The History of the Mystery of the Mood Ring

It’s usually very easy to tell how someone is feeling. Just look at their face. Is their mask scrunched up and pushed up from the chin or stretched out at the sides? Okay, nowadays it’s a little more complicated. They say the eyes are the gateways to the soul, but there’s only so many ways to look at someone before they start wandering down and wondering what your mouth is doing. That goes doubly for people with naturally resting faces that tend to show a fixed emotional state whether they feel it or not (the dreaded RBF and droopy jowls).

If only there was some way to look at a person and tell, at a glance, how they’re feeling to ease how to interact with them and to see how Hot or Cold they are at any given time to make them more approachable. Better yet, what if it could be worn and displayed directly on their person? Something unobjectionable and inoffensive, like a piece of jewelry. A ring for example….

Mood Rings are ubiquitous with a certain very old-school trend of fashion that originated in the 70s. The psychedelic qualities of a gemstone that changed color based on how you were feeling at the moment ended up sparking a small cultural revolution of its own and the fashion statement has become so commonplace that they’re still sought after today. They make the statement: I Feel Very This Right Now.

The Groovy Era

The 1970s in America were a time of lava lamps, disco balls, bright blended colors and lots and lots of experimentation. That included jewelry, too. As fashion diversified into a much more psychedelic affair it was matched by newer and more unique variations on traditional styles. People didn’t just wear earrings, they wore big ones that dangled and swung on their own. They wore big necklaces with thick chains and stunning glittering gems. If they wore a ring it had to be as intricate and detailed as anything else.

There are two theories as to who invented Mood Rings as we know them. On was traced to the first commercial sales at Bonwit Teller, a luxury department store in New York City. The first credited inventors were Josh Reynolds and Maris Ambats in 1975, but a different claim was raised that the same technique and product were created by a man named Marvin Wernick nearly ten years before.

Crystal By Any Other Name

Mood Rings feature “gems” that are actually capsules which contain a compacted liquid crystal mixture that reacts to the heat on the finger. The more they heat up, the more the color changes, and these color changes can occur at very, very slight increments of heat which is conducted through the metal band that touches the skin. Instead of reading your mood, Mood Rings actually just read your temperature.

They’re thermometers. The technology behind them is the same as a forehead thermometer from the old days. Once liquid crystal was experiment with, scientists found that it had the ability to alter color in reaction to heat. This was because the crystalline structure of the liquid crystal gel would expand and contract, which altered the scope with which light would refract through it. When the liquid crystal shrank, the light would be constricted and show less, but the more it heated up the brighter and more vivid its colors became. This could also be influenced by the ratio of liquid crystal, the quartz or glass it was bound with and the casing that contained it.

The result is a ring that is always changing color, but with a variety of results. Once the formula was cracked, other Mood Rings would emerge that had different color schemes and more extreme variations of color between the different moods. Of course, they were never outright sold as thermometers for your finger. The trick was in the marketing: tell your mood by the color of your ring. It was like magic.

Hot and Bothered

How is a Mood Ring supposed to work? Most are sold with a color chart that indicates which color means what mood. These are often different based on the manufacturer and the method with which they bound their crystals and the materials used. Standard resting body temperature is adjusted to be a neutral base, which means anything that makes the blood run cold or extra warm will cause the color to change.

So, don’t wear them while exercising. This will pump blood and heat up the whole body, even if you’re doing a leg day or aerobic sprints. And don’t wear them outside in the winter, or else they’ll turn frigid. Most Mood Rings now are more sophisticated than the first iterations and will have a way to specifically gauge temperature only from the surface of the skin, but the environment can still alter that drastically.

So they’re more Weather Rings or ThermoRings. Why Mood? Was it really just a catchy marketing lie to make them more valuable? There is actually some science behind how it works. The way we feel does influence our body in small ways. Feeling embarrassed can cause flushing of the cheeks, which is due to a collection of blood in the small blood vessels near the face, which causes an increase in temperature. This increase will spread through the rest of the body as well.

When we change mood, we do change temperature, albeit only slightly. The sensitivity required in how mood rings read these emotional changes ends up being very precise, as the body will only change temperature internally by a few degrees before it goes into a state of shock. One example is being so scared that your blood runs cold. It’s not just an expression.

Fear and tension can restrict blood flow from the extremities like the fingers to redirect it into the core or the legs, which is what causes legs to shake when someone gets scared. It’s the body’s way of getting ready to run as fast as possible while sacrificing dexterity in the hands and heat in the face. You don’t need to grab things or make complex emotional faces when running from a tiger. That’s what our evolution has taught us.

Similarly, feeling all warm and fuzzy inside by being near someone you love is a response to the heart rate increasing to promote higher blood flow to the rest of the body as a sign that mating might occur soon. This is another hangover from our more primitive days when the body told us what to do and we fell in line and reacted. These changes are reflected in the temperature of the body which the Mood Ring reads and reflects a color corresponding to the associated mood. So everyone will know if you’re shocked with terror or getting a little too excited for your own good if you wear one. Fun, right?

An Idea, Man

There’s a big, open secret to Mood Rings: They’re not exact. It’s questionable whether they can actually tell someone’s mood. People warm up and cool down for all kinds of reasons, but it’s the Mood of the Ring that is part of its selling point. However, with how slight and subtle those temperature changes are, it leaves a lot of room for guesses.

Mood Rings are not an exact science, even though the science behind them can be more accurately measured. Even with things like FitBit or Apple Watch that can accurately measure pulse and blood pressure just from being near the blood vessels under the wrist, that same advancement has never been put into showing how people feel. Fitbits can already measure temperature. They’re one step removed from being true digital Mood Rings already.

With that in mind, certain companies have taken advantage of these new levels of precision and have made Bluetooth enabled digital Mood Rings that read reactions from the nervous system as well as temperature at and under the skin. Even so, they can be tricked, and with the introduction of wireless they can also potentially lag. It might not show you how stressed you really are, and if it did, would you like to know that?

The idea behind them isn’t concrete enough to always work or useful as a unique application. It’s a unique gimmick, a color changing ring, but that’s mostly all it is. It’s a trick of science to make a gem change color under certain exposures. Yet Mood Rings have persisted for quite a while. Even though by 1977 the fad had worn itself out and Mood Rings went back to being relegated to the corners of jewel stores as novelty items, they are referenced in popular culture and remain a sort of staple in the groovy psychedelic culture of the 70s.

Wearable Era

Mood Rings represent more than just a nerdy chemistry gimmick to sell expensive jewels. Even past the belief that they are accurate or always work, there’s still a value to them. They’re part of a style. The 70s were a bright and cheerful time. Hard times were painted over by intense, trippy visuals and people freely danced the nights away. It was the era after the Civil Rights movement where diverse new kinds of music were becoming more popular and spreading across the world. The Disco Era was about freely loving each other and that’s something that needs to start happening again.

Dressing the part of a better, happier era requires all the costume attachments. If you’re wearing bell bottoms and long hair to a stylish club you need a Mood Ring to complete the set. Style is a choice that reflects the wearer’s interest and beliefs. Dressing for the 70s also inspires a mood of the 70s, of that groovy sense of self that promotes shameless fun-having and open arm loving one another. The Hippie aesthetic is all about embracing emotions and accepting people as they come with peace and love.

Being interested in a Mood Ring reflects an interest in that bygone culture and a desire to see it return for the better. It’s a statement that you’re okay with showing people how you feel, even if it’s just a gimmick, because wearing that gimmick is living part of that culture. You’re not falling for anything, except maybe to the dance floor. Being part of a fashion fad from long ago is still a thing today. Old looks become new again unexpectedly. Mood Rings already had a resurgence in the 90s, but like any nostalgic thing, it’s just a matter of time until they get big again.

With the seemingly never-ending culture surrounding masks and mask substitutes, judging people’s emotions remains a difficult thing. Normally friendly interactions lose a lot of charm when you can hear, but not see, someone’s smile. But a Mood Ring can get around that by showing your emotional state to the world. Whether you’re happy or tense, someone will know and can approach you respectfully with a tone to match. Mood Rings won’t likely become a common thing, but that’s fine. Fashion doesn’t need to be common, it needs to stand out.

What Mood is your Ring In?

Mood Rings now are made of the same basic stuff. The techniques for creating the thermotropic liquid crystals have advanced and so have the types of casing and ring frames the stones can inhabit. There’s more variety, from common plastic novelty rings that kind of work to the fancy silver double-bands that look like real pieces of fantasy jewelry stolen right off the set of Game of Thrones. The expense tied to them is usually in what the gem holds rather than the gem itself.

While the new digital varieties still exist, the real purpose of them is to look good. In that sense, traditional jewelry and precious metals are the way to go. It’s more expensive but worth it for the fashion conscious. The appeal of a color changing centerpiece to a band of metal is still very much a selling point for many. Even without the science or the psychiatry or the spiritual backing of spiritual balance with emotional health, some people just think a color changing ring looks cool. And they’re right!

If you are looking for a new statement in jewelry, a connection to a more peaceful past, a chemistry curio in a wearable form, or just a color changing gem full of jelly, a Mood Ring will do. Wear one and check the color chart. If it works, you should see it immediately as the color changes to Happy.