This month we're continuing our conversation about rings. And cocktail rings are up next on the menu! I love these rings because they combine two of my favorite things – jewelry and alcohol! Just kidding! Kind of…
First of all, it’s very possible you already have a cocktail ring in your jewelry box or collection. The ring is a little bit show-y, perhaps borderline ostentatious. They are sometimes called statement rings, or right hand rings. Basically, they are a larger carat size gemstone ring. And typically, without a lot of embellishments, just a big stone.
In looking through my own collection, I discovered an old blue topaz (my birthstone) ring. I remember my uncle remarked one time – “you could bring in planes with that thing.” So, like I said, they’re large! And people notice them.
They are also also usually quite affordable, since they’re typically made of more common stones. My own blue topaz ring, for example, was under $100.
A time for illicit cocktails
Come with me ….. back to one of the most exciting times in American history – the Prohibition era, roughly 1920 to 1933. I grew up hearing about my grandfather and his friends being “moonshiners.” So apparently the men were smuggling alcohol and the women were flappers.
It was the roaring 20’s. The Jazz Age. Flappers had feather boas, short, stylish haircuts, and ropes of pearls. You know, something like this:
The 1920’s certainly was this fashionable, fun time. But there was much more going on behind the scenes than you would think. Women’s lives were changing in big ways. For example, for the first time, a woman could go out in the evening without a male companion. That was a BIG deal, previously unheard of! Another big change? Women could wear make-up, and wear it in public. Again, unheard of before. Previously, only prostitutes wore make-up. Another change? Women could show their legs by wearing the now in-fashion shorter skirts. They also had short bob haircuts, and were fighting for the right to vote.
But also, great jewelry
So now that women could wear makeup and shorter skirts and go out without men, what did they do? Well, they got jobs. I know that doesn’t seem exciting, but this meant that they had disposable income. And that was exciting! And new! Women could spend money on things that they wanted for themselves! I know you and I probably take that for granted. But for these women, who had seen their mothers without this kind of freedom, it was a huge deal.
These women went to speakeasies, illegal clubs where you could smoke, drink, and dance. What better way to show off their daring ways and draw attention to their illegal liquor than a ring? A big, showy cocktail ring!
More than just a ring
The outfits women wore to go dancing, drinking, and smoking were meant to be flamboyant. They were flaunting their independence! It only makes sense that their jewelry would be equally noticeable. I mean, you were already dancing, drinking, and out without a man! The glitzier and gaudier your ring was, the better.
The cocktail ring was just one example of how dramatic the changes were for women’s fashion. Just 20 years ago, women had been wearing corsets and huge skirts. But no more! Women wanted clothes they could work in, and clothes for dancing! You know, functional clothes!
But even when clothes are wonderful and practical, women want to express themselves and show their personality. Not just with clothing, but with jewelry too.
Now that women could afford to purchase their own jewelry, a cocktail ring was a symbol of not just their own personality and independence, it usually meant they weren’t married. Wearing a big ring on your right hand that YOU purchased told the world you were an independent woman. I’ll drink to that!
Cocktail rings, like many other jewelry pieces, come in and out of fashion. After the heyday they experienced in the 20’s, they went away quietly only to reappear in the 50’s. This was the era of the glamorous housewife and her “cocktail hour” or “cocktail party.”
Then, once again, they disappeared for a few decades. When did they return? The 80’s, of course! Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten the decade of big hair and over-the-top fashion?!
Today, most jewelry designers and collections now routinely incorporate cocktail rings into their selections. It’s a smart move! Most women purchase jewelry for themselves anyway.
Do YOU need a cocktail ring?
For an excellent selection of vintage cocktail rings, head over to my friend Sophie Jane, where she has some exquisite picks.
This post has been edited and updated since it was originally published on August 7, 2015.