Cocktail Hour

August 30, 2011  |  Phyllis Schiller

RAPAPORT… Big is the byword when it comes to cocktail rings. Whether
styled around a single stone or a cluster of gems, the impact is the same —
over-the-top styling that makes a statement. The ring’s cheeky sobriquet
supposedly traces back to the days of Prohibition, in the Roaring Twenties,
when those in the know dressed up to attend secret “cocktail” parties, in
defiance of the law. During the 1940s and ’50s, cocktail parties were once
again popular — and legal — social gatherings and cocktail rings were a part of
the well-dressed woman’s jewelry attire. And while the cocktail party itself
has dimmed in popularity, cocktail rings’ fashion impact continues to shine as
brightly as ever.

Ageless Appeal

Kimberley Thompson, estate buyer, JB Hudson Jewelers, Minneapolis, Minnesota, sees the 1940s through ’60s as “the strong
period for cocktail rings — whether it’s a fabulous spray of textured gold by a
Finnish artist or a great David Webb piece that resembles a star fish or the
humor of a Paul Flato piece.” But, she adds, “today, the term covers a much
wider range than when it was originally coined. It refers less to jewelry of a
specific time period and more to large, singular statement rings in

“Cocktail rings were designed to be big, bold and fantastic,”
points out Jeff Russak, Lawrence Jeffrey Estate Jewelers, Litchfield,
Connecticut. “They can be crazy. The designers of these rings did whatever they
wanted to, but the big, filigree confections are what we often think of.”

Diana Singer, D&E Singer Inc, New York City, categorizes
cocktail rings as “splashy. They can really be a representation of your
individuality. I love a big cocktail ring on the pinky. Sometimes it can be
borderline tacky, but sometimes borderline tacky is a good thing.”

“My clients love them,” says Jessica Falvo, retailer and
principal of Chartreuse in New York City, who counts cocktail rings as “the
mainstay” of her business. “I’m talking about rings that are really big — two
inches square — that sit an inch off the finger. I have an amethyst that’s
about 300 carats — it’s crazy and fun. A lot of the rings dictate what finger
they’ll be worn on. The index finger, the pointer, is really popular.”

What’s interesting, says Camilla Dietz Bergeron, principal of
the New York City firm bearing her name, is that “the great big rings from the
late 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, which at the time were bought more by older ladies,
are now enormously popular with the young set. Young girls, who ten years ago
wouldn’t have looked at them, are now wearing them like crazy. They’ll wear
just that one ring. You can’t wear a lot of other jewelry with these big
cocktail rings. They sort of say ‘hello.’ We see very good interest in them
across the board.”

It’s resonating more as a geographic demographic, says
Singer. “People in the big cities with highly sophisticated taste are
interested in that sort of look right now. It’s a little bit edgy and it takes
a certain type of person to carry it off.”

They’re definitely back, according to Michael Magnotti,
co-owner, Weston Fine Jewelry, Bellevue, Washington, “but it’s regional. We’re
in Seattle and this is not a cocktail ring town. We sell our jewelry online and
much of it goes to Texas and Florida.”

Design Elements

“When you’re talking 1940s, ’50s, ’60s and even ’70s,” says
Russak, “the big American designers of that period —
David Webb, Tiffany, Henry Dunay — were making big rings. And
people loved them and loved to wear them.”

“I love the crazy, organic, ridiculous Italian styles of the
1970s,” says Falvo.
  “I have all
kinds: giant single stones — topaz or citrine — or clusters. The kooky ones are
usually not by the ‘name’ designers. But I have had great Arthur King rings.
And, of course, Seaman Schepps.”

They weren’t all single-gemstone rings, explains Russak. “You
see lots of
small stones and combinations of stones, like bombe rings that are scattered
with diamonds or scattered with rubies.” But the big, gem-y rings, he says, are
more prevalent. “They are the ones that have survived because they’re the most
interesting and wonderful.”

When it comes to the types of stones used, Magnotti sees the
typical cocktail ring as “a nice big emerald-cut aquamarine or other
semiprecious stone such as citrine or peridot. If you get into cocktail-size
diamonds or rubies or sapphires, it would get too expensive. If you have a
sapphire cocktail ring, it’s usually a cluster ring, whereas if you have an amethyst
cocktail ring, it’s usually one big stone.”

Bergeron says she sees lots of interest in big, domed pavé
diamond and turquoise rings from the 1960s, as well as big coral rings. Falvo
also points out turquoise and coral rings. “I love the whole 1960s Palm Beach
look. I always look for those. In terms of a big single stone, it’s usually
citrine.” Falvo also stocks a lot of cluster rings, she says, citing “a really
fun one that’s like a Maltese Cross. It’s four inches with a
kunzite in the center and clusters of tourmaline green stones.”

Singer says the large,
yellow citrine ring in a 1940s mounting
“never seems to lose its
strength. The central citrine is always emerald cut, 20 to 50 carats, and the
shoulders are set low and either are rubies or sapphires or a little sprinkling
of diamonds.”

According to Kim
Tenenbaum, sales director, Tenenbaum & Company, Houston, Texas, aquamarine
is the big seller, emerald cut and big. She also says rubellite and diamond and
green tourmaline are popular. “And we’ve sold several David Webb chunky 1980s
yellow gold and platinum and diamond rings in the past several months. We sell
a little bit of old and new, anything from 1910 to 1950s, as well as newer
designs from within the past ten years.”

Engaging Ideas

Cocktail rings with diamonds may also double as engagement
rings for those seeking a nontraditional choice. The size and scale of some of
the cocktail rings, however, says Russak, means “you cannot wear these rings on
the same finger with a wedding band. But people love them and will buy them and
actually wear them on their right hand and the wedding band on the left. As a
retailer, it opens up a whole new vista for gift giving — adding rings to wear
with the wedding band. We sold two as engagement rings recently — in the $1,500
to $2,000 range. They had lots of small diamonds: one was platinum; one was 14

Falvo also has sold two as engagement rings. “One was a white
gold from the 1950s that looked like a big canopy of diamonds, with scalloped
edges and a
sapphire on top. The other was a big Cartier aquamarine from the 1940s.”

Summing up the appeal of these rings, Falvo says, “For me,
these rings never went out of style. I love them. The fun thing about them is
people who like them will keep buying them because they’re all so


Cocktail Hour

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