Earrings and ear piercings
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.
Locations for piercings other than the earlobe include the rook, tragus, and across the helix (see image at right). 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.
Statement earrings can be defined as “earrings which invite attention from others by demonstrating bold, original, and unique designs with innovative construction and material combinations”. They include one or more of the following design features:
- Bold or striking colours
The main characteristic of stud earrings is the appearance of floating on the ear or 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 ear or earlobe.
The post is held in place by a removable friction back or clutch. A stud earring features a gemstone or other ornament mounted on a narrow post that passes through a piercing in the ear or earlobe, and is held in place by a fixture on the other side. Studs commonly come in the form of solitaire diamonds.
Some stud earrings are constructed so that the post is threaded, allowing a screw back to hold the earring in place securely, which is useful in preventing the loss of expensive earrings containing precious stones, or made of precious metals.
Hoop earrings are circular or semi-circular in design and look very similar to a ring. Hoop earrings generally come in the form of a hoop of metal that can be opened to pass through the ear piercing. They are often constructed of 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 tube at the back. The entire device is held together by tension between the wire and the tube.
Other hoop designs do not complete the circle, but penetrate through the ear in a post, using the same attachment techniques that apply to stud earrings. A variation is the continuous hoop earring. In this design, the earring is constructed of a continuous piece of solid metal, which penetrates through the ear and can be rotated almost 360°. One of the ends is permanently attached to a small piece of metallic tubing or a hollow metallic bead. The other end is inserted into the tubing or bead, and is held in place by tension.
One special type of hoop earring is the sleeper earring, a circular wire normally made of gold, with a diameter of approximately one centimeter.
Hinged sleepers, which were common in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, comprise two semi-circular gold wires connected via a tiny hinge at one end, and fastened via a small clasp at the other, to form a continuous hoop whose fastening mechanism is effectively invisible to the naked eye.
Because their small size makes them unobtrusive and comfortable, and because they are normally otherwise unadorned, sleepers are so-called because they were intended to be worn at night to keep a pierced ear from closing, and were often the choice for the first set of earrings immediately following the ear piercing in the decades before ear-piercing guns using studs became commonplace, but are often a fashion choice in themselves because of their attractive simplicity and because they subtly call attention to the fact that the ear is pierced.
A drop earring attaches to the earlobe and features a gemstone or ornament that dangles down from a chain, hoop, or similar object. The length of these ornaments vary from the very short to the extravagantly long. Such earrings are occasionally known as droplet earrings, dangle earrings, or pendant earrings. They also include chandelier earrings, which branch out into elaborate, multi-level pendants.
Dangle earrings are designed to flow from the bottoms of the earlobes, and are available in various lengths from a centimeter 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 connect to themselves in a small hook at the back. A variation is the French hook design, which merely hangs from the earlobe without closure, although small plastic retainers are sometimes used on ends of French hooks. Rarely, dangle earrings use the post attachment design.
Barbell earrings get their name from their resemblance to a barbell, generally coming in the form of a metal bar with an orb on either end. One of these orbs is affixed in place, while the other can be detached to allow the barbell to be inserted into a piercing. Several variations on this basic design exist, including barbells with curves or angles in the bar of the earring.
Commonly, stones are channel set in huggy earrings.
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 onto the chain, so the chain dangles with beads below the ear.
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.
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 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.
Earplugs are short cylindrical 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, 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 earrings have existed longer than any other variety of non-pierced earrings. The clip itself is a two-part piece attached to the back of an earring. The two pieces closed around the earlobe, using mechanical pressure to hold the earring in place.
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.
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.
Spring hoop earrings
Spring hoops are almost indistinguishable from standard hoop earrings and stay in place by means of spring force. An alternative which is often used is bending a wire or even just using the ring portion of a CBR to put on the earlobe, which stays on by pinching the ear.
Ear hook earrings
A large hook like the fish hook that is big enough to hook and hang over the whole ear and dangles.
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.
Screwed onto the lobe, allow for exact adjustment—an alternative for those who find clips too painful.
Wrap around the outer cartilage (similar to a conch piercing) and may be chained to a lobe piercing.
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, 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 due to their personal symbolism or erotic value.
Pierced ears are earlobes or the cartilage portion of the external ears which have had one or more holes created in them for the wearing of earrings. The holes may be permanent or temporary. The holes become permanent when a fistula is created by scar tissue forming around the initial earring.
A variety of techniques are used to pierce ears, ranging from “do it yourself” methods using household items to medically sterile methods using specialized equipment.
A long-standing home method involves using ice as a local anesthetic, a sewing needle as a puncture instrument, a burning match and rubbing alcohol for disinfection, and a semi-soft object, such as a potato, cork, bar of soap or rubber eraser, as a push point.
Sewing thread may be drawn through the piercing and tied, as a device for keeping the piercing open during the healing process. Alternatively, a gold stud or wire earring may be directly inserted into the fresh piercing as the initial retaining device. Home methods are often unsafe and risky due to issues of improper sterilization or placement.
Another method for piercing ears, first made popular in the 1960s, was the use of sharpened spring-loaded earrings known as self-piercers, trainers, or sleepers, which gradually pushed through the earlobe. However, these could slip from their initial placement position, often resulting in more discomfort, and many times would not go all the way through the earlobe without additional pressure being applied. This method has fallen into disuse due to the popularity of faster and more successful piercing techniques.
Ear piercing instruments, sometimes called ear-piercing guns, were originally developed for physician use but with modifications became available in retail settings.
Today more and more people in the Western world have their ears pierced with an ear piercing instrument in specialty jewellery or accessory stores, or at home using disposable ear piercing instruments. An earlobe piercing performed with an ear piercing instrument is often described as feeling similar to being pinched, or being snapped by a rubber band. Piercing with this method, especially for cartilage piercings, is not recommended by many piercing professionals and physicians, as it can cause blunt force trauma to the skin, and takes far longer to heal than needle piercing. In addition, the vast majority of ear piercing instruments are made of plastic, which means they can never be truly sterilized by use of an Autoclave, increasing chance of infection exponentially. In the case of cartilage piercing, doing it with an ear piercing instrument can shatter the ear cartilage and lead to serious complications.
An alternative which is growing in practice is the use of a hollow piercing needle, as is done in body piercing. The piercer disinfects the earlobe with alcohol and puts a mark on the lobe with a pen. It gives the opportunity to the client to check whether the position is correct or not. Then, the piercer uses a clamp with flat ends and holes at the end to hold the earlobe, with the dot in the middle of the holes. This device will support the skin during the piercing process. A cork can be placed behind the earlobe to stop the movement of the needle after the piercing process, and protect the tip of the needle for the client’s comfort. Then, the piercer places the hollow needle perpendicular to the skin’s surface and check the position of the needle, to pierce at the desired place and the right angle. The piercing process consists of pushing the needle through the earlobe, until it gets out in the other side. The client has to remain still during all the process. Then, the clamp can be put off. After that, the piercer puts the jewel in the hollow needle and pushes the needle through until the jewel enters into the lobe. Then, the needle is removed and disposed properly. The jewel is attached to the lobe and the piercer disinfects the lobe again.
In tribal cultures and among some neo-primitive body piercing enthusiasts, the piercing is made using other tools, such as animal or plant organics.
Initial healing time for an earlobe piercing performed with an ear piercing instrument is typically six to eight weeks. After that time, earrings can be changed, but if the hole is left unfilled for an extended period of time, there is some risk of the piercing closing. Piercing professionals recommend wearing earrings in the newly pierced ears for at least six months, and sometimes even a full year.
Cartilage piercing will usually require more healing time than earlobe piercing, sometimes two to three times as long. After healing, earlobe piercings will shrink to smaller gauges in the prolonged absence of earrings, and in most cases will completely disappear.