The tinkle of glasses, the pop of a cork, the sparkle of Champagne and the gleam of a gemstone ring glittering on an elegant hand… If you wear vintage jewellery, you too can channel this glamorous vibe – reminiscent of the decadent parties described in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, set in the Jazz Age when cocktail rings first emerged.


What is a cocktail ring?

A cocktail ring – or ‘dress’ ring – is generally understood to be an exuberantly large, ostentatious ring, often set with a colourful precious stone in a complex design or surrounded by diamonds, but defining a cocktail ring exactly can be a bit tricky. ‘It’s a prominent feature ring, not for everyday wear, but for a glamorous evening out,’ says Burlington Arcade antique jewellery dealer Susannah Lovis. ‘It’s a fabulous statement piece of jewellery, almost a conversation piece. And while it doesn’t necessarily need to be expensive, it always has to have that ‘wow’ factor,’ she adds.

‘To me, a cocktail ring is a ring that you would wear out to enjoy yourself – a showstopper piece,’ agrees dealer Jessica Buckle, of Buckle Bow Pearl, who first had her interest piqued by an antique high-set cameo ring her grandmother gave her, which she now wears every day. ‘Antique cocktail rings are simply the best – some of them are unbelievably beautiful and they really do make you gasp,’ she enthuses.

Vintage cocktail rings
‘Larosa’ Art Deco tourmaline and diamond ring, £1,750 from Buckle Bow Pearl

When did cocktail rings become fashionable?

‘Cocktail rings first appeared in America in the 1920s during Prohibition, when cocktails disguised alcohol and made low-quality bootlegged concoctions drinkable,’ explains Matt Reeves of Gatsby Jewellery. ‘Anti-Prohibition parties were magnets for the upper-class. They were associated with socialising and illicit drinking.’

The trend for luxurious cocktail rings spread throughout Europe, too. During this era, women gained many rights and freedoms. ‘In several countries, women got the right to vote, and with these newfound rights came a new attitude,’ says Matt. ‘Hair got shorter, as did dresses, and women began to frequent cocktail parties, accompanied or alone. They could smoke, drink and have as good a time as any man could. Because of all of these factors, women wanted to show they were self-sufficient, and what better way to do so than to sport a huge, lavish ring?’

According to Susannah Lovis, in the Victorian and Georgian eras, the fashion was for large necklaces and hairpieces rather than rings. ‘Cocktail rings really became popular in the Art Deco period. Diamonds had been discovered in South Africa and platinum was affordable. This combination ensured that large stones could be set in a sufficiently dense material to accommodate them,’ she explains.

When it comes to cocktail rings, bigger is always better. ‘The brighter the ring, the more interesting the wearer was perceived to be,’ says Matt Reeves. ‘Cocktail rings continued to grow in popularity and reached their peak in the 1950s. A great economy and more conspicuous consumerism meant that people were buying houses, cars and household appliances, and alongside these materials came the necessity to entertain. So, cocktail parties had a resurgence and so did the rings. If anything, the rings were more colourful and extravagant during this period, with larger stones.’

Vintage cocktail rings
‘Maisie’ vintage citrine ring, £450. Buckle Bow Pearl

Are cocktail rings fashionable now?

Cocktail rings are still being made today and, according to the likes of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, they’re in fashion once again. The Goldsmiths’ Centre (the UK’s leading charity for the professional training of goldsmiths) recently hosted a Zoom panel discussion entitled: ‘Cocktail Rings – Go Big or Go Home!’ to celebrate ‘these glorious, glittering giants of the jewellery world.’

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As with so many collecting genres, it’s the story behind each piece that appeals to Jessica Buckle, who sources rings from specialist dealers, auctions and markets in the UK and Paris. ‘It’s fun to wonder where a ring has been and who has worn it in the past before me,’ she explains. ‘That’s why I love vintage and antique finds so much.’

Some rings have hallmarks, which let you date them exactly, but a lot of the older pieces weren’t stamped. ‘Without the date stamp, it’s hard to be exact and there’s some guesswork, but you can look for clues,’ reveals Jessica. ‘Often, you can tell the age from the style – for example, Art Deco pieces are instantly recognisable – or you can test the gold or consult a gemologist if necessary.’ Cocktail rings from the Art Deco era are Jessica’s favourites. ‘Lots of diamonds and pearls were used then. The designs are so striking with exquisite lines and angles – they’re exceptional pieces of art.’

Vintage cocktail rings
Piaget ruby and diamond cluster ring, £12,950 from Susannah Lovis

How much do vintage cocktail rings cost?

A solid-gold smoky quartz or citrine vintage cocktail ring can start from around £175 in Jessica’s online shop, while an Art Deco diamond ring can fetch up to £5,000. ‘Elsewhere, you can find cheaper vintage cocktail rings that are plated and, at the other end of the scale, you can spend thousands and thousands on antique Art Deco emerald and diamond cocktail rings in good condition.’

Age can affect value, but quality and quantity of the gemstones and precious metals is what really impacts the price – plus fashion. Susannah Lovis has sold plenty of ‘pear-shaped whoppers’ in the past, but says she has noticed a recent trend for 1980s cocktail rings. She has a fabulous vintage 1980s Piaget ruby and diamond cluster ring in stock currently, for £12,950.

When buying a vintage cocktail ring, always buy from a reputable dealer and ask if pieces are solid (as opposed to plated) and if they’re genuinely vintage. ‘There are a lot of replicas around,’ warns Jessica. ‘When you search online, lots of new jewellery is listed as ‘vintage’ and some cocktail rings may look old, but they’re sometimes ‘vintage inspired’ rather than the real deal.’ And it’s always worth asking for the best price a dealer can do – sometimes they will have a bit of leeway and you might be able to haggle.

How to care for vintage cocktail rings

Collector and dealer Sharon Tauber, of Franziska Vintage Jewels on Etsy, says that caring for cocktail rings is similar to looking after any fine jewellery, although there are some differences to be aware of. ‘You may need to check prongs more frequently with a large cocktail ring, as they may get knocked around a bit when worn,’ she points out.

Vintage cocktail rings
A beautiful selection of antique and vintage cocktail rings from Franziska Vintage Jewels

How to clean vintage cocktail rings

‘Some gemstones should not be immersed in water or cleaning fluids, or exposed to heat or ultrasonic cleaning. Antique pieces often need to be treated extra gently. If you aren’t sure about how fragile your rings are, a soft, dry cloth is the way to go.’ If a ring is sturdy with diamonds, sapphires or rubies, Sharon uses a gentle toothbrush and warm water with a mild soap and a dash of vinegar for degreasing, followed by a good rinse (being careful not to potentially lose any loose stones down the sink!) then she either air-dries it or uses a hairdryer.

Where to keep vintage cocktail rings

‘Storage of cocktail rings should be protective, so they aren’t coming into direct contact with other jewellery,’ she adds. ‘Fragile and softer stones can be easily damaged when jumbled up with other pieces. Ideally, vintage cocktail rings should not be exposed to extreme heat or moisture and they should be kept out of direct sunlight, as some stones will actually change colour when exposed to prolonged sunlight.’

How to choose a vintage cocktail ring

Sizeable, sparkly and attention-grabbing – what’s the most important feature to look for when choosing a cocktail ring? ‘You must choose a ring that reflects your style,’ advocates Sharon. As Elizabeth Taylor said: ‘Jewellery has the power to be the one little thing that makes you feel unique.’ Vintage bling can certainly make you feel special. ‘I’ve no hesitation wearing one during the day. If it makes me happy, then why not?’

Vintage cocktail rings
‘Orla’ vintage citrine ring, £450 from Buckle Bow Pearl

Where to buy vintage cocktail rings

Buckle Bow Pearl

Buckle Bow Pearl is a shop that sells vintage, antique and small boutique designer jewellery, but specialise particularly in rings. And if you're searching for something from the Art Deco era, you've come to the right place!

Visit Buckle Bow Pearl

Franziska Vintage Jewels

Franziska's Etsy store Franziska Vintage Jewels offers a special interest in beautiful rings from the Victorian, Georgian and Art Deco periods. Prices of pieces in her store range from £150 to over £5,000, so there's something for every budget and collector.

Visit Franziska Vintage Jewels

Gatsby Jewellery

As the name suggests, Gatsby Jewellery sells vintage and antique jewellery from the Art Deco period, as well as Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian pieces.

Visit Gatsby Jewellery

Susannah Lovis

Susannah Lovis stocks a vast range of beautiful Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian and Art Deco jewellery, and when it comes to cocktail rings, there's a wonderful selection of Art Deco and 1950’s rings in a variety of stones.

Visit Susannah Lovis

Victor Barboné

Whether you're searching for an authentic vintage cocktail rings or a a future family heirloom, Victor Barboné has glamorous pieces new and old.

Visit Victor Barboné

Woodbridge Antiques

Specialising in antique silverware with thoughtful wedding, anniversary and christening gifts, Woodbridge antiques also offer beautiful vintage costume and fine jewellery, often with some pretty cocktail rings from various eras.


Visit Woodbridge Antiques