dinosaur gem bonesdinosaur gem bones

Jewelry Nomenclature: Gem Earrings

Earrings are available in many styles. Learn to identify the most popular types of metal and gem earrings and the parts that comprise these jewelry pieces.

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Today, people wear earrings in varied styles and in many different ways. Some opt for one earring per ear, while others like the look of multiple earrings. Some adorn both ears, while others sport earrings on just one ear. Jewelers design earrings to be worn at the bottom as well as around the top of the ear. Gem earrings, naturally, showcase gemstones as set pieces or dangles in styles ranging from simple to elaborate. In this installment of the Jewelry Nomenclature series, we'll focus on earring types and their parts.
dinosaur gem bones
22k reversible earrings with gem dinosaur bone. Jewelry and photo by Jessa and Mark Anderson. Licensed under CC By 2.0.

Types of Earrings

You can affix earrings to an ear in two ways: piercing or pressure. Post earrings are an example of piercing. Clip-ons and ear bands are examples of pressure.

Post Earrings

Post earrings consist of a thin metal rod with a decoration on one end. The metal rod, or post, goes through the pierced ear. A back is affixed to the end of the post sticking out behind the ear to keep the earring from falling out. The decorative ends of post earrings can feature gems such as pearls or other types of ornaments. Post-type gem earrings typically employ prong clasps to secure stones and groove pins to fix pearls. (The pearls are glued in place, and the cupped backs help keep them there).

Interested in this topic?

This article is also a part of our Professional Gemologist Certification Course, in the unit An Introduction to Gemology.

post earring settings

Wire Earrings

Jewelers design wire earrings to dangle from pierced ears. The curved metal wire part goes though the pierced ear and prevents slipping.

The kidney wire is a popular finding for this earring style. It holds the earring in place by threading the wire through the piercing then attaching it to a hook. French wires or shepherd's hooks are also popular because their hooked shapes keep the earrings in place.

wire earring types

Clip-On Earrings

People without pierced ears can wear clip-on or screw-on earrings. They are nearly as versatile as pierced earrings. The front can be plain or decorated. Many have loops for dangle accents. Clip-on gem earrings can feature stones in many types of designs.

Clip-ons feature hinged backs that hold the earring to the ear. These earrings can be post-style (without the post) or dangly-style. Since the clip-on backs require extra metal, clip-ons are usually heavier than pierced earrings of a similar style.

clip-on earring
St. John earring with a  clip-on back. Photo by leyla.a. Licensed under CC By-SA 2.0.

Ear Bands

Ear bands are designed to wrap around the upper shell of the ear. Jewelers make them out of metal and can adorn them with gems and designs or leave them plain.

gem earrings - ear bands

Earring Backs

Clutches or nuts hold post earrings in place. Whereas clutches work by friction, nuts screw on. Most ear backs are the same metal as the earring, but some include a soft plastic pad to hold against the ear.

gem earrings - earring backs

Ear Jackets

Ear or earring jackets fit behind stud earrings and can add more variety to your jewelry with minimal expense. Coupling an ear jacket with a post earring creates a new look without the need to purchase a new set of earrings. They can be decorative pieces of metal, stone, or a material set with more gems. These design pieces may be sold separately or in sets with one or more post earrings.

gem earrings - ear jackets

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