Text by: Sandra Bardin

One doesn’t need to be a regular window-shopper to stop in front of a jewelry store window display. Come on now; we’re only human after all. But then, once you’ve stopped, you just can’t keep your eyes off that breath-taking ring, prominently displayed at its center and which seems to almost outshine the rest with its huge size. Aside from its ravenous beauty, it leaves absolutely no room for doubt: that can only be a cocktail ring. A ring, for those who don’t already know, that is worn on the right hand, on the finger of one’s choice (the left hand is for “promise rings” and family-related rings, such as wedding and engagement rings, graduation rings and signet rings), specifically created for its namesake: if there are cocktail dresses, why ever shouldn’t there also be a piece of jewelry to be worn at that same occasion? 

It has a deliberately lavish look, a prominent stone, broad enough to even reach beyond a finger’s width and sometimes cover two, with an elaborate, almost sculptural and often imposing setting. These are the characteristics that go into making it a super-special object, unlike any other albeit gorgeous rings, this is the one that turns any type of cocktail dress into something fantastic, while lending perfection to what is the most classic of outfits for such occasions: the little black dress. When it comes to this combination it would be best to be careful to balance it with any other jewelry accessories on the dress, adding – at the most – a broach or a string of pearls to avoid overshadowing the innate leading role played by the ring. Obviously, actresses, socialites and red-carpet habitués are not bound by this rule. Take a quick glance at reputable gossip magazines and you’ll come across Rihanna with an entire collection of cocktail rings, one on each finger of both hands, or Sarah Jessica Parker with sublime stones reaching down beyond her knuckles. Too bad about the jeans under her sequin top – but then, that’s just what showbiz and beauty is all about.

Happy Hearts Ring, Chopard

In Italy, the cocktail ring is a relatively recent trend, but elsewhere it is an essential element for any self-respecting bijoux fan and, in America, it even has a little piece of history of its own. In fact, it would appear that it actually originated there. Fashion historians say it dates back to the 1920s, a period during which the highest strata of the upper class felt practically socially obliged to show off their wealth by adorning their ladies thoroughly in jewels, as can be seen in the film adaptations of the Great Gatsby, the one produced in the ‘70s in which Daisy is played by Mia Farrow and the 2013 version with Carey Mulligan, directed by Baz Luhrmann. But it really comes to the fore during the Prohibition when jewels become synonymous with alcohol. It almost becomes a tag: when bartenders serve whisky in the middle of the afternoon in teapots and their customers are seen sipping at their drinks from dainty cups held with their pinkies mockingly raised, that flickering hand displaying a cocktail ring is much more than a way to get the waiter’s attention, it’s a symbol of freedom. In that context, the jewel’s appeal is so powerful that it persists through even very trying times: during the ’40s, in the absence of precious stones and gold due to war quotas, ingenious jewelry designers (one above all being Eisenberg) keep the tradition going at a high level by using non-precious materials like silver-plated steel, multi-faceted crystals and rhinestones. The results are so amazing that the cocktail ring with its incredibly sparkling stones (whether they may be real or fake) becomes immediately renamed the knuckle duster. This all just to give the nod to the temptress who, thanks to this accessory, can attract glances from potential admirers at her beautifully adorned hand, then steering gaze elsewhere becomes as easy as games boys play – in fact, the games girls play.

With the restrictions over in the ‘50s, the joie de vivre and Christian Dior invent the modern cocktail dress – shorter then evening wear and more elaborate than afternoon party wear. The secret is to be lavish when it comes to precious fabrics, generous necklines and flourishes, or, if dressed in somber black, brighten it up with impressive elements of jewelry. A recipe that still works with the requirements of up-to-date looks, including that with which the polite society life of a cocktail party identifies itself with, is that special ring on the hand holding a glass; its flirtatious sparkle speaks to the world through beauty and charm.

Bague Diorette, Dior

Today, this piece of jewelry tends to favor colored stones. Aside from fancy colored diamonds we see quartzes, hard stones and semiprecious stones, from opals to tiger’s eyes to moonstones to chrysoberyls and to mixed crystals and ceramics, all entirely spectacular. Of course, the cocktail ring’s inevitable voluminous effect over one’s fingers makes it incompatible with elbow-length satin gloves, but then we can live with that, wouldn’t you agree?

Translation by: Anna Farkas