With the awards season under way, from the Screen Actors Guild Awards this weekend to the Oscars on March 2, there’s a new star on the red carpet: the ear cuff. Actresses such as Rebecca Hall, Emma Watson, Diane Kruger and Jennifer Lawrence, as well as pop stars Rihanna, Miley Cyrus and Rita Ora, are embracing a way to add edge without risking the worst-dressed lists with an avant-garde gown.
Ear cuffs are making the transition from micro trend to major jewellery category. “Ear cuffs are like ‘star pieces’ – they shock and stand out and make a very bold statement,” says jewellery designer Delfina Delettrez, whose creations this season include a delicate gold and multiple pearl design (£1,350).
From dramatic armoured earpieces to subtle curves of precious metal, ear cuffs focus on the helix (the top part of the ear) as well as, or instead of, the lobe. Unlike earrings, the way to wear them is in a cluster on one side à la Sienna Miller, and certainly not in a pair: their unconventional look is less effective worn in symmetry.
“I like to adorn just one side of my face and play around with my hair on the other side,” says Delettrez. “If I wear a big pearl ear cuff on one side, I make the opposite side have a sense of lightness by wearing a simple pearl earring.”
While fashion labels such as Givenchy and Prabal Gurung offered ear cuffs on the catwalk for spring/summer, it’s largely among jewellery designers that the cuff has quietly garnered as much importance as other pieces in their collections. “It is absolutely not costume jewellery,” says designer Gaia Repossi of Italian jeweller Repossi. With a masters in archaeology and anthropology, Repossi is drawn to tribal adornments and silhouettes. She first introduced her gold-and-diamond Berbere ear cuff (£10,300) three years ago, to match her popular Berbere ring.
Net-a-Porter began to stock Repossi ear cuffs in autumn 2012 and found them to be in such demand that it now offers designs by Anita Ko, Diane Kordas and Sophie Bille Brahe. “They coincided with a return to all things punk and have been a fast-growing category in both fine and fashion jewellery,” says Net-a-Porter buying manager Sasha Sarokin.
Ryan Storer, who designs Swarovski crystal ear cuffs, is one of Net-a-Porter’s biggest sellers, alongside Maria Black, whose £90 gold-plated crescent-shaped ear cuff has also proved popular, and Vicki Sarge, whose handcrafted All That Jazz cuff sold out within days of appearing on the website. This season, Anita Ko’s 18-carat rose gold ear cuff (£350) has caught the Net-a-Porter customer’s eye.
The new ear ornament is popular among women in their mid-thirties and beyond, and across the board(room), from fashionistas to senior executives tapping into their inner rebel. Jewellery designer Sarge thinks that the ear cuff’s success is dependent on personal style and confidence. “It’s definitely more of an attitude that is ageless,” she says. Think of Jennifer Aniston and friend Gucci Westman tweeting an Instagram image of their new matching cartilage piercings in November.
Sarah Banks, who manages her composer husband’s company Brian Banks Music and is a mother of two teenage daughters, embraced the look because, for a small addition it makes a big impact. “It provokes mixed reactions,” she says of the crystal design she clips on when she is short of time. “It’s a look that’s both modern and strong, and it automatically lifts an outfit.” With hair pulled back or swept up, an ear cuff makes a striking accompaniment to a simple black dress. The bonus is that women without pierced ears can join in the fun.
Yet all this ear candy requires careful engineering to make sure it doesn’t end up falling into your cocktail or being lost on the dance floor. It is a feat of craftsmanship, according to Greek jewellery designer Nikos Koulis, who based his early ear cuffs on ancient Greek motifs such as the Akrokeramon, the ornament on top of the Parthenon’s temple columns. “I worked hard to make the cuffs light and to ensure perfect application, using a non-visible magnetic part to secure them in place,” he says. Repossi’s cuff took almost eight months and 10 trials of technical tweaking to produce a piece that fixed on comfortably.
Net-a-Porter has just unveiled its most expensive ear cuff to date. “It’s an exquisite 18-carat white gold-and-diamond piece by Ana Khouri that retails at £21,900,” says Sasha Sarokin. Definitely not something you want to lose in your Negroni.