Cocktail rings are a fun, flashy fashion statement for the unapologetically fabulous.
When it comes to grand, colorful statement pieces, the cocktail ring is a tried-and-true way to call attention to the hand. Large ornamental rings boasting emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds are part of the repertoire at Bulgari, Cartier and the rest of the premier maisons. There were spectacular gems in the high-jewelry collections that Van Cleef & Arpels, Boucheron and Gucci unveiled last July. Gucci’s Alessandro Michele is a devotee of bold rings and featured fiery opals in his Hortus Deliciarum line. More recently, Tiffany & Co. introduced a series of rings by Paloma Picasso that frame vibrant precious gems in diamonds and gold.
Cocktail rings first appeared during the 1920s, when cocktails themselves were first invented to disguise alcohol during the Prohibition era and make bootlegged booze more palatable. Stylish, fashionable women started going to bars, intent on having a good time and often dripping in jewelry. The cocktail ring — a design generally defined as a ring with a large center stone surrounded by smaller stones — became symbolic of the era when these women flaunted their rebellious, illicit behavior. The look came back into fashion in the 1940s after the Great Depression, with women wearing lavish rings to parties, restaurants and the opera. Cocktail rings’ popularity faded in the 1970s, but they returned bigger and flashier than ever in the ’80s and have stuck around ever since.
Bling’s the thing
Unlike some other rings, cocktail rings are not steeped in pledges of love and sentimentality; they are party jewels — joyful, playful, uplifting and fun to wear.
“I love cocktail rings because they bring out the individual in a woman,” says Lebanese jeweler Nada Ghazal, whose first rings for her brand were cocktail designs that won awards in 2011 and 2012. “Each woman wears hers differently…to accentuate her personal style.”
The spirit of Italian splendor hovers over the Marina B collection, which was founded by Marina Bulgari of the famed Italian jewelry family. New York-based designer Guy Bedarida has since taken over the brand, and he considers the cocktail category an important one for the company.
“Marina loved using big, bold gemstones and diamonds for statement rings through much of her designs, and I have carried on that heritage,” he says. “Every stone has a story, and I love that these rings represent our clients — bold, strong and independent.”
The category has been core to Irene Neuwirth’s work from the beginning. “Sometimes it is the simplicity of the setting that best highlights the beauty of the gem,” reflects the Los Angeles jeweler.
However, cocktail rings are fairly new for fellow Los Angeles brand Octavia Elizabeth. They appear in its Imogen and Blossom lines and have done exceedingly well, reports founder Octavia Zamagias. “Clients love that all our rings are one of a kind; they love the rarity and conversation that ensues [from wearing] them.”
Cocktail rings don’t fall in and out of fashion with the season, remarks Renato Alagao, the brand partnerships director at Los Angeles concept store Just One Eye. The rings spark “an emotional and very individual interest,” he says. “[People] come to us for something unique and for discovery.” For this reason, he picks designs from Daniela Villegas, Bibi van der Velden, Octavia Elizabeth, Sylvie Corbelin and Marina B, declaring them “works of art from an artisanal and engineering point of view.”
Mixing up the menu
Historically, cocktail rings were big and flashy. Now, however, due to the decreasing supply and soaring prices of large gemstones, designers must be innovative. That can mean using semiprecious stones or getting creative with setting techniques.
Bedarida favors cabochon-cut tourmalines with diamond or sapphire melee around the stone and shank. Zamagias is also a fan of cabochons, particularly for rich, vibrant tanzanite and rubellite, as well as tourmalines and sapphires. “Elongated shapes like emerald cuts, ovals and radiant cuts are amazing for cocktail rings,” she states.
Neuwirth doesn’t let price points affect her creativity. “I’ve always believed in ‘the brighter, the better,’” she says, so her designs feature diamonds, turquoise, chrysoprase and opals. Ghazal’s approach is to focus initially on the sculptural volumes of her gold rings, then sprinkle them with a rainbow of pavé-set gems or an enamel pattern. This gets rid of the need for a large central stone. “Both techniques make the pieces accessible, which is a bonus,” she says.
As the festive season gets underway — and with the awards season hot on its heels — celebrity stylists are reaching out for all sorts of rings, including cocktail designs, says Zamagias. “In turn, we anticipate that our clients will start requesting these [following] award show season, [and there are even] a few notable celebrities who end up purchasing.”
The look isn’t just for big bashes, either. “They are perfect for parties and the red carpet,” says Neuwirth, “but also for everyday.”
On the rocks
One of earth’s most colorful gemstones. Its wide variety of hues — from red and pink rubellite to watermelon and green tourmaline and blue indicolite — gives ring designers plenty of scope for big, bold looks. Cabochons in these eye-catching colors are often surrounded by smaller sapphires or pavé diamonds.
White, fire, and the rarer and much sought-after black opals are popular for their vibrant plays of color. Framing them with diamonds takes the sparkle up a notch, and they are versatile enough to wear
any time of day.
A central diamond on a cocktail ring is a sizable financial commitment, but there are ways of creating the necessary volume without investing in a big stone. Irene Neuwirth clusters seven small brilliants
into a large gold flower that resembles one large diamond, while Marina B’s Triangoli Boule ring geometrically plots small triangular-cut diamonds to create a voluminous domed effect.
Tanzanite, topaz and spessartine
These semiprecious stones are common choices for cocktail rings. Topaz is on Octavia Zamagias’s list of favorites for the variety of colors and cuts it offers, and she employs these in her brand’s latest collection. Meanwhile, fiery imperial topaz and spessartine feature in Paloma Picasso’s rings for Tiffany & Co.
Using colored enamel to frame a small circle of diamonds around a central stone helps keep a cocktail ring accessibly priced. Alison Lou showcases larger rings with her signature enamel technique around the center stone, and Nada Ghazal’s sizable gold rings boast colorful enamel designs inspired by the ceilings and tiles of her native Beirut.
This is a technique rather than a gemstone, but it’s a creative way to control costs. Setting a sculptural gold cocktail ring with melee of one gem like tsavorite or diamonds, or a rainbow of sapphires in patterns, can make for a dazzling effect.
Images: Model wears a selection of cocktail rings and earrings from Nada Ghazal’s My Muse collection, featuring enamel and sapphires in 18-karat gold; Octavia Elizabeth Champagne Dome ring in 18-karat gold and diamonds. (Nada Ghazal; Octavia Elizabeth)