Perhaps because they're not as common as brooches, necklaces, bangles, and earrings, vintage costume jewelry rings are often overlooked. But what they lack in ubiquity they make up for in distilled, concentrated detail—their diminutive size demands no less.
The most eye-catching examples of vintage costume jewelry rings were known as cocktail rings or knuckle-dusters. Deliberately oversized, these showy baubles were meant to draw the eye to the hand, where impossibly large fake diamonds and other surrogate stones reflected and refracted the light. In the 1940s, the Chicago costume jeweler Eisenberg was famous for its cocktail rings of sterling silver (base metals were rationed during World War II) with a single, enormous faceted glass crystal at the center.
Other types of rings grouped clusters of clear or colored rhinestones onto oval or round surfaces. Jomaz, for example, made a ribbed “goldtone” ring whose centerpiece was a thick cloud of pavé rhinestones.
Panetta took a different approach, using gilt metal, to resemble gold, as a base for black enamel and rhinestones. Sometimes the shapes were geometric, other times Panetta rings resembled snakes, with glowing, fake-emerald eyes. Still others were made of parallel bands of platinum-colored metal, within which were oval cups, each holding a trio of faux amethysts.
Trifari rings, like those made by Panetta, were usually sold as part of a set. One domed ring from the 1960s was covered with pink and green glass stones, as well as rhinestones set within tiny leaves—the ring went with a matching necklace, pair of earrings, bracelet, and pin. Also in the 1960s, Kenneth Jay Lane designed a gold-plated mesh acorn ring to go with a similarly styled bangle.
Metal was not the only material favored by costume jewelry designers. Bakelite rings included examples in which bars of red Bakelite were used as inlay within silver. Bands of Bakelite were frequently laminated into solid blocks and then fashioned into rings that appeared to be capped by oval cabochons or faceted jewels. Some Bakelite rings were deeply carved to resemble ornate Art Deco-like flowers or leaves, others were more like modernist jewelry, produced in laminated, blocky, geometric shapes.
Another popular laminate, especially in the 1950s and ’60s, was Lucite, which had the solidity of Bakelite and the sparkle of crystal. Lucite rings were usually clear, but bands of radioactive color interrupted many of these pieces, marking the planes where the layers of plastic had been sandwiched together.