The History of Cocktail Rings

The History of Cocktail Rings


A staple of any statement jewelry collection, is the cocktail ring. The bigger and more colorful, the better. I know that if I want to create instant evening glamour, I can slip one on my right hand and feel instantly glamorized. What I don’t know is what the origin of the cocktail ring is? Who made them popular and when? I have so many questions!! Let’s find some answers…


The Origin of Cocktail Rings
Typically when looking into the history of jewelry, the path leads you centuries back in history. This is not the case with cocktail rings. You need to go back no further than to the US during the 1920’s to learn how they came to be. During prohibition, when alcohol was banned, underground establishments, other wise known as Speakeasies (blind pigs or blind tigers were the lower class and shall we say, dive bar versions) were established. These were run illegally and provided places for men and women to drink, socialize and party. For the first time, women found themselves not only drinking and socializing in public, but being encouraged to do so.


During this era the amount of women in the workforce was increasing dramatically. This, combined with having recently been given the right the vote, allowed women a feeling of pride and new found freedom. Immense wealth was generating a new and youthful society and women of that society embraced it. They cut their hair short, abandoned restrictive corsets and long dresses in favor of shorter hemlines and trousers, and were drinking alcohol commonly for the first time. The term ‘flapper’ described this new breed of young women who cut their hair into a bob, wore make-up, smoked, drank and danced with abandon to the latest jazz music.


Because alcohol was banned, many speakeasies made their own “bathtub gin” which was strong tasting and low quality. To appeal to all of these women, “Cocktails” were created to make the drinks more palatable. Drinking cocktails such as the Mint Julep, Bee’s Knees and the Gin Ricky was as much of a status symbol as the clothing being worn. It was important that everyone noticed that you were drinking your illicit drink. What better way to draw attention to the drink in your hand while in a dimly lit speakeasy than a big sparkling ring? Thus, the cocktail ring was born.


As mostly the wealthy and elite had access to speakeasies, women enjoyed the secretive aspect of the events and would accessorize their flamboyant outfits with grandiose cocktail rings. The rings became a talisman for a woman who would “dare to wear.” The more outrageous and ostentatious the ring, the more unconventional and modern the woman was thought to be. The rings were more than about style and wealth though. These rings were often bought by women themselves and as they were worn on the right hand, became a symbol of independence and individuality.


After prohibition, the cocktail ring became the symbol of the perfect accessory for elegant social occasions in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The “Cocktail Hour” was invented in the 1950’s, giving women opportunities to wear their baubles. Hollywood stars were wearing cocktail rings to the Oscars and in photos. And women still enjoyed making the statement that they didn’t have to wait for a man to buy them a big ring for their finger. Although prohibition created the cocktail rings, the 1950’s were when cocktail rings rose to the peak of their popularity. If you were on your way out in the evening there was a cocktail ring on your right hand.


In the late 1960’s and 1970’s, cocktail rings went out of fashion, but they didn’t stay that way for long. In the 1980’s women began wearing them more often and in the late 1990’s, Carrie Bradshaw and crew brought them back as a staple of any fashionistas wardrobe where they have comfortable stayed ever since.


The Design of Cocktail Rings
In the 1920s, the most valuable cocktail rings showcased large diamonds or other precious gemstones such as emeralds and sapphires set in platinum or gold and surrounded by pave diamonds. More interesting designs used colorful gemstones such as opal, or novel and abstract shapes. Throughout the Art Deco period (1915 – 1935), beautiful and eye catching gemstone and diamond rings remained the style. However, as the period ended, so did it’s proportions and sensibilities.


During the Retro era (1935 – 1950) large and in-charge cocktail rings became fashionable after the recovery from the crash of the market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. Hollywood and all its glamour became the influence of Retro jewelry. Cocktail rings were commonly 20, 30 and 40 carats, emerald cut was the star of the era and Amethyst, Citrine and Aquamarine were popular gem choices.


By the 1950s and the start of the Modern era, gemstones began to give way to costume jewelry and many cocktail rings were now made by costume jewelry designers. And as soon as the first lady, Mamie Eisenhower, wore Trifari costume jewelry to the inaugural balls in 1953 and 1957, fake became fabulous!


How To Wear Cocktail Rings
Traditionally, cocktail rings were the “Right Hand Ring”. Women were buying their own big rings and they were a symbol of a women’s independence flashing on her right hand. Today, there are no rules for wearing cocktail rings. They are seen on both hands, stacked with wedding bands and are worn on all fingers, sometimes even all at once.


Cocktail rings are now even considered colorful and fun for daytime. Choose a lighter color during the summertime, or pick something with a deeper color if you want a more casual look that is all glamor. The key to wearing statement rings during the day is to not overdo it with the rest of your jewelry. If you’re going to wear a ring in a bold color or shape, match it with some simple earrings, or skip additional jewelry altogether.


If you’re looking for a piece to wear during the evening or for a more formal event, go for a strong statement ring. You can still choose a stone with color if you want to wear it during the evening hours, just skip the wacky designs and opt for something that’s more simplistic. Also think about contrast for example, a lovely red ring that stands out against a black dress will be both memorable and unique!


Buying a cocktail ring for someone else? First, make sure that you have that person’s correct size. After that, try and figure out whether they will be wearing the ring at night or during the daytime. You can then move onto color, picking the option that reflects the recipient’s personality the most. It’s not difficult to pick a ring for someone. In fact, a ring is probably the most versatile thing that you can buy for another person, just pick something that’s both timeless and classic.

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