Cocktail rings are a little unusual in the world of jewelry, in that nobody has ever really been quite sure of their place in the hierarchy. They were, in effect, the original bling, emerging 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 cocktail rings 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 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.
Cocktail rings were – and still are – predominantly worn on the right hand, so as 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.
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 “paste”. In this case, paste is actually a type of lead glass that is very dense, and therefore has a high refractive index, going some way towards simulating the effect from real precious stones.
Even though “fake”, paste cocktail rings can still cost upwards of a thousand dollars or more, so they are not exactly something that could 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!
The popularity of cocktail rings hit its zenith in the 40s and 50s, 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.
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. Mixing and matching colors, styles and sizes is a lot of fun, so push the edges of your usual limits a little, and indulge yourself in these beauties of the jewelry world.