These spectacular antique pearl earrings from an English estate dangle almost 2 inches below the ear and are highly dimensional. Minor variations between the two attest to hand-craftsmanship -- most likely in Spain or Portugal, known for jewels of ornately worked silver, set with colorless gems. Pieces of this type were eagerly collected by British travelers to southern Europe. It's easy to imagine these earrings as a honeymoon gift for a young bride, whose husband delighted in how the gleaming drops swayed in the Mediterranean moonlight.
Adding extra sparkle, both upper and lower domed elements of the setting are accented with pyrites (often called marcasites, which are chemically the same but too soft to use as gems). The silverwork, also lavished with beaded detail, is thick and sculptural Above, it's fashioned into leaves and the drops form flower petals framing two sizeable, lustrous pearls. The stones were represented to me as natural sea pearls and I believe them to be, since pearls weren't cultured until around 1900. They seem to be full rounds, not halves, nestling into silver cups that protrude from the back.
Probable dating of the earrings is no later than 1880, yet their condition is superb. Even the lever-back fasteners appear original. If they aren't, the earrings would have hung from wires and are even older. Pendeloque (pear-shaped) drop earrings have been with us since the late 18th century, retaining popularity throughout Victorian times, and the fully closed backs and other details of construction here are more Georgian than Victorian. The Georgian traditions did hang on longer in Spain and Portugal than elsewhere, though, so it's really impossible to be certain whether these are early or late 19th century.
With apologies to the purists among us, I broke my usual hands-off rule and gave these a light cleaning before the photographs were taken. Tarnish is returning, so the silver content is clearly high. We can't be precise about that,in the absence of markings; it would be a pity to damage the surface with test chemicals.
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