called "Creole" earrings. Hoops are found in a wide variety of sizes, from small hoops around 1cm in diameter up to very large styles around 15cm diameter, and can be found in a range of different thicknesses up to around 5mm diameter. In addition to plain circular tubing, hoops may have a wide arched profile forming part of a circle, similar to a capital letter "D". They may also be gem-set, either with real gemstones such as diamonds or simulated stones such as cubic zirconia.
  • Sleeper earrings - One special type of hoop earring is the sleeper earring. This is a very small continuous hoop of (typically) gold wire which essentially hugs the base of the earlobe with the ends connecting in the back. Because their small size makes them comfortable, sleepers are sometimes worn at night to keep a new ear piercing from closing.
  • Small Dangle Earrings

    A pair of small dangle earrings on "Shepherd's Hook" fittings.

    Dangle earrings - Dangle earrings are designed to hang below the bottoms of the earlobes, and are available in various lengths from a centimetre or two, all the way to brushing the shoulders. They are generally attached to the ear by the use of thin wires which go through the earlobe and hang down behind the lobe. These wires are generally known as "Shepherd's Hook" or "Fish hook" fittings. As it is relatively easy for this style of wire to be pulled out of the ear piercing, small tubular plastic retainers are sometimes used on ends of the wires to prevent loss of the earrings. A variation is the "French Hook" design, which features a spring clip on the rear of the hook that engages with the end of the wire, eliminating the need for the plastic retainers. Rarely, dangle earrings use the post attachment design. Due to the wide variety of styles that are possible with this type of earring, they are a popular choice for fashion earrings, often using cheaper materials such as plastics or natural materials including wood or feathers.
  • Chandelier Earrings3

    A pair of chandelier earrings.

    Chandelier earrings - Chandelier earrings are a variety of large dangle earring that are heavily set with gemstones such as diamonds. Many have a triangular profile, and may have lengths from the ear of up to 15cm or more. Given their size and expense, they are often worn by celebrities when attending formal events such as awards ceremonies. In 2006, they were the preferred choice of most celebrities attending that year's Academy Awards ceremony - Actress Jennifer Affleck even had her ears pierced especially to be able to wear a pair of $250,000 chandelier earrings to the ceremony. Due to their weight, most chandelier earrings attach to the ear using a post and butterfly or other friction back, although some lighter designs may use a "Shepherd's Hook" or "French Hook" wire. As a result of being worn by celebrities attending awards events, they have also become a popular form of fashion earring, normally using imitation gems in place of genuine stones.
  • Omega-back-post

    Lever-back earring.

    Lever-back earrings - Sometimes called Omega-back earrings, these are a type of large decorative earring using a post that passes through the pierced hole in the earlobe, but which is secured in place by a sprung lever similar to those used by clip-on earrings. This lever is in the shape of an inverted letter "U", or that of a Greek capital letter Omega. This style of earring is considered very easy to use, as once the post has been inserted into the hole in the earlobe, the lever is simply flicked upwards into position, holding the earring securely in place. This ease of use makes it popular with those who have less dexterous fingers. It is also popular with some designers of high-end jewelry such as Bulgari, who use it on many of their drop and chandelier earrings in place of the more common post and butterfly style.
  • Huggy earrings - Huggies are a popular style of earring where the setting actually 'hugs' your earlobe. These can come in different shapes and sizes, from hearts to rectangles. Most times, stones are channel set in huggy earrings.
  • Slave earrings - The slave earring is also called a "Bajoran earring", which became highly popular after it appeared on Star Trek - Deep Space Nine.
  • Ear Thread - Or Earthreader, Ear String, Threader, a chain that is thin enough to slip into the ear hole, and come back out, dangles. Sometimes, people add beads or other materials on to the chain, so the chain dangles with beads below the ear.
  • Ear Spikes - A type of plastic stick 1 mm in diameter and 1.5 cm long that goes into the ear piercing. It does not fall out because it is slightly bigger than the piercing. It is quite popular amongst teenage and preteen girls in Hong Kong, as most schools do not even allow stud earrings.

Body piercing jewelry used as earrings

Body piercing jewelry is often used for ear piercings, and is selected for a variety of reasons including the availability of larger gauges, better piercing techniques, and a disdain for mainstream jewelry.

  • Captive bead rings - Captive bead rings, often abbreviated as CBRs and sometimes called ball closure rings, are a style of body piercing jewelry that is an almost 360° ring with a small gap for insertion through the ear. The gap is closed with a small bead that is held in place by the ring's tension. Larger gauge ball closure rings exhibit considerable tension, and may require ring expanding pliers for insertion and removal of the bead.
  • Barbell earring

    An earring based on the design of a body-piercing barbell.

    Barbells - Barbells are composed of a thin, straight metal rod with a bead permanently fixed to one end. The other end is threaded, either externally or tapped with an internal thread, and the other bead is screwed into place after the barbell is inserted through the ear. Since the threads on externally threaded barbells tend to irritate the piercing, internal threads have become the most common variety.
  • Circular Barbells - Circular Barbells are similar to ball-closure rings, except that they have a larger gap, and have a permanently attached bead at one end, and a threaded bead at the other, like barbells. This allows for much easier insertion and removal than with ball closure rings, but at the loss of a continuous look.
  • Plugs - Earplugs are short cylindricals pieces of jewelry. Some plugs have flared ends to hold them in place, others require small elastic rubber rings ("O-rings") to keep them from falling out. They are usually used in large-gauge piercings.
  • Flesh tunnels - Flesh tunnels, also known as eyelets or Bullet Holes, are similar to plugs; however, they are hollow in the middle. Flesh tunnels are most commonly used in larger gauge piercings either because weight is a concern to the wearer or for aesthetic reasons.

Clip-on and other non-pierced earrings

Several varieties of non-pierced earrings exist.

  • Screw-back-earrings

    A pair of screw-back earrings.

    Screw-back earrings - Sometimes called Ear screws, these are the oldest type of non-pierced earring, dating from the early 20th century. They consist of a U-shaped wire loop that attaches to the earring at the front, and then passes underneath the earlobe to the rear. A small cylinder is mounted at the top of the rear portion of the wire loop, containing an internal thread, into which the "screw" is mounted. This "screw" has a threaded body ending in a small flattened end, with a larger "head" at the other end. Using the head, the "screw" can be easily turned, moving it towards the rear surface of the earlobe. To put the earring on, it is held in place on the lobe and the "screw" is turned. This traps the earlobe between the body of the earring to the front and the end of the "screw" to the rear. As they allow for exact adjustment of the pressure exerted on the earlobe, "screw-back" earrings remain a popular choice for those who find the more recent clip-on earrings too painful. They are also commonly used on high value non-pierced earrings as the chance of accidental loss is much less due to the more secure fixing when compared to clip-on types.
  • Clip-on earrings – First developed in the 1930s, clip-on earrings are currently the most common form of non-pierced earring. The clip itself is a two-part piece attached to the back of an earring, consisting of a fixed back piece and a sprung lever hinged to the back piece. The two pieces close around the earlobe, using mechanical pressure to hold the earring in place. As the spring pressure is fixed at the time of manufacture, some wearers find them uncomfortable as they can "pinch" thicker earlobes. Even those with average thickness earlobes often find clip-on earrings uncomfortable to wear for long periods due to the pressure they can exert. also, as they can be removed simply by pulling the earring down off the lobe, the chance of accidental loss is quite high, making this style less popular for very high value earrings.
  • Magnetic earrings – Magnetic earrings simulate the look of a (pierced) stud earring by attaching to the earlobe with a magnetic back that hold the earring in place on by magnetic force. Due to the strength of magnet needed to hold the earring in place, magnetic earrings can be very uncomfortable to wear for long periods as the earring slowly digs into the ear, pinching it and causing noticeable pain. Additionally, they can cause problems for wearers using telephones and other electronic equipment containing speakers that are placed close to the ear. Often, magnetic earrings are used by those considering whether or not to have their ears pierced, as they help give an accurate idea of what the wearer would look like with pierced ears.
  • Stick-on earrings – Stick-on earrings are adhesive-backed items which stick to the skin of the earlobe and simulate the look of a (pierced) stud earring. They are considered a novelty item for children too young to have their ears pierced.
  • Spring hoop earrings – Spring hoops are almost indistinguishable from standard hoop earrings and stay in place by means of spring force.
  • Ear hook earrings – A large hook like the fish hook that is big enough to hook and hang over the whole ear and dangles.
  • The hoop – A hoop threads over the ear and hangs from just inside the ear, above where ears are pierced. Mobiles or other dangles can be hung from the hoop to create a variety of styles.
  • Ear cuffs – Wrap around the outer cartilage (similar to a conch piercing) and may be chained to a lobe piercing.

Permanent earrings

Where most earrings worn in the western world are designed to be removed easily to be changed at will, earrings can also be permanent (non-removable). They were once used as a mark of slavery or ownership (e.g., see Ex.21:2–6, Deut.15:16–17). They appear today in the form of larger gauge rings which are difficult or impossible for a person to remove without assistance. Occasionally, hoop earrings are permanently installed by the use of solder,[1] though this poses some risks due to toxicity of metals used in soldering and the risk of burns from the heat involved. Besides permanent installations, locking earrings are occasionally worn by people of both genders, due to their personal symbolism or erotic value.[2]


See also


Further reading

  • van Cutsem, Anne, A World of Earrings: Africa, Asia, America, Skira, 2001. ISBN 88-8118-973-9
  • Holmes, Anita, Pierced and Pretty: The Complete Guide to Ear Piercing, Pierced Earrings, and How to Create Your Own, William Morrow and Co., 1988. ISBN 0-688-03820-4
  • Jolly, Penny Howell, "Marked Difference: Earrings and 'The Other' in Fifteenth-Century Flemish Artwork," in Encountering Medieval Textiles and Dress: Objects, Texts, Images, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, pp. 195–208. ISBN 0-312-29377-1
  • Mascetti, Daniela and Triossi, Amanda, Earrings: From Antiquity to the Present, Thames and Hudson, 1999. ISBN 0-500-28161-0
  • McNab, Nan, Body Bizarre Body Beautiful, Fireside, 2001. ISBN 0-7432-1304-1
  • Mercury, Maureen and Haworth, Steve, Pagan Fleshworks: The Alchemy of Body Modification, Park Street Press, 2000. ISBN 0-89281-809-3
  • Steinbach, Ronald D., The Fashionable Ear: A History of Ear Piercing Trends for Men and Women, Vantage Press, 1995. ISBN 0-533-11237-0
  • Vale, V., Modern Primitives, RE/Search, 1989. ISBN 0-9650469-3-1

External links