I’m a sucker for a unique piece of jewelry and while I ordinarily opt out of jewelry trends, the pinky ring bandwagon is one that I’m thrilled to hop on – featuring the most prized possession in my jewelry box, no less.
When my maternal grandmother passed away in 2015, I was gifted a rectangular pinky ring, horizontally embellished with two natural diamonds and a sapphire in the middle. The stones have been passed down among the women in my family for at least five generations. Featuring a vintage princess cut sapphire between two old European cut open culet diamonds set within hand-crafted filigree, its geometric, Art Deco design makes the family heirloom timeless.
My grandmother was always a planner. Before her passing, she marked the insides of jewelry boxes with fine point pens, neatly etching each of her grandchildren’s initials in a script handwriting that’s seen in most elegant ladies from another time. Quietly chic and undeniably poised, my grandmother always had a penchant for soft-spoken jewels – small and dainty, but with an impact – just like her.
As the youngest granddaughter, I wasn’t expecting much. My eldest female cousin was gifted her diamond engagement ring, so what talisman would I get to carry her legacy along with me every day?
I was given a tiny black jewelry box that had most definitely seen better days from John Coats Jewelers based in our hometown in New Jersey. Inside, sat my three-stone pinky ring. Along with the heirloom, came a letter on paper darkened with age, dated Christmas 1967.
Addressed to my grandmother, Carolyn from her mother, the note began, “This ring is a symbol of love – truly a heritage of affection spreading back over the years. Do you recognize it?” My great-great-grandmother used to wear a ring with eight diamonds and four sapphires, and her daughter wanted to break the ring up into four identical rings to disperse among the women in our family. “You know how long and with how much pride and pleasure I wore it. Now, I want my girl and someday at least four granddaughters to share that pride and pleasure,” she wrote, specifying her hopes for my grandma to pass it down to my mother, Kathleen. “I hope you enjoy wearing your share of your mother’s ring, as much as she enjoyed her mother’s. And I hope your daughter, Kate enjoys her mother’s ring as much as her mother, grandmother, and her great-grandmother did.”
Enriched with history, my pinky ring symbolizes a matriarchal bond, acting as an invisible string, tying me to five generations of women in my family. Wearing heirloom natural diamonds is akin to carrying forward your glittering legacy, with each stone as a token of love, history, and poignant memories. The pinky ring, too, signifies a devotion to your clan. Tradition, loyalty, duty, and honor are all wrapped up with the notable bauble worn on your littlest of fingers.
I find it ironic that my pinky ring has been passed down by the strong women in my family while historically, the bauble has represented the power of men. From Roman senators to British nobility and its famed appearances on mobsters as seen in The Godfather films and The Sopranos, the pinky ring has evolved into a chic and empowering little adornment as women get in on the action.
The History of Pinky Rings
In Antiquity, prominent male figures from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome were known to wear pinky rings as a symbol of wealth, power, and social standing, or to signify belief systems. In Rome, senators wore signet rings on their pinky finger to impress their seals in the hot wax for important messages and documents.
Roman naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder discussed the long-adored accessory in his first-century AD work, Naturalis Historia. Commenting on the traditions of the Roman people of the time, Pliny indicated that the pinky ring was a status symbol – implying that, while they may have owned much larger and more impressive rings, noblemen were humble enough to wear a ring on their smallest finger. Antiquity’s version of “stealth wealth” or “quiet luxury,” the pinky ring implied that they had no need to show off their treasure trove, stashed away.
By the 19th century, Queen Victoria was wearing pinky rings and passed the trend down to her sons. During this time, married men and those who did not wish for marriage wore pinky rings to send the message that they were not looking for a woman. From British aristocrats wearing their coat of arms or family crests to dandies in Edwardian times, the pinky ring remained a perennial staple throughout the ages. King Charles III has continued to champion the royal tradition.
King Charles has been known to wear his gold signet ring on his left pinky finger since the 1970s. The royal relic once belonged to his Uncle Edward, the Duke of Windsor, and is engraved with the symbol of the Prince of Wales (a title Charles held for 64 years). Now, the King has passed down the heirloom to his son, Prince William since receiving the title last September.
Pinky Rings in Pop Culture
Most recently, fans have been swooning over Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu’sEmily in Paris character, Sylvie Grateau’s myriad of bejeweled pinky rings in season 3. A show of power, no accessory could be more fitting for the French boss. Gossip Girl’s notorious bad boy Chuck Bass was known to wear a monogrammed pinky ring and memorably slips it off when he decides to remove himself from his family’s legacy.
Films and series surrounding the mafia have often exhibited a proclivity for pinky rings within organized crime. Worn in The Godfather films and 2019’s The Irishman, the pinky ring represents an affiliation to your tribe as seen on beloved mob boss Tony Soprano and his entourage in the HBO smash hit series The Sopranos.
Worn by the Rat Pack’s Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin, the pinky ring has found its niche within the music industry as well. Rappers like Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur sported the style staple. Drake launched the accessory as the ultimate flex when he sang, “I would pinky swear but my pinky ring too big,” in his 2014 track “Who Do You Love,” and again in the 2018 song “Nonstop” when he rapped “Pinky ring ‘til I get a wedding ring.”
Celebrity Pinky Rings
Sometimes added to a fistful of natural diamond rings to amp up the bling factor, and sometimes worn on its own, celebrities have always shown their love to the pinky ring.
Arguably her most iconic look to date, Rihanna paired her sheer crystal Adam Selman ensemble for the 2014 CFDA Fashion Awards with two diamond pinky rings on each gloved hand – one from Jacob & Co. and the other, from Paul Morelli.
Yet another royal with a penchant for pinky rings, Meghan Markle has made headlines for her diamond-embellished digits. At the Invictus Games last year, Markle sported the diamond 1972 Tennis Pinky Ring from Shilpa Yarlagadda’s female-founded jewelry brand Shiffon Co. The glistening wrap-around diamond pinky ring was created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the monumental equity law that banned discrimination based on gender in federally funded education programs to aid in increasing female access to sports programs in schools.
At this year’s games, the Duchess of Sussex wore her dazzling Lorraine Schwartz emerald-cut diamond pinky ring, estimated to be worth about $62,000. Previously, the Duchess adorned the ring during a September 2021 visit to the One World Observatory in New York, and most notably, on the 2021 TIME 100cover with her husband, Prince Harry.
From Naomi Campbell and Kim Kardashian to Jodie Turner-Smith, Bella Hadid, and Angela Bassett, these ladies are repurposing the pinky ring’s reputation from a menswear staple to a feminine must-have.