Remember the “right-hand ring” – the power piece that ruled the Noughties that was then eclipsed by the craze for layering and stacking skinny rings, bracelets, pendants and barely there chains? Well, the landscape is changing again. Perhaps layering-up is beginning to feel cluttered or the trend is simply running out of steam, but right now there’s a return to singular, statement pieces of jewellery – particularly the cocktail ring.
There’s a hint of old-school, groomed femininity about this bolder, solitary piece that appeals at the moment, and it’s definitely better suited to today’s heavily embellished, maximal clothes. But its re-emergence also chimes with a level of eclecticism in fashion – a juxtaposition of opposing, unexpected styles and references: the cocktail ring, one of the most individualistic and expressive of jewels – with its racy-retro resonance and 1950s Park Avenue princess hauteur – belongs in the mix.
Since its last big fashion moment some 10-15 years ago, the ring has progressed from being a complex composition of massive stones swarming with dégradé pavé work, to a classic, single precious coloured stone, to the current incarnation, which lies somewhere inbetween. Today, the born-again cocktail ring is most likely to be composed of an important, precious centre stone – or stones – “dressed” with elegance or eccentricity.
Not surprisingly, maverick designer-jeweller Solange Azagury-Partridge has opted for eccentricity, playing with the theme of layering with Poptails, a series of witty, irreverently super-sized, outrageously coloured designs. The shape of the stone, she says, is the starting point; then she loads each design with her favourite colours, pop-art motifs and signature baguettes, cabochons and faceted stones, so that “it’s all happening in one ring”. Each one is like a mini-metropolis, built with layers of gems sandwiched with bands of lacquer or ceramic plating in eye‑popping hues. These wild striations swirl around a central stone, or stones: a single hexagonal emerald on Space Station; an opal flanked by deep-pink spinels on Temple; or a large, cushion-cut emerald and princess-cut sapphire – angled and overlapping – on Squares.
Ever since she shocked the world of precious jewellery in 1999, with her enormous, sculptural Incroyables et Merveilleuses designs, Victoire de Castellane, creative director of Dior Fine Jewellery, has been the ring leader – recreating the cocktail style for each new mood, from figurative fantasies to couture-inspired compositions, in the Dear Dior and Archi Dior collections. Today’s rings, she says, can be a bridge between the layering-up idea and the standalone power ring: “Eighteen years ago, it amused me to create imposing rings, but nowadays I like to play with different volumes so women can wear the cocktail ring in a more bohemian way, mixed with smaller rings.”
In the house’s latest high-jewellery collection, Dior à Versailles, Côté Jardins, de Castellane takes a walk through André Le Nôtre’s magnificent landscaping. The rings combine the geometry and formality of the gardens at Versailles with the luxuriance of flowers, plants and groves, and decorative ornamental ponds and statues. Through paths of emeralds, fountains of diamonds and parterres of sapphire flowers, she aims to “rediscover the paradoxical juxtaposition of nature and culture”. There is a regal refinement to the multigem blossoms that grow over a Paraíba-like central tourmaline, emerald or black opal, while double-digit rings add a modern edge to the collection.
Fawaz Gruosi, the founder and creative force behind Geneva-based De Grisogono, is known for lavish cocktail parties, so it’s not surprising that the theatrical cocktail ring is his signature piece. This year, at his annual Cannes extravaganza, he unveiled his Love on the Rocks collection – the rocks being stonking white diamonds and boldly coloured gems that flood the contours of these monumental rings in unexpected and audacious combinations. The designer subverts the conventions of preciousness around the single-stone ring, setting hugely valuable gems on wide, sculpted pavé-diamond bands, dotted with tiny cabochons – in effect creating two rings in one. A pear-shaped emerald sits on a bombe of pavé emeralds with luscious rubies running through it; elsewhere, an emerald is held between the rounded ends of a loop of baguette diamonds, edged and filled with more emeralds. Gruosi has also pioneered setting two centre stones side by side, angled or one above the other – an extravagant look that has become one of the standout features of today’s cocktail rings.
In Tiffany’s beautiful Blue Book collection The Art of the Wild, which captures the unstoppable forces of nature, rings also have twin centre stones – fiery orange spessartite garnets, deep amethysts or aquamarines – enveloped in gem-set leaves or palm fronds. On Green Leaves of the Sun, a green tourmaline cabochon shelters under a canopy of tsavorite garnets and diamonds; elsewhere a glorious pink sapphire radiates out into petals of pink and white diamonds, held within an art deco-inspired rectangular frame.
Melvyn Kirtley, Tiffany’s chief gemologist and vice president of high jewellery, says that as well as the gemstones, the design components of the Blue Book rings have become increasingly important: “We can create fantasy around a beautiful gemstone, using unique settings to generate volume. There’s a painterly intricacy to these rings and their stories resonate.”
Design elements are also taking precedence at Graff, where an entire collection is devoted to showstopping cocktail rings. In a departure from the house’s tradition of designing rings around a specific stone, each centre stone in these new pieces fit the theme, whether swirls, rounded bombe shapes or stylised flowers, giving the designers far more creative freedom.
Boodles chairman Nicholas Wainwright always asks his head of design, Rebecca Hawkins, to start a suite of jewellery with the ring, after which, he says, the rest follows easily. The depth of the ring means it can be more complex and ambitious. Each set of jewels in the latest collection, The Poetry of Landscape, revolves around a cocktail ring centred on a beautiful coloured stone. The two Malham Rock rings, for example, depict wild diamond plants growing out of the cracks between limestone rocks, one an aquamarine, the other a golden heliodore.
London-based designer-jeweller Lauren Adriana also makes the most of this freedom, or “frivolity”, surrounding cocktail rings. “You can play with colour, form and especially scale, which is integral to a great cocktail ring; practicality is not an issue – and the last thing you want is for it to be small enough to double as a ‘day’ piece,” she says. “Centre stones should be mounted high, while long, thin stones should extend along the finger, all the way to the knuckle.” In her Yarn ring, Adriana spins diamond thread, in blackened gold, around a magical, rare Mahenge spinel in pulsating pink; meanwhile, in her Lagoon ring, a long, oval black opal is swathed in sapphires, Paraíba‑style tourmalines, turquoises and diamonds to accentuate its flashes of blue light.
Strong contrasts in gem colours make the cocktail ring modern, as Chopard demonstrated with two standout rings in this year’s Red Carpet collection, showcased at Cannes. In both rings, the focal point was a heart-shaped, cherry-red rubellite: one framed in grass-green tsavorites on a wide, twisting band paved in amethysts and set in purple-tinted titanium to intensify the colour shock; the other heart-framed in marquise-cut diamonds on a twisting shank of pink sapphires set in pink titanium.
Alisa Moussaieff, of Moussaieff jewellers, has always dressed exquisite gems in daring designs that flirt with classicism. Recently, she has become even bolder, she says, mixing colours and using strong contrasts to build form, texture and volume in her rings – an octagonal Colombian emerald framed in rubies, edged with a fine, scalloped line of diamonds; or a striking toi-et-moi twin-stone ring in which a pink Burmese sapphire and a Colombian emerald, both heart-shaped, twist lovingly around each other.
Moussaieff loves abundance, and will sometimes “pile” a ring with coloured sapphires or diamonds. “Recently, I incorporated natural-coloured diamonds of in-between, indefinable shades of orangey-brown or yellowish-green.” Geneva-based jewellery house and gem expert Boghossian, meanwhile, has taken a shine to a similar subtle colour scheme, using either shades of orangey-pink diamonds or, in another instance, a white diamond inlaid into a cushion of pink quartz, set in rose gold.
New designer-jeweller Nadine Aysoy, a former banker born into a family of Antwerp diamantaires, has put her own slant on the romantic toi-et-moi concept in her launch collection. Her eminently wearable, accessible jewels take a light-hearted approach to gems and pearls, and the open-fronted Elle et Lui rings balance a South Sea pearl on one side with one or two baguette-cut stones – green tourmaline or blue topaz. In a vertical version that elongates the finger, two rose pearls are centred by a pair of baguette-cut watermelon tourmalines.
The high-jewellery collections, launched in Paris in July, confirmed the return of the statement ring. The different themes were translated through sophisticated shapes and forms, enlivened with unprecedented movement and sculptural depth that was achieved with innovative gem-setting and modelling techniques. Riviera-blue sapphires were set into nautical stripes in Chanel’s marine-themed Flying Cloud collection, named after the Duke of Westminster’s yacht. Boucheron adapted its popular animal rings to the theme of Hiver Impérial, inspired by the long winters and vast snow-covered expanses of Asia: Laïka, a husky, grips a Burmese grey-blue sapphire, while Lagopus, a glinting emerald-eyed fox, curls around an icy-green tourmaline.
Van Cleef & Arpels’ Le Secret collection revealed theatrical rings with intense, coloured stones, including the transformable Séraphîta with its two alternate solitaires – a sapphire or a diamond – that slip into a ring of purple sapphires and diamonds. Buccellati also added new designs to its collection of elegant, one-of-a-kind, 1940s-influenced cocktail rings, showcasing unusual centre stones – including a lavender jade cabochon encased in the jeweller’s signature hand-wrought, engraved and pierced goldwork.
A strong celebratory mood elevated the cocktail ring’s status even more. In Bulgari’s colour-flooded Festa collection the joyous energy of Italy’s festivals and parties was conjured up in “torta”-shaped rings, the irresistible Torta al Cioccolato a confection in rose gold iced with coral and chalcedony and decorated with sapphire and emerald beads and diamonds. The Chaumet est une fête collection, meanwhile, revelled in the glamour and grandeur of aristrocratic banquets and balls. The Muzo emerald of its Pastorale Anglaise ring – adorned with multigem-set ribbons, their colours intensified with lacquer accents – was the belle of the ball, joined by Rhapsodie Transatlantique, where a Ceylon padparadscha and a violet sapphire danced among diamond-set leaves.
As Azagury-Partridge sees it, a cocktail ring should not just be beautiful; it should be “a party on your finger”. This year, as the nights get longer, there’s no shortage of baubles for lighting up the room.