Cocktail Rings Guide: What Are Cocktail Rings?

There are more rings than engagement rings, wedding bands, and other types of stacking rings. Cocktail rings are bold, yet elegant rings featuring a large center gemstone or a sizable cluster of smaller stones. They come in countless shapes and patterns, taking inspiration from nature, architecture, and even abstract art.

Cocktail rings owe their name to their place of origin, namely cocktail parties during the prohibition era. They were traditionally worn on the right hand to avoid having them confused with bridal jewelry.

While they were known for featuring bold and colorful gemstones (rubies, emeralds, and sapphires), any ring that is bold enough can be worn as a cocktail ring, even one featuring VRAI created diamonds.

What Is a Cocktail Ring?

A cocktail ring is a large and maximalist ring. The most common designs include a colorful center stone, diamond accents, and an ornate design in terms of stones and metalwork. As a style, cocktail rings were popularized in the 1920s and have consistently come back into fashion ever since. They’re opulent, elaborate, and more extravagant than engagement or wedding rings.

History of the Cocktail Ring

Cocktail rings emerged as a trend in the 1920s. It was the height of the Art Deco period, a time when women were fighting for freedom, and the American Prohibition era. There was a confluence of trends in art, architecture, and fashion, the gradual emancipation of women, and a constitutional ban on alcoholic beverages. At the center of all of this were illegal cocktail parties, where women in attendance sported the latest fashions.

Art Deco jewelry was among said trends. Bold gemstone jewelry encased in geometric and maximalist settings was seen on brooches, pendants, and other pieces of jewelry. Rings easily lent themselves to these bold, yet elegant shapes. The ornate and opulently designed rings seen at cocktail parties were subsequently dubbed cocktail rings because women would wear them on the hand they would hold their cocktail as a way to flaunt their disregard for prohibition laws. Since the cocktail ring highlighted their rebellion, it also symbolizes liberation.

Back in the 1920s and 30s, they were worn on the right hand, to mark the distinction from wedding and engagement rings. This style of rings became a standard for formal nights out in the 1940s, and remained fashionable until the 1970s, when they fell out of fashion. This period was short lived, and they returned as a mainstay in the 1980s.

What sets more contemporary cocktail rings apart from their 1920s and 30s counterparts is the materials. Larger precious gemstones have extremely limited availability, so semi-precious ones, including opal, amethyst, topaz, garnet, and more became the most common stones for cocktail rings.

What Are the Main Features of a Cocktail Ring?

Cocktail rings are, first and foremost, big and bold. They stand out from other ring styles for a number of characteristics. The main one is its size: all cocktail rings have large finger coverage. They usually come with large center stones flanked by smaller stones, or cluster designs with smaller stones that create elaborate patterns. These large stones or clusters are usually accompanied by elaborate metalwork, such as filigree and milgrain in more maximalist designs.

The stones are usually colorful, and can encompass rubies, emeralds, sapphires, aquamarines, and diamonds. They can also include semi-precious and rhinestones, such as rubellites, amethysts, peridots, and citrines.

Another defining characteristic of cocktail rings is the finger they’re usually worn on: you can usually see them on the index or middle finger. Traditionally, they were also worn on the right hand, but that is an outdated rule that hardly applies today.

Are Statement Rings and Cocktail Rings the Same?

“Statement ring” is another word for “cocktail ring.” The word statement positions these rings as statement jewelry – a type of jewelry that stands out and is usually the focal point of an outfit. Statement rings and statement jewelry play with size and intricate design to attract the viewer’s attention. Statement jewelry can also refer to elaborate costume jewelry, but, historically, cocktail rings were made of platinum and gems including diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires.

Are Ballerina Rings a Type of Cocktail Rings?

Ballerina rings are one type of cocktail ring, but not all cocktail rings are ballerina rings. Ballerina rings are cluster rings that resemble a tutu skirt seen from above. The halo of diamonds is made with Baguettes instead of round diamonds, to better simulate the flaring out of a tutu skirt. While they were first designed during the Art Deco period, their popularity as a cocktail ring started in the 1980s.

Can You Use Diamonds for Cocktail Rings?

Diamonds feature prominently in cocktail rings, but their style and setting markedly differ from what we usually associate with engagement rings, as there is rarely one big center diamond.

Rather, there is usually a biomorphic (a flower, a leaf, an insect) or an abstract (a swoosh, a twisted rope) shape made of a precious metal that is adorned with smaller diamonds or a diamond pavé pattern. Other popular diamonds in cocktail rings are Baguette diamonds, which are employed, for example, to create sunburst patterns in ballerina rings.

What’s the Best Metal for Cocktail Rings? A number of metals can accommodate a cocktail-ring design. If you want your cocktail ring to recreate its prohibition-era origins, then platinum is a natural fit. If you favor warmer-toned metals, consider the two-toned settings that have a yellow or rose-gold band but a cool-toned metal for the actual gemstone setting.

If you are on a budget, sterling silver and gold vermeil are viable alternatives. Both serve more metal-oriented and “chunkier” styles very well. They’re substantially lighter than gold and platinum, and allow you to own multiples for a much lower price point.

Should a Cocktail Ring Match the Style of My Engagement Ring?

A cocktail ring should match your personal style, as is also the case with engagement rings. So, it’s quite likely for both types of rings to share some common characteristics and to display a cogent aesthetic. If that is not the case, it’s hardly a problem. Cocktail rings were traditionally worn on the right hand, so if you feel that your engagement ring and your cocktail ring clash, just move them a few fingers apart from each other.

Can I Wear an Engagement Ring as a Cocktail Ring?

More maximalist engagement-ring styles can absolutely double as cocktail rings, especially when they display a multi-stone setting where the center diamond is only one of its many attractions. If you want a cocktail ring featuring VRAI created diamonds, consider styles such as The Signature Floral, with its foliage-like motif. There is also the Three Stone Halo, which combines a three-stone setting with the brilliance-enhancing halo. Another cocktail ring-like style is a Toi et Moi ring, which actually recently came back in vogue first as a fashion ring, and then as an engagement ring. For men, the classic Signet Ring works well as a cocktail ring.

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