Here’s the latest ring thing: the perky pinky ring is nudging the cocktail knuckleduster off its prime fourth-finger, right-hand perch, and beckoning us towards the fifth finger with its provocative mix of classic and cool. This is the little ring with a big personality, a long history and a fascinating clash of attitudes and associations. Foremost, there’s its connection to royalty and nobility – the ancestral signet ring engraved with a family crest and handed down through generations, the quietly irrefutable badge of good breeding. At the other extreme, there’s the pinky’s link to gangster style, mafia swag and rapper bling – the bad-boy appropriation and subversion of this signal of wealth, establishment and power. One ring, two very different sets of tribal associations that are giving the fifth-finger ring its new edge.
This dichotomy is compelling, says Beirut-based architect and designer-jeweller Dina Kamal. “I first became interested in jewellery because of my fascination with the little-finger ring, with its remarkable contradictions and layers of meaning. From the seal or signet ring of ancient Egypt or the eccentricity of Oscar Wilde and the belle époque dandy, to the toughness of the mafia and rapper, it’s all about attitude and style.” Hers recall the audacious allure of the 1920s woman, with her new freedom, androgyny and sensuality. “The pinky ring was the must-have accessory of the glamorous women of that era; it showed both her strength and individuality,” she says. When Kamal launched her jewellery collection in 2010, it focused solely on the pinky ring – signet rings redefined and modernised through architectural lines, planes and proportions. Her classic Flat Plate (from £1,180) or Coin (from £1,470) pinky rings are smooth and tactile, in brushed matte, beautifully bevelled beige gold, and have a softened square profile and either a rectangular or coin-shaped top, in plain gold or studded with diamonds. To these she has now added the Flower collection (from £2,270), a graphic, stylised interpretation of Georgian rings, with a disc or square of black enamel referencing the hardstone signet ring, surrounded by pearls or diamonds. A recent ultra-contemporary ring is her simple open-ended gold (£1,775) or gemset (£4,935) tubular band, inspired by signet rings of antiquity. At first, she says, it was hard to get customers to understand its relevance and significance, but she’s delighted it has now become fashionable. “It’s assertive to wear a jewel loaded with meaning, function and purpose. No ring, other than an engagement or wedding band, conveys so much. But while a wedding ring is about ‘us’, a couple, the pinky ring is about ‘me’.”
Yet Cartier’s iconic Trinity ring, traditionally worn on the little finger by both men and women, carries connotations of commitment. Also known as a Russian wedding ring, its three bands (in yellow, white and rose gold) are twisted to suggest unbreakable bonds of love or friendship. The style was madly fashionable in the 1920s – Jean Cocteau always wore two on the little finger of his left hand – and has become just as popular today. There’s emotional weight too in the brand’s Toi et Moi gold band, with its duo of diamonds (one hanging as a tiny pendant), and in the talismanic Amulette ring with its slice of lapis lazuli (£2,270), onyx, malachite or pink opal. Chaumet’s ravishing new limited edition gold Escapade ring (£7,790) continues the emotional thread: its rolled and twisted ribbon, edged with diamonds, adds a touch of sensuality to the brand’s tailored look.
In her Superstellar collection, Carolina Bucci translates the signet as cigar-band rings with star motif, in white, yellow, rose or black gold, and either polished, sparkle-textured (£960) or gem-smothered. Their softly undulating modern shape is intended to mould to the little finger. Egyptian designer-jeweller Azza Fahmy includes an imposing, weighty gold signet in her limited edition collection of cocktail rings, and Fahmy’s daughter, creative director Amina, agrees that the pinky ring is becoming increasingly popular, as well as heavier and chunkier. She explains that her signet or Chevalier ring (£2,350) pays homage to its ancient Egyptian origins as a sign of authority and status, used to seal or stamp official documents. The rectangular bezel of this rich yellow gold ring, rimmed in diamonds, is inscribed with the Arabic word for “happiness” in calligraphy, a characteristic of Fahmy’s style.
When American jeweller David Yurman started noticing women buying classic men’s signet rings for themselves a few years ago, it recognised an emerging trend. In 2011, it launched a range of women’s signet pinky rings (from $6,500) that were evocative of the classic, instantly recognisable form, but softer, more fluid and curvaceous – and pavé-gemset, originally in black diamonds. It has added to the pinky-ring collection each year, from pavé versions with neon-bright Paraíba tourmalines, sapphires, rubies or diamonds in white gold (both £5,270), to yellow-gold models inset with diamond initials ($2,350) or swirled in a signature Sculpted Cable design ($1,950) – deeply engraved lines twisting around the ring. Playing up the role of nostalgia, the limited-edition Bubblegum pinky ($875) is literally infused with the scents of childhood: the opaque candy-coloured resin that flows inside the curvy silhouette is fragranced with various evocative aromas – liquorice (black), candyfloss (blue), peppermint (white), grape (purple) or bubblegum (pink).
The 1940s fashion for the pinky cocktail ring is also having a revival. When Patricia Arquette walked the red carpet at the Golden Globes last year, her only hand-candy was Bulgari’s dramatic Diva ring (£7,650), with its architectural Egyptian-esque flounces of gold and diamonds, worn unexpectedly on her little finger as a subtle statement of individuality. Less flamboyant are Bulgari’s Diva Downtown models (£1,790), which also work well as pinky rings with their smooth crossover fan motifs in mother-of-pearl and onyx. The MVSA rings (£4,160), meanwhile, centred on Bulgari’s softly chamfered Indian-inspired takhti-cut gems, add a muted flash of colour to an expressive wave of the hand.
Iconoclastic designer-jeweller Solange Azagury-Partridge always wears a knockout cocktail-style ring on her little finger; whenever I meet her I’m entranced by the way the dangling curtain-like fringes of her diamond ring seem to caress the side of her hand. “I do love wearing a pinky ring,” she says, “and I have a few different ones: the diamond Fringe, the Magic ring or the emerald Rock [£39,000]. The pinky is the least significant finger, so I think wearing a beautiful and valuable ring there has a slightly decadent and louche vibe. It makes things more fun.”
Elizabeth Gage’s monumental rings, with their air of nobility, also lend themselves perfectly to little-finger wear, as Gage herself does. “It completes the balance on the hand,” she says. She has particularly noticed a surge in the popularity of her Valois ring (£2,600, fourth from top left), which is ideal for the pinky with its thick rounded band and rectangular gemset bezel, showcasing her signature linen-effect or molten goldwork and love of coloured gems. Gage also thinks that high dome shapes make an impression when worn on the little finger, especially when set with rich cabochon stones like tourmalines and peridots. The graphic “patchwork” patterns of coloured gems on Ritz Fine Jewellery’s wide, softly sculpted Cuff rings (from £4,750) also make them popular for the little finger. Or for that uplifting pop of colour on the pinky, like a flash of lipstick, its Uni rings are in demand – gold bands topped with a dollop of hand-carved amethyst, pink opal, citrine (£4,500), chalcedony or carnelian.
The ongoing 1970s influence on fashion and jewellery can also be felt on the little finger. For an authentic but updated look, there’s Van Cleef & Arpels’ large Alhambra ring (£3,200) in malachite; the Sweet Alhambra effeuillage ring (£3,350) in rose gold, diamond and carnelian, with its dangling petal; or for something more low-key, the Perlée band of golden bobbles, now with a coloured stone – malachite, onyx, turquoise, carnelian (£1,550) or tiger’s-eye. Boucheron’s Serpent is another seminal 1970s design and has been revived and updated by popular request as Serpent Bohème. I like the look of the crossover-twist ring on the little finger, so would opt for the small, snakeskin-textured gold Serpent Bohème Toi et Moi ring (£5,350) with its diamond-set serpent heads.
There is one last element to this trend that comes from the move towards “alternative” placements of jewels, particularly on the hand. This has seen the rise of knuckle rings – and now there are knuckle rings for the pinky. Ease gently into this look with something small, slender but expressive and emotive – a stack of eternity-type rings, such as Messika’s fine-diamond Gatsby band (£1,020); a minimal Sophie Bille Brahe design, such as her fine-pearl-set Louise (€850) or Lisa (€490), or her Pleine de Lune (€1,775) with its tapering trail of diamonds; or Bee Goddess’s diamond Sword (£545), symbolising cutting through fear and inhibitions.
Indeed, the pinky ring is so loaded with significance, it’s the ideal place for a spiritually meaningful piece of jewellery; I also like the gold and black and white diamond lightning-bolt pinky ring (£2,323) by AS29, one of the designers stocked by Plukka, the clicks-and-bricks designer jewellery emporium with a newly opened London store. Plukka founder Joanne Ooi sees the new pinky knuckle ring as a natural follow-on to the narrow knuckle ring, a look the brand has championed for the past two years. “Because of its long and established history of bearing a family’s coat of arms, a pinky ring naturally becomes a personal style signifier, an extension of the wearer’s identity. Today’s broad range of interpretations and aesthetics still radiate the same aura – patrician and enduringly iconic.”