Want to learn more about cocktail rings? Learn about the history, origins, styles, designs, and more in this guide.
What is a Cocktail Ring?
A cocktail ring was the original bling – bold colors and a significant presence make these rings a statement piece that is designed to be noticed. The cocktail ring is generally defined as a ring with one large center stone.
These rings were made with the intention of being seen on your hand while drinking cocktails.
The History of Cocktail Rings
Would you believe cocktail rings have their origins in alcohol prohibition? During the 1920’s, the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol was illegal in the United States. But instead of enforcing a sober nation, the result of prohibition was people doing their drinking in secret.
During prohibition, secret bars and liquor shops known as ‘speakeasy’ sprang up. People would flock to the speakeasy’s for fun and cocktails, making them a fashionable place to be seen, especially for the affluent. For the first time in US history, women started going to bars. Stylish women of the day would show up in pearl strands, diadems, stacks of bracelets, and large, flashy rings.
The cocktail ring was an act of rebellion! They were worn by wealthy women to flaunt the fact that they were illegally drinking alcohol. They were also a symbol of female independence.
Cocktail Rings as Status Symbols
The original cocktail ring was over-sized with a large diamond in the center that was often surrounded by smaller diamonds. Over time other precious gemstones were used. In the 1920’s the most valuable cocktail rings were made of platinum and showcased large diamonds, emeralds, or sapphires, surrounded by pave diamonds.
Cocktail drinks were invented as a way to mask the peculiar taste that alcohol had at the time. Women would order their drinks by raising their right hand and showing their ring.
During this period, flapper fashion was in full swing, women were smoking and cutting their hair short. Women would wear cocktail rings for a night on the town, and they quickly became a status symbol at the speakeasies.
The End of Prohibition
When prohibition ended in 1933, cocktail rings were still popular, but they moved into the private parties of the wealthy. These parties were known as dinner parties, which saw the entrance of the ‘dinner ring.’
The cocktail ring remained popular through the 1940’s and 50’s. The 1960’s saw a decline in the popularity of cocktail rings, as styles changed. Then in the 1980’s the cocktail ring saw a revival and remains a popular ring style today.
As costume jewelry grew in size during the 1950’s, so did the demand for affordable cocktail jewelry. Stones such as quartz, tourmaline, citrine, and topaz replaced precious gemstones. Micro-pave colored gems can be used to create a dramatic effect without the need for a large central gemstone.
Lucite or bakelight were combined with metal and were especially popular with the youth. Cocktail rings made of clusters of rhinestones, pearl, and colored gems are seen at this time.
Several names were used to describe the cocktail rings of the 1950’s. Bombe rings were dotted with colorful gemstones, bypass rings were oversized with huge gems, ballerina rings featured all-over sparkling gemstones, and wired rings created a nest topped by a large gemstone.
How to Wear a Cocktail Ring
Cocktail rings are traditionally worn on the right hand where they won’t be confused with wedding or engagement rings, however, nowadays they can be worn on any hand or finger. These overly flamboyant rings are intended to be worn on special occasions and aren’t considered an everyday accessory (although really, there are no rules, you do what you want!)
Stone colors can be chosen to compliment your outfit or your favorite cocktail. A pink sapphire looks stunning with a cosmopolitan, an emerald goes well with a mojito. The ring should not clash with your clothing, a solid colored ring will look best with patterned clothing, while plain clothes look great with cocktail rings that utilize multi-colored gems.
You can choose to stick to one cocktail ring or wear a few of them, the choice is up to you!
Choosing a cocktail ring is a matter of personal taste, these rings are meant to show off your personality! Choose a ring that you feel confident wearing.
This video will show you how to wear a cocktail ring
Stones Used in Cocktail Rings
The stones used in cocktail rings are made from either precious, semi-precious, or synthetic stones. Some common stones include diamond, garnet, emerald, ruby, opal, citrine, sapphire, amethyst, topaz, peridot, and pearl.
Metals Used in Cocktail Rings
Platinum is the metal of choice for original cocktail rings as this was the metal most in use for jewelry during the 1920’s. You can also find cocktail rings made of sterling silver, gold-plated nickel, and solid gold.
- Platinum is exceptionally pure and durable but is expensive. Platinum is hypo-allergenic.
- White gold looks similar to platinum but is less expensive. White gold is rhodium plated, and the plating needs to be redone every few years.
- Yellow gold flatters many skin tones but is prone to scratching.
- Rose gold is affordable and is more durable than yellow or white gold, but it is not as easy to find. It’s not a good gold if you are allergic to copper.
- Silver is a soft metal that may bend with wear. Over time it can tarnish but can be easily cleaned. Silver has a beautiful, luminous sheen that is hard to imitate.
Cocktail Ring Settings
Typically four to six metal arms hold the gemstone in place. The central gemstone can be seen from all angles and has a high profile off the finger. The prongs are prone to snagging on things, so they should be checked regularly for damage.
A bezel setting consists of a metal band wrapping around the central stone to hold it in place. A bezel setting is a safe setting for a stone, as there are no prongs to come loose, however, you won’t see the gem from as many angles. Bezel settings are costly.
A cluster setting “clusters” stones together, giving the look of a larger stone. Cocktail rings can be made into unique shapes and filled in with clusters of stones. They offer lots of sparkle and pizzaz! Keep an eye out for loose stones and get your ring cleaned regularily if you want it to last.
Pavé is French for the word, “to pave”. A pavé setting is paved with gemstones. Small stones ( no more than .01-.02 carats) are closely set together with minimal visibility of the tiny prongs or beads holding them in place. There is minimal risk of losing small stones with the pavé setting, and resizing can be difficult if there are pavé stones around the band.
A halo setting has a central stone with a “halo” of smaller gems surrounding it. The overall sparkle of the ring is increased and contrasting colored gemstones can give a unique look. This setting holds the central stone securely and complements a variety of gemstone shapes. The only downfall of the halo setting is the risk of side stone becoming loose.
What is Best Setting?
Cocktail rings don’t need to be extremely durable, because they are meant to only be worn on special occasions. But if you are someone who wants to flaunt cocktail rings as a daily accessory or you want your rings to be kept in mint condition, you may want to opt for more secure settings.
Vintage Cocktail Rings
Cocktail rings were born during the Art Deco jewelry design era.
Vintage cocktail rings utilize one-of-a-kind craftsmanship. Vintage cocktail rings will display large, vibrant gemstones rarely seen today. Hand-engraving, filigree work, and ornate curves give these rings an eclectic look. Original cocktail rings from the 1920’s – 1950’s are a stunning addition to any women’s jewelry collection.
Costume Jewelry Cocktail Rings
Many costume jewelry designers took advantage of the popularity of cocktail rings. Costume jewelry is much more affordable than fine jewelry due to the use of cheaper stones and metals. Rhinestones, glass, and enamels were the focal point, and plated metals offset the cost of the jewelry.
Costume jewelry cocktail rings are an affordable way to add some bling to your outfit!
Notable Cocktail Ring Designers
Cocktail rings were made by both fine jewelry houses as well as costume jewelry designers. Some notable names include:
- Kenneth Jay Lane
- Tiffany and Co.
- J.E Caldwell
- Bailey, Banks, and Biddle
- Mario Buccellati
- Harry Winston
- Fred Leighton
How to Buy a Cocktail Ring
I personally love collecting genuine cocktail rings that are from vintage era’s. Modern jewelry is over-produced so quality suffers and there is no uniqueness.
Many of the modern cocktail ring designs are actually replicating vintage styles because these styles are so timeless. The problem is, much modern jewelry lacks the level of quality and attention to detail that vintage jewelry possesses.
You can find vintage cocktail jewelry in various price ranges, so there is something for everyone. If you are a serious collector, you may want to opt for a rare piece or one that uses precious gems and metals. If you are just looking for something fun to wear, you can find vintage cocktail rings made of sterling silver and rhinestones or semi-precious stones.
When buying a vintage cocktail ring, you should be aware of a few things:
- Expect to see some wear, but the piece should be in good condition, with no stones missing or cracks in enamel, etc.
- Make sure the prongs are secure, and the gemstones are not loose.
- Ensure you are buying from a reputable seller. If you are buying fine jewelry make sure the ring comes with a guarantee of authenticity.
- Pay attention to the prongs, make sure they are not bent out of place.
- Find out what metals and alloys the ring is made of. If you are allergic to nickel, you will want to avoid 10k yellow gold of white cold containing nickel.
- Consider your budget before shopping, there are cocktail rings in all price ranges.
- Affordable stones include amethyst, garnet, peridot, labradorite, turquoise, and black onyx.
- Think about your comfort, bigger isn’t always better. You want the ring to be a statement piece, but keep your comfort level above style. A cocktail ring is supposed to make you feel uplifted.
Caring for a Cocktail Ring
Taking care of your fabulous cocktail ring is not difficult and will protect your investment, making sure you can enjoy your ring for years to come.
- Have the claws surrounding stones checked annually and repaired (if necessary) by a jeweler
- Have your ring professionally cleaned every 6 months
- Put your ring on after your clothes, to prevent it from getting snagged.
Cocktail rings will uplift your mood, as well as your outfit. They are a fun, flashy way to dress up any outfit or occasion. The history of the cocktail ring is something to be celebrated, as they are closely tied to women’s independence.
Buying a cocktail ring doesn’t have to be a strenuous process, don’t think too hard about the minor details. Find a ring you love and rock it!
I hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below because I love to help!