What Is A Cocktail Ring?

July 22, 2021 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog

Cocktail Rings are one of the most desirable types of jewelry for genuine jewelry aficionados. They’re stylish, at times dramatic, great conversation starters, and packed with historical context. The question – of course – is what is a cocktail ring?

Keep reading to find out.

History of Cocktail Rings

Blog DYL4 Sapphire Cocktail Ring Artistic
A gorgeous sapphire cocktail ring from our collection. Learn more about this ring.

Cocktail rings are a little misplaced within the world of jewelry. They were, in effect, the original bling. They emerged during the prohibition era at the many secret (and illegal) parties that were held in towns and cities across the nation.

Women were starting to see changes in their own role in both the household and in society, and so the cocktail ring became a sort of statement of “arrival” for many.

Generally speaking, people who attended anti-prohibition parties were well-connected and wealthier than most. This meant cocktail rings were big, bold, and brassy, with a huge stone at the center and other, smaller stones comprising a halo. There were no rules on construction, design, or the array of colors used and, basically, anything went.

The popularity of cocktail rings hit its zenith in the 40s and 50s (see our vintage cocktail rings), but saw a sharp decline as attitudes and fashions changed dramatically in the 1960s. The 80s, with all its spandex, big hair, and gender-neutral motifs saw cocktail rings come back in a big way, and they have remained extremely popular ever since.

Which Hand to Wear a Cocktail Ring?

Aspen Aquamarine Cocktail Ring on Finger
An aquamarine cocktail ring with a halo of sapphire and diamonds around it. Learn more about the Aspen Ring.

Cocktail rings were – and still are – predominantly worn on the right hand, in order to provide yet more separation from engagement, wedding, eternity, or other more personal rings. They are intended for wearing during specific occasions, where the elaborate and excessive become normal for the evening and are by no means an everyday ring.

Another consideration when wearing a cocktail ring is what clothes are accompanying it. Some people try to pair their cocktail rings with the earrings or clothing that they are wearing.

A trend that is growing in popularity is to wear the cocktail ring on the index finger of the right hand.

There are some collectors who never wear their cocktail rings, but rather keep them in showcases and display them. As we said above, there are no real rules to cocktail rings.

What is a Cocktail Ring?

Emerald Gemstone Cocktail Ring
A stunning emerald cocktail ring from our collection. Learn more about this ring.

A cocktail ring is a gemstone ring, traditionally worn to dinner parties, that usually features a prominent gemstone in the center.

Although cocktail rings have always contained diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and more, the desire for less expensive cocktail rings has always been present for those not lucky enough to be able to spend thousands of dollars on a single, occasional ring. Because of this, cocktail rings using colored glass or other, cheaper materials, have been around for decades.

In TV shows, you often see someone having an expensive ring valued, only to be told it’s actually “costume”. In this case, paste is actually a type of lead glass that is very dense. Due to its density, it has a high refractive index, simulating the effect of a real precious stone.

Costume cocktail rings can still reach upwards of thousands of dollars. It is not always something that can be bought for loose change.

That being said, fine cocktail rings are a sight to behold. Designers can exercise a little more freedom in the materials and the styles they employ, and this makes for exciting combinations of colors and shapes. The lack of formal requirements means subtlety and understatement are things best left to other occasions. That doesn’t mean that the rings are gaudy or distasteful, far from it, it just means that they are a little harder to miss!

What isn’t a Cocktail Ring?

Vintage Diamond Engagement Ring with Old European Cut Diamond in the center
A diamond ring from our collection of vintage engagement rings

As mentioned above, there aren’t any real rules in place when it comes to cocktail rings. Therefore, listing what qualifies to be called a cocktail ring is very difficult. It is much easier to list what isn’t a cocktail ring.

  • If the ring doesn’t have any stones, but is just metal, it will very unlikely be called a cocktail ring. Of course, if the metal design is dramatic or large enough it may still qualify.
  • Solitaire rings that only feature a diamond in the center are called engagement rings, and are not cocktail rings.
  • If the center stone (or combinations of smaller stones) don’t take up enough real-estate on your finger it is usually not described as a cocktail ring. This isn’t a definitive rule, but just the overall terminology.

Before Buying a Cocktail Ring

Close Up View of Rare Georgian Cocktail Ring
Rare Georgian Cocktail Ring from our collection. Learn more about this ring.

Buying a cocktail ring can be a big decision. Here are a few thoughts and warnings to be aware of before buying a cocktail ring:

  • Ensure that you are only buying from a reputable seller. There are many costume rings (with synthetic or artificial stones) that look very similar to their very expensive counterparts. Make sure that you only purchase a cocktail ring from someone who is honest and also an expert who will know the difference between the two.
  • Many gold cocktail rings have a very low percentage of gold and a high percentage of nickel and other alloys. Ensure that you aren’t allergic to nickel before purchasing the low gold ring. (You don’t have to worry about this if the ring is made from platinum)
  • An appropriate occasion. Though, as mentioned before there are no rules to cocktail rings, we advise thinking of an event that you could picture yourself wearing each particular cocktail ring.
  • Ensure that all the stones are secure. Cocktail rings typically have many stones. Make sure that you shake the ring next to your ear and listen for stones that are loose. Bumping is very common with cocktail rings because they are much large and bulkier than engagement rings. If the stones aren’t secure, they will fall out.
  • If you are buying a vintage cocktail ring, make sure that your seller is an expert in vintage jewelry.

Shop Cocktail Rings

Here are some of the rare vintage cocktail rings from our collection. To view the entire collection, click here.

  • Top View Diamond and Emerald Snake Ring Zagora Ring 15123Top Side View Silver on 18k Yellow Gold Zagora Ring 15123

    Zagora Ring

  • Top View Kunzite and Platinum Engagement Ring Bethesda Ring OCT-23-14Top Side View 12.40 carats Kunzite Engagement Ring Bethesda Ring Oct-23-14

    Bethesda Ring. Circa 1920 (Antique, Art Deco Era)

  • Top View Cushion Cut Emerald Engagement Ring Wickham Ring OCT-23-21Top Side View Vintage Emerald and Diamond Ring Wickham Ring OCT23-21

    Wickham Ring

  • Top View Emerald-Cut Citrine and Diamond Ring Lorient Ring 15102Top Side View 30.08 Carat Emerald-Cut Citrine Ring Lorient Ring 15102

    Lorient Ring. Circa 1940 (Vintage, Retro Era)

  • Top VIew 12.40 Carat Emerald-Cut Natural Citrine Ring JN24-12Top Side View Citrine and Diamond Ring Franconia RIng JN 24-12

    Franconia Ring. Circa 1940 (Antique, Retro Era)

  • Top View 0.40 Carat Sapphire and Diamond Engagement Ring Westbury Ring 15064Top Side View Old European Cut Diamond Ring Westbury Ring 15064

    Westbury Ring. Circa 1900 (Antique, Edwardian Era)

  • Three Tone Gold Ruby and Diamond Ring Pikesville Ring Top ViewPikeville ring from 1970

    Pikeville Ring. Circa 1970

  • Top View Amethyst and Diamond Engagement Ring Monrovia Ring 15061Side View 22.33 Carat Amethyst Engagement Ring Monrovia Ring 15061

    Monrovia Ring. Circa 1950 (Vintage)

  • Top View Old European Cut Diamond Ring Palma Ring 14945Top Side View Edwardian Era Diamond Ring Palma Ring 14945

    Palma Ring. Circa 1900 (Antique, Edwardian Era).

  • 1.62 Carat Emerald Ring Burnaby Ring Top View

    Burnaby Ring

  • Top View Round Brilliant Cut Diamond Ring Palisades Ring 15040Top Side View Aquamarine and Diamond Ring Palisades Ring 15040

    Palisades Ring. Circa 1970’s (Vintage)

  • Top View Vintage Aquamarine Diamond RIng Monteria Ring 15039Top Side View 4.34 carat Aquamarine Halo Ring Monteria Ring 15039

    Monteria Ring. Circa 1970 (Vintage)


Final Thought

Peridot Cocktail Ring with Double Halo Artistic 13147
A beautiful peridot cocktail ring surrounded by a double halo. Learn more about this ring.

An unusual aspect of cocktail rings is that there is no restriction to wearing just one. If your wallet, and your hand, can take it, you could even wear one on every finger.

Collecting vintage cocktail rings is a fantastic idea, but only for serious collectors, and for those who can care for them properly.

Mixing and matching colors, styles, and sizes is a lot of fun. Make sure to push the edges of your usual limits a little, and indulge yourself in these beauties of the jewelry world.

Contact Us

Are you looking for a particular cocktail ring? Feel free to send us a message and one of our jewelry experts will respond to you as soon as possible.