Believers in stealth wealth, stop reading now. Cocktail rings purportedly got their name from the Prohibition-era practice of wearing a giant, glinting ring to draw attention to your drink – and the fact that you were too fabulous to obey the law and rich enough to get hold of bootleg liquor in a fancy glass.
Today’s influencers are more likely to have their own brand of liquor to show off (Kendall Jenner’s 818 Tequila the latest launch), but we’re still seeing whopping engagement rings making the news. Warp-speed fashion brand Pretty Little Thing founder Umar Kamani just proposed to model Nada Adelle with a ring said to sport a pink diamond of more than 21 carats, while Beyonce’s engagement ring totals 24 carats.
Cocktail rings, however, are not necessarily diamonds. In fact, their large size is usually due to less valuable gemstones making up the bulk of the ring, perhaps with a halo of diamonds, if any. Cartier’s cocktail ring in rutilated quartz features a lollipop-sized dome of the semi-precious material set in 18-carat gold with diamond-set bumpers – were it a diamond of that size you’d be needing your own security detail.
Quartz, topaz, aquamarine and opal are all great options for cocktail rings, as their relatively low value to diamond makes them much more affordable options at large sizes. They’re also much more casual – which is why the Duchess of Sussex chose Princess Diana’s large aquamarine cocktail ring to wear with her wedding reception look; a more modern, dancefloor-friendly jewel to go with her sleek Stella McCartney halter dress. It was also very much not a wedding ring, but a wedding party ring. There’s a big difference.
Cocktail rings are traditionally worn on the right hand (the Duchess paid heed) – not just because the left hand is taken up with a wedding ring, but because it’s very much a symbol of independence. A right-hand ring doesn’t symbolise marriage or betrothal, and it is just as likely bought by the wearer themselves as by a significant other. Independence was an important point to make in the 1920s, when women – western women – won their right to vote and began unshackling themselves from pre-war gender traditions. Wearing a ring on the right hand might seem like the most timid form of protest to today’s young people, but back then, it was novel. It was also a time when the rise of synthetic and non-precious materials became de rigueur as jewellery. And cocktail rings today do tend to follow suit.
‘Cocktail rings are traditionally worn on the right hand – not just because the left hand is taken up with a wedding ring, but because it’s very much a symbol of independence.’
Saying that, however, I’ve recently been struck by Middle Eastern jeweller Kamyen’s block-like Queen series cocktail rings, featuring huge heart-shaped diamonds set in hefty cubes of brushed gold, and sometimes surrounded by a frame of coloured enamel. They’re unwieldy in size and shape for everyday wear, but they’ll catch every eye in the room on special occasions. Which is sort of the point of big rings: getting noticed. Picture the hedonistic characters of “The Great Gatsby” (book, film, whatever), and you envisage party-goers covered in jewellery, from headpieces and back-draping lariat necklaces to sizeable cuffs and rings galore – all part of an ensemble put together to portray wealth and status.
Today, big rings tend to look best on their own, rather than being part of a parure or set consisting of matching necklace, earrings, bracelets and rings – but they’re still very much special occasion pieces; you don’t really want to have to do anything with your hands except perhaps hold your drink while wearing them. A 10-carat, pinkish-orange topaz in a minimal gold mount may span half a finger but could absolutely be worn with jeans and a white shirt, sleeves rolled up, glass of rosé in hand. The rectangular opal in a 1930s ring has a diamond-set frame, making it a little more protected than it would be on its own (opals are notoriously fragile), but you’ll want to be sure that you’re not on dishes-duty when wearing it.
“Cocktail” rings may not require a cocktail party to come out of hiding – brunch with friends or a dinner out will do, an important meeting or any situation where you want to show off a little – but I’ll leave you with this: holding a cocktail in that hand is one sure-fire way to get your big ring noticed.
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