If you’ve ever wondered “what is a cocktail ring?”, these flamboyant rings are inextricaly linked to the US prohibition era 1920s, when speakeasy drinking dens became a magnet for socialising and illicit drinking. Cocktail rings typically feature a large centre stone, and are inherently linked to a sense of fun.
The era was a period of tremendous change, especially for women. They had increasing freedoms, not least of all the right to vote. This new found liberty was expressed in shorter hair, shorter hemlines and flapper dresses. They enjoyed smoking and frequenting speakeasys for drinks.
Cocktail rings from this period generally featured diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and some aquamarines, almost always set in platinum. It is not surprising that white gold emerged around this time as a more cost effective alternative to platinum.
Although the Art Deco period is generally associated with streamlined design, the dress code was decadent and glamorous, and the jewellery was designed to match. The bigger the better, and the more colourful the ring, the more colourful the character. They are meant to be noticed. This is statement jewellery at its best.
This hedonistic, carefree decadence came to an abrupt end at the conclusion of the decade with the arrival of the Great Depression, which lasted for most of the 1930s.
Whilst the 1920s signalled the emergence of cocktail rings, the 1950s heralded their zenith. As middle class wealth grew, more conspicuous consumerism appeared in the form of cars, home ownership and home appliances. This vast improvement in quality of life prompted a sense of pride in the home, and sparked a wave of home entertaining, which naturally included cocktail parties. The popularity of cocktail rings re-emerged and continued until a sharp decline in the 1960s.
Jewellery, like all art, is a reflection of social, economic and cultural factors, and the ostentatious, dazzle of the rings simply weren’t compatible with the lifestyle of the 60s and 70s.
However, the dramatic largesse of the 80s (think Dynasty!!) embraced all things”big”- big hair, big shoulder pads and big jewellery. So it was hardly surprising to find flamboyant, larger than life cocktail rings back in favour, where they have remained ever since.
Cocktail rings are typically worn on the ring finger of the right hand, however, it is also very popular to wear them on the index finger (of either hand). Contrary to views that this is a more modern interpretation of how to wear them, reference to art quickly abandons this myth. A fabulous Frans Hals painting: The Wedding Portrait of Isaac Massa and Beatrix van der Laen, presents the joyful couple from the 17th century, and she is wearing a ring prominently on her right index finger. It was thought at the time that a vein led directly from the index finger to the heart…
Given the abundance of sublime and striking semi-precious stones available today, with a little imagination, it is possible to create show stopping numbers without busting your bank balance.
Nowadays, most statement rings featuring a large centre stone are referred to collectively as a cocktail ring. They are generally considered occasional wear which does them a dis-service. A bold ring makes a bold statement- they are meant to attract attention. So they can be just as effective with jeans and a white linen shirt, a little black dress, or an evening gown. It just comes down to attitude, which they have in spades. If you enjoy the latitude of hi/lo dressing, then a cocktail ring should be a staple of your jewellery box. These fabulous knuckle busters should be loved and worn day and night.