A series of experiments that examine the initial development of an axisymmetric gravity current have been carried out. The experiments highlight the growth of a ring vortex that dominates the dynamics of the gravity current's early time propagation. In particular, the experiments show three distinct stages of early time development that have previously been described as the "initial phase" of a gravity current. The first phase of the early time development is dependent on the fractional depth of the lock release, followed by a secondary phase wherein the frontal speed is approximately constant and a third phase of reducing speed. The second phase of the gravity current's propagation comes to an abrupt end with the breakdown of the ring vortex at a clearly defined position. All of the experimental results show the development of a complex flow field where the generation and collapse of a ring vortex dominate the gravity current's early time propagation. The complexity of the flow field and the dependence of the propagation speed on the presence of the ring vortex in the head of the gravity current highlights the unsuitability of shallow-water modeling for axisymmetric lock releases at early times.