What Is A Cocktail Ring? August 7, 2017 – Posted in: Jewelry Blog

Cocktail rings are a little misplaced within the world of jewelry. Nobody has ever really been quite sure where they belong in the jewelry hierarchy. 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.

History of Cocktail Rings

Emerald Cocktail Ring on Grass Surface

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 diamond 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 popular ever since.

How to Wear a Cocktail Ring?

A cocktail aquamarine ring on a finger on the right hand

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 the normal for the evening, and are by no means an everyday ring.

There are those who choose to wear a cocktail ring on the index finger of the right hand.

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.

There are some collectors who never wear their cocktail ring, but rather keep them in showcases and display them.

What’s in a cocktail ring?

Sapphire Ring with Diamond Halo on Brown Table Dini Berger

Sapphire Cocktail ring with diamond halo

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 several 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 reach upwards of thousand dollars, and is not exactly something that can be bought for loose change.

Good cocktail rings are spectacular to see. 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 you should Know before Buying a Cocktail Ring

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 stone) that look very similar to their very expensive counterparts. Make sure that you only purchase a cocktail ring from someone 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.

Final Thought

Sapphire Cocktail Ring on Black SurfaceAn 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.

Browse Cocktail Rings

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