Why the cigar ring is still smoking hot
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
The cigar ring we know today owes a debt to Catherine the Great who, it is said, had her smokes silk-wrapped to avoid staining her fingers; to 19th-century English aristocrats whose white gloves suffered the same affliction; and to the German emigrant Gustav Bock, a Cuban-cigar maker whose elaborate, colourful, paper-ring labels authenticated his superior product in a sea of knock-offs. Worn by Victorian men and women, and later revived by the leading jewellery maisons – notably Cartier in the 1970s – it evolved to encapsulate a variety of wide bands, and has moved once and for all out of the fumoir and into fashion.
Recently, American jeweller Beth Hutchens’ Foundrae label lit the fire under it, with a witty, modern gold and ceramic collection that pays homage to the original labels, complete with central roundels.
Where does it fit into the ring repertoire, though? Unlike the cocktail ring, the cigar ring tends to have a smooth, flat-ish profile, so it’s versatile enough to wear from daytime right through into the small hours. And while there is still room for signet rings, this wider band, usually worn on the ring or middle finger, is less about symbolism, more about personality.
“A cigar band is confident… a bit of a peacock; it wants to be noticed,” says Californian fine jeweller Lauren Harwell Godfrey, whose work is owned by Rihanna, Kamala Harris, Blake Lively and Julianne Moore. “I think people are excited to see the heft and scale. It walks that line between masculine and feminine, and is a most excellent canvas for pattern.”
It’s also the first style Los Angeles’s Emily P Wheeler ever made. Although known for an ultra-feminine palette, she offsets this with bold shapes, including her bestselling signature cigar rings in full or half widths. “I’m drawn to substantial silhouettes, and I always appreciated the style, partly because I have really long fingers, so a cigar ring takes up the right amount of space,” she says. “But I’ve seen a real shift in demand towards oversize pieces. They have weight and presence.”
It’s about a mood too. There are references to smoke itself creeping into collections, such as Mined + Found’s Hope matchbox pendant, proffering the last match in the pack, while antique smoking accessories such as cigarette cases, cigar clippers and lighters continue to hold sway at auction.
It could be the lure of the forbidden. Or a way to experience hedonism without the harm. But for sculpture-trained designer Bibi van der Velden – who studied candles and incense to create a jewellery collection inspired by the hypnotic, fleeting nature of smoke – the interest hints at our longing for “the romance of ritual”. Her narrow, wisp-like single Smoke rings can be stacked to create a wide band – each one unique, intriguing and part of a moment.