Cocktail Rings: A Symbol of Independence

 French 1950s 18kt Yellow Gold Diamond Cocktail Ring on hand

Sparkling and flamboyant, cocktail rings came to prominence in the 1920s as a symbol of rebellion and independence for women. In urban areas, women were joining the workforce more often during the 1920s giving them their own source of income, which led to more self-sufficiency. Many women had filled jobs left vacant by men who served in World War I and they wanted to keep their jobs as well as the money and freedom that employment gave them.

Diamond, green tourmaline and platinum Art Deco cocktail ring, signed Marcus & Co.

This new working woman made many changes that were seen as radical, even dangerous, at the time. They wore loose fitting dresses that revealed their legs and they cut their hair short. They also wore make-up and loads of jewelry. Scandalously, women drove cars, smoked, drank, danced and for the first time in history women  — with the exception of actresses and prostitutes —  went to bars. These young women were known as flappers and are considered to be the first generation of independent American women.

Speakeasies and Cocktail Rings

Flappers loved to party, dress up and go out. But there was a catch and a rather big one. In October 1919 the National Prohibition Act passed, banning the production, distribution, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. In response an underground network of bars known as  “speakeasies” flourished, until the act was repealed in 1933.

Retro citrine, diamond and 18-karat gold cocktail ring, circa 1940s

To enter a speakeasy a personal contact or a secret password was necessary, but once inside, the party was roaring. Cocktails were a mainstay at speakeasies. Illegal booze tasted bad so other ingredients were added to make it go down more easily. The Tom Collins, Sidecar and Gin Rickey became popular cocktails. Women dressed up to go to speakeasies and the most important jewel that she wore to these venues was her cocktail ring. Flashy and meant to attract attention, a cocktail ring is defined as a ring with a very large center stone, often adorned with diamonds.

How to Wear a Cocktail Ring

Art Deco coral, gold and platinum cocktail ring

Cocktail rings had two purposes. One was a statement against prohibition, the other was a show of female independence. Cocktail rings let it be known that a woman had self-purchased the ring with her own money. Flappers were very specific in the way they wore a cocktail ring. It was always worn on the right hand, sometimes on the index finger, so that no one could mistake it for an engagement or wedding ring.

Some women matched the color of the stone in their ring to the color of their favorite cocktail. And when ordering a fresh drink, a flapper raised her right hand flaunting her ring for attention. Flappers also held cocktails with their right hand drawing more attention to the decadent baubles on their fingers. As the 1920s progressed, the cocktail ring was elevated to a status symbol of wealth, independence and rebellion. The opulent lifestyle of the 1920s came to a hard stop when the stock market crashed in October 1929 and the Great Depression set in for the next decade.

Cocktail Rings Are Still Stylish

Aquamarine, sapphire, diamond and platinum cocktail ring, circa 1950s.

The cocktail ring however, remained popular through the 1930s and into the 1940s when the style changed to showcasing a gem — frequently a citrine or aquamarine — in yellow or rose gold rather than platinum or white gold. During the 1950s and 1960s cocktail rings were a very popular jewel to wear when going out for a dressy occasion. The cocktail ring was still around during the 1970s, but really buzzed back into fashion in the 1980s and they’ve been going strong ever since.

Today, you can wear your cocktail ring anytime: During the day, for a special night out, or just because you want to show your independence and maybe a touch of rebellion.

Featured image (top of page): French 1950s 18kt Yellow Gold Diamond Cocktail Ring.

First: Diamond, green tourmaline and platinum Art Deco cocktail ring, signed Marcus & Co.; Second: Retro citrine, diamond and 18-karat gold cocktail ring, circa 1940s; Third: Art Deco coral, gold and platinum cocktail ring; Fourth: Aquamarine, sapphire, diamond and platinum cocktail ring, circa 1950s.

Authored by Amber Michelle