Journalist Tom Wolfe famously called the 1970s the “me” decade to reflect a growing preoccupation with the self, and no item from the time represents that more than the mood ring. As ’80s and ’90s babies, most of us know only of the cheaper novelty versions of the ring, usually sold at hippie-dippie tchotchke shops and flea markets, but they were once considered legitimate pieces of jewelry.
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There are conflicting origin stories swirling around out there—as is usually the case with such a distinct invention—but the majority point to Joshua Reynolds, a New York City marketing executive who is said to have first popularized the rings in 1975. Marketing them as “portable biofeedback aids,” Reynolds convinced the era’s most popular department store, Bonwit Teller, to carry the accessories. Unlike the plastic iterations we’re used to seeing, the silver version retailed for $45 while the gold went for $250.
It’s been said that jewelry designer Marvin Wernick was actually the first to invent it but failed to patent it before Reynolds picked the idea up. The story goes that Wernick got the idea while visiting a physician friend who used thermotropic tape on a child’s forehead to take her temperature. Intrigued, Wernick then supposedly went on to fill an empty glass shell with thermotropic liquid crystals that he then attached to a ring. When placed on the finger, it would then change color in line with one’s body temperature, with each color said to reflect a different mood.
But do they really work? Well, that depends entirely on your specific viewpoint. It’s not a stretch to believe that your mood correlates to your body temperature—when you are stressed, your blood temperature tends to be cooler than when you are, say, feeling passionate or happy. However, this is not consistent across the board, and other factors—like the weather or exercising—can alter the color of the ring. We prefer to think of them like astrology: fun to believe in, even if they might be a sham.
Mood rings seemed to have their heyday back in the ’70s, when Reynolds sold $1 million worth of them in only a three-month period. Famous fans of the style included Sophia Loren, Barbra Streisand, and even Muhammad Ali, who went so far as to write a poem about them. Lately, however, the rings have had a bit of a revival among the fashion set. Young brands like Olivia Kane Jewelry and Eclipse LA have both put their own, of-the-moment spin on the traditional mood ring, much to the pleasure of our younger selves. We always love to throw a little nostalgic wink into our outfits, after all, and what better way than with heightened versions of the rings we loved as kids?
Learn the proper way to decode a mood ring, below!