On The Square

Three Reasons I Love Victorian Earrings

By Kaitlin Shinnick, Senior Specialist, Fine Jewelry

Sep 26,2016 | 16:00 EDT

To most people the Victorian Era is known for the industrial revolution, social reform, and the Pax Britannica. For me, all those run a distant second to the Victorians greatest achievement: earring design. Victorian earrings are everything that I love about antique jewelry. Here are the three reasons why:

1. Motifs

Victorians were endlessly inventive with their design motifs. If you can think of a subject matter, I could probably find you a pair of Victorian earrings. Flora, fauna, people, places, ancient civilizations - all could be found dangling from the ears of Victorian ladies. My favorites have always been the Ancient Egyptian inspired earrings. I especially love the ones that incorporate scarab beetles. In Skinners September 27 Fine Jewelry auction is a wonderful pair (Lot 195) that has both micromosaic and gold scarabs in each earring. They are wonderfully colorful and interesting, and very typical of the Victorian design aesthetic.

Gold and Amethyst Earrings, c. 1835 (Lot 175, Estimate: $1,500-2,000) 


Egyptian Revival Gold and Micromosaic Demi-parure, c. 1865 (Lot 195, Estimate: $2,500-3,500)


2. Proportions

Sometimes when you see a pair of earrings in a jewelry case you fall in love. That is until you actually try them on. You then discover that the proportions are wrong. Earrings are kinetic sculptures for your ears and real artistry is needed to make the design work. Victorian jewelry designers understood this. A great example is this pair of Gothic Revival earrings (Lot 222). Each element works together, with no one overwhelming or being overwhelmed. The overall shape and the movement of each element create a composition that flatters the wearer.

Gold Earrings, c. 1845 (Lot 222, Estimate: $800-1,200)


3. Comfort

As beautiful as any earring is, if they hurt when you wear them they lose most of their appeal. Victorian earrings seldom have this problem. There are no clips on Victorian earrings (unless they were added later). The favorite back of the Victorian designers was the shepard’s hook, which is a curved post that goes through the ear and then hangs down to counterbalance the weight of the earring in front. Victorian earrings are also usually light weight. While their designs can be elaborate and give the appearance of heaviness, their use of delicate wirework makes them easy to wear.

Antique Gold and Pietra Dura Earrings (Lot 92, Estimate: $300-500)

Skinner has a large collection of Victorian earrings from several private collections and many from the Toledo Museum of Art’s collection in the upcoming September 27 Fine Jewelry auction. Join Skinner and find your favorite pair! View the full catalog here.