Your Guide to Buying Vintage Earrings

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Your Guide to Buying Vintage Earrings

Vintage earrings are earrings that characterise an era or a particular style. As such, they are not only fashionable, but also rich in history as well. Vintage earrings can be extremely valuable when they have been preserved in excellent condition. In fact, many vintage earrings are prized by collectors who invest in  antiques for their value alone. Others buy vintage earrings for the fun of wearing a style that is decades old.

Regardless of the reasons for buying vintage earrings, savvy shoppers know about the different vintage styles from the Victorian era, to the Art Deco period, to the 'retro' style of the 1950s. Knowing about different back clasp and setting types is also an important part of appraising the value of vintage earrings. By becoming familiar with different vintage styles, earring construction, vintage earring condition, and how to buy vintage earrings on eBay, anyone can find beautiful vintage earrings for a collection easily and safely.

Vintage Earring Styles

The terms 'vintage' and 'antique' are used in various ways when talking about old jewellery. Antique jewellery is usually defined as jewellery that is more than 100 years old, while vintage items are at least 50 years old. However, 'vintage' is more commonly used to describe jewellery that is highly characteristic of a certain era. There are four important vintage styles from the first half of the 20th century, apart from the better known styles of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

Art Nouveau Period

The Art Nouveau period was a reaction against the academic art in the 1800s. Turning away from the classical and romantic styles, artists in the Art Nouveau period were inspired by natural forms and structures. Art Nouveau jewellery is typically characterised by flowing lines and curves. It had an enormous impact on every aspect of culture from architecture to jewellery. It is usually considered to have ended in around 1915, the same time Art Deco took off.

Art Deco Era

The Art Deco movement went directly opposite the Art Nouveau movement. Rejecting the nature-inspired themes of the latter, the Art Deco movement embraced technology, and returned to the basics: simple geometric shapes and bold colours. Art Deco jewellery was machine-made, in strong contrast to the earlier periods when most jewellery was still handmade by skilled artisans. For this reason, earrings from the Art Deco era are still affordable and in great condition. Archaeological findings between 1915 and 1935 inspired a new global ethnic consciousness, making African, Oriental, and Egyptian themes popular in all kinds of jewellery.

Edwardian Era

The Edwardian era was from 1901 when Queen Victoria died to 1910, when King Edward VII died. Although it was a brief period, there was a strong trend in the jewellery of the time. The Edwardian lady was delicate and feminine but luxurious, and it became common to use diamonds, emeralds, and rubies in ornate designs.


Retro jewellery was made between 1935 and 1950. Pieces from this era were flashy, colourful, and elaborate. Inspired by Hollywood, retro jewellery was usually made for cocktail parties and the liberated woman of the 40s. However, it was less opulent than past periods, because of the Great Depression, and more affordable materials like plastics were common. Semiprecious stones gained popularity during this period.

Earring Types

There are several basic earring types found in any style from any period. These are the drop earring, hoop earring, and the stud. Since different earring shapes suit different face shapes, it is a good idea to know which type is ideal for each face shape.

Drop Earrings

There are many kinds of drop earrings, from long thin dangles to shorter drops that only move a little. The longer the earring is, the more it accentuates the neck and height of the wearer. This makes long dangly earrings ideal for petite women, as well as those with round faces. Clunky drop earrings look good with heart-shaped faces (also known as the inverted triangle face shape) since they balance out the wide forehead and pointed chin.

Hoop Earrings

Hoop earrings come in every imaginable size, thickness, colour and even shape. In general, the hoops should be in proportion to the wearer's size, although big hoops on a petite woman make a bold fashion statement. Hoop earrings are a retro-style favourite that keep coming back into fashion.


Studs are generally small balls of metals or stones, mounted onto a thin wire that passes through the earlobe. They come in larger sizes, and any earring that does not dangle is a version of the basic stud.

Earring Back Types

There are at least six types of earring clasps found on vintage earrings. Knowing about each one makes it easier to identify the earring type, and check that all parts are in working order. The condition of the clasp is a factor in determining the value of a pair of vintage earrings.

Threaded Stud

The threaded stud is one of the simplest and most secure back types. It consists of a threaded earring post and a small piece with a hole which screws onto the post. This type of back has been used since the 1890s, but is not as common today. The only inconvenience is having to keep track of the tiny screw-on piece which may or may not fit other threaded stud earrings.

Fish Hook

The fish hook, also called the shepherd's crook, is a simple wire hook that is convenient and easy to put on. However, it is a little less secure than other earring back types because the only thing keeping the earring in place is gravity, and the slight curve to the tail of the wire. Fish hook backs are still common today and date back to the early 1900s.

Lever Back

The lever back has a metal finding which passes through the earlobe and a hinged lever on the other side of the earring which encloses the finding when it closes. The lever back is the most secure earring clasp for heavy valuable earrings.

Screw Back

The last two back types are intended for unpierced ears. The screw back has a screw which applies pressure to the earlobe to keep the earring in place. This type of earring back goes as far back as the late 1800s, and was even very common up through the 1950s.

Clip Back

The clip back can still be found on clip-on earrings. It uses a spring-loaded clip to gently hold the earring on the earlobe. There are many clip back designs, including a filigree clip back and an omega clip back. These styles actually help an expert date the earrings since they were used at certain times by certain designers.

Stone Settings

One of the most important things to look at when buying any jewellery with precious or semiprecious stones, is how the stones are attached to the metal. This is especially true with vintage earrings because earrings are an item that move significantly when worn, and the setting has to be checked to make sure it is as sturdy as it was when new.

Prong Setting

The prong setting is composed of small metal prongs that hold a stone in place while allowing light to shine through the sides of the stone. In the case of vintage diamond earrings, a prong setting makes for the greatest reflectivity and brilliance. However, it is one of the weaker settings since prongs can potentially bend or break, allowing the stone to fall out of the setting.

Dog Tooth Setting

A dog tooth setting is made up of numerous prongs. The look of the face of the stone with many small prongs around the edge, has aesthetic appeal to many people. It is a design used by many vintage designers.

Channel Setting

A channel setting is used when many stones are set in a row. They are placed in a groove, or channel, with edges that hold the stones in. The channel setting is very sturdy and has a unique look because the stones touch each other and have nothing else in between them.

Bar Channel

The bar channel setting is a kind of channel setting with small metal bars holding each stone in its place within the channel. The appearance of the bars between the stones gives the bar channel setting a different look from the regular channel setting.

Bezel Setting

The bezel setting is like a small metal wall around the stone, with a lip that holds the stone in. This setting allows no light to enter the stone from the side, but is very secure.


Some vintage earrings, costume jewellery in particular, require glue to hold certain stones in place. These earrings generally have the lowest design quality, and are quite common.

Evaluating the Condition of Vintage Earrings

Evaluating the condition of a pair of vintage earrings is most important if one is buying earrings as an investment, since many true vintage earrings are valuable. However, it is also important when buying a pair of vintage earrings to wear. Besides checking the clasp and the setting, one should look at the stones themselves, if there are any.

Things to Watch Out for

Discoloured or broken stones can be replaced, but any work on a vintage earring is best left to a professional. Also, check the condition of the metal prior to purchase. Any amount of green build-up indicates that the metal is damaged. This build-up, called 'verdigris', is a reaction between the copper in a metal and moisture or contaminants, which have been allowed to stay on the surface. While it can be cleaned, it always indicates that the integrity of the metal has been compromised. Earrings with verdigris on the clasp or setting should be completely avoided. 

How to Buy Vintage Earrings on eBay

Buying vintage earrings is easy on eBay because of the wide selection, low prices, and numerous search options. While internet security is a concern on most online selling sites, eBay's seller feedback system also makes it easy to find a reputable seller.

Various Search Methods on eBay

To find vintage earrings on eBay, enter the search term 'vintage earrings' in the search box on any eBay home page. Refining the search to narrow down the number of listings that show up is easily done by using the search criteria provided, like price and condition among others. Once within the correct subcategory, you can also change the keywords in the search box to search only within the appropriate subcategory.

Top-Rated Sellers on eBay

Once you find a listing you are interested in, look at all the pictures carefully. Read the entire listing and the description closely and ask the seller if you still have any questions about the item's condition. Choosing one of eBay's Top-Rated Sellers is a great way to do business only with those sellers who have a history of excellent customer service and fast shipping times.


Vintage earrings can be a valuable investment, or a simple gift from a bygone era. Art Deco earrings, Edwardian earrings, and retro earrings from the 1950s are still prized by vintage earring collectors. There are still drop earrings and studs from all of these periods, as well as hoops. When choosing vintage earrings, it is necessary to know about the different clasp types, and different stone settings that may be found on earrings.

Examining the clasp and the setting, reveals a lot about the age of the earring, apart from playing a big role in the condition of the earring. Looking for verdigris is also a major part of evaluating the value of a vintage pair of earrings. Buyers can find a wide variety of vintage earrings on eBay, the world's leading online marketplace. By taking advantage of eBay's wide selection and advanced search options, buyers always find the vintage earrings they are looking for. Regardless of whether they are a gift, a part of a collection, or an investment, vintage earrings are attractive, high-quality pieces of jewellery with a special history.

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