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Cocktail rings first appeared in 1920’s America during prohibition. Cocktails themselves, such as the ‘Gin Rickey’ and the ‘Monkey Gland’, were invented at the same time to dilute and mask the strong and unpleasant taste of the illegal boot leg alcohol that was available. Illicit drinking dens known as ‘Speakeasys’ sprang up all over the country, serving cocktails and liquor; usually run by gangsters, entry could only be gained using a code word. Supposedly women wore their highly visible cocktail rings to indicate to complicit bartenders that they wanted alcohol in their drink. The ‘Speakeasys’ attracted all classes, including affluent men and women who would party and drink the night away. Prohibition parties were also popular during this time.
During the ‘Roaring 20’s’ women started to gain more rights than ever before, they were able to vote, they could work outside of the home therefore earning their own money and there was a growing sense of freedom and female independence. For the first time women could drink, smoke and party just like the men did. Hair was cut short, restrictive corsets and long dresses were cast off in favour of shorter hemlines and trousers and jewellery became an emblem of this independence.
Cocktail rings are characterised by being large, over the top and usually with a colourful faceted central gemstone, such as a ruby, emerald or sapphire surrounded by smaller colourful stones or diamonds, a complete contrast to the muted tones of the Belle Epoque era where platinum, diamonds and pearls took centre stage. Originally the stones would have been set in platinum or silver-plated yellow gold as white metals were more popular in the early part of the century. Worn on the right hand so as not to be mistaken for a wedding or engagement ring and often bought by the wearer themselves these over the top, decadent rings not only displayed the decadence of the era’s style but the positive shift in female emancipation. These rings also enabled the women to flaunt their illicit behaviour, worn on the same hand that wielded the illegal cocktail it was an act of blatant defiance that was impossible to miss.
When prohibition ended in 1933 Cocktail rings continued to be popular up until the 1950’s; a resurgence of the cocktail party in this era meant the cocktail ring became even more extravagant and ornamental than those made in the 1920s. The 60’s and 70’s saw a decline in this ring style as the rise of super modern, minimalist, space age design influenced jewellery. But it wasn’t long before the cocktail ring was back in the 80’s and it continues to be incredibly popular today. Nowadays pretty much anything goes when it comes to a cocktail ring, as long as it’s big, bold and colourful you can’t go wrong, and what’s not to love about a piece of jewellery that symbolises the rights and liberties of women, cheers to that!