Pinky rings came to prominence as far back as Mesopotamia, where men wore ones adorned with their coat of arms, family crest or monograms. These rings would get dipped in wax to be used as seals on letters and documents, functioning as a kind of signature. They were worn on the pinky finger for convenience, allowing a property-owning businessman or government official to validate their transactions on the go. One Egyptian signet in the Victoria & Albert Museum Collection dates back to 1500–1400 B.C.
In British culture, signets were gifted to a family’s eldest son on his 21st birthday as a rite of passage. They’re still worn today by European noblemen and other descendants from families with strong social status and allegiance to tradition. For example, Prince Charles wears a signet on his pinky that was previously worn on the pinky of the Prince of Wales, who went on to become King Edward VIII; it was gifted to him by the Duchess of Cornwall.
But even beyond these very practical applications, pinky rings send a message. Whereas the only “statement” transmitted when guys wear most “statement jewelry” is “I love jewelry,” pinky rings have a tradition all their own — communicating status, style, spirituality and affiliations.
And so, we spoke to men who love pinky rings about what exactly inspires them to sport a ring on their most delicate digit.
For Michael Faso, 25, a creative at the streetwear staple Undefeated, Tony Soprano’s simple pinky ring embodies everything he loves about men’s style. “In general, The Sopranos is the easiest way to describe my favorite aesthetic,” Faso says. “Tony embodies that guido, older Italian man style that I just love. I also love how Tony’s fashion is still second to his personality, which is much rarer these days.”
Like the New Jersey mob boss played by James Gandolfini, Faso wears his pinky ring every day. It’s round and onyx with a gold band. His first pinky ring was by Supreme, the legendary purveyor of New York cool, made in collaboration with Playboy; it resembles his current ring but with the signature bunny atop the onyx.
A pinky ring can embody a certain type of nostalgic virility. Simply put, pinky rings are “daddy.” Patriarchs wear them as an indicator of how alpha they are. “A lot of the time, pinky rings are seen on people who have money but who might have earned it in some questionable ways,” says Aaron Babylon, 29, a designer and stylist in L. A. Maybe this is why the GQ staff claimed that pinky rings belong in the same category as “growing one fingernail long to prove that you don’t work with your hands; i.e., you are a pimp, a drug dealer or a CFO.”
For Babylon, it was Sam “Ace” Rothstein, Robert De Niro’s mob-affiliated character in the 1995 Martin Scorsese classic Casino, who made them iconic. Ace notably doesn’t wear his signature pinky ring during the film’s big court scene, presumably to distance himself from his mafioso reputation. “I’m from West Philadelphia, from a neighborhood known as ‘The Bottom.’ We grew up fantasizing about gangster lifestyles, and I always looked up to Ace,” Babylon explains. “So when I first put a pinky ring on, I felt like him. I felt like I was the boss running the casino.”
The Rock Star
Popular American musicians across genres have long established the pinky ring as the ultimate embodiment of tough-guy flamboyance. Frank Sinatra was a longtime fan and gave one to Quincy Jones, which Jones reportedly still wears. Slick Rick, the iconic British-born rapper who went on to become the most sampled hip-hop artist of all time, sported diamond pinky rings with diamonds the size of strawberries, as did James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, and Elvis Presley, the King of Rock. In 1999, Jacob Arabo, aka Jacob the Jeweler, made musician Wyclef Jean a “platinum pinky ring the size of a dreidel.” And while rap groups including Wu-Tang Clan and UGK have songs actually called “Pinky Ring,” many other rappers have been spotted wearing one at some point or another. Foremost among them was Tupac, who was almost always pictured with a thick band around his littlest finger. And Prince? Of course he wore pinky rings. Usually diamond ones.
Everyday, on his left pinky, Babylon wears a gold ring with a silver band around it. On his right pinky sits a silver ring with a gold band around it, which he stacks with another that says GOD in Arabic, a present from a friend who brought it home from Morocco.
“I’m pretty into religious theory and spirituality, so that ring is a reminder to have some God consciousness,” Babylon says. “It’s like a filter. It makes me understand all of my actions and my accomplishments as part of a higher power and keeps my ego in check.”
The idea of a pinky ring as conduit for spiritual intelligence is supported by the ancient teachings of palmistry, in which pinky fingers are associated with intuition and communication. Placing a ring on a particular finger is said to align one’s life to that finger’s qualities. As for the topic at hand, the pinky finger supposedly relates to perfecting one’s mental processes. Likewise, the Greek God associated with the pinky finger is Mercury, who symbolizes one’s capacity for thinking and understanding, and is known as the “planet of communication and exchanges.”
“When I wear my pinky rings, I feel like I have super powers,” says Babylon. “I feel like they’re a spiritual suit of armor. I can’t leave the house without them because when I do I feel naked. They reflect who I am. The way I express myself is part of my life, and how I make my money. My rings are an extension of that.”
In the Victorian era, single men and women wore pinky rings to show their lack of interest in marriage. In America in the 1960s and 1970s, gays and lesbians began wearing pinky rings to self-identify as queer. (A lot of the Victorians who didn’t want to get married probably fell into this camp, too.)
Another less literal iteration of this is straight guys who wear pinky rings despite what potential suitors may think, subverting conservative standards of male dress, like the ones GQ imposes with not one, but two letters from the editor in which they come down hard on pinky rings as both “inappropriate” and “tacky.” Apparently, women on social media also regularly roast men who adorn themselves with pinky baubles:
Not that any of this will stop Babylon from slipping a little bling on his pinky finger. If anything, he’s found the exact opposite to be true. “I’ve heard many women say, ‘I wish more guys wore rings.’”