Men have been wearing rings since ancient times, both for aesthetic and practical reasons. You probably know what is a signet ring, often called the gentleman’s ring. Those who wear it show their status, noble origin, or belonging to a particular group or organization.
In the past, people often used these rings with a family crest for proving the authenticity of important documents. Nowadays, anyone can have it, and it has become an unavoidable fashion detail for many men.
History of a Signet Ring
Signet rings have a several-thousand-years long history. The oldest found pieces originated in ancient Mesopotamia from the period around 3500 BC.
Men who could read and write were rare, so professional scribes used such rings to authenticate official documents, wills, and contracts. Clients would press the signet ring on the wet clay, leaving his signature mark. That way, they confirmed the written statement instead of signing it.
In Egypt, only the upper class had the right to use the seal ring, including Pharaoh, his advisers, clergy, and nobles. Craftsmen made those rings of faience, quartz, stone, or pottery in most cases.
In the Minoan civilization, men used ivory and stone rings. In the Late Bronze Age, they started to design signet rings made of a metal similar to those men wear today.
Several historical sources state that King Mithridates VI of Pontus was a passionate collector of signet rings.
During the reign of King Edward II, there was a law according to which all official documents had to contain the royal seal.
Often, a father passed the noble signet ring with the family coat of arms to his son. Unfortunately, it was much more common that the descendants dismantled this item once the owner passed away.
Even today, there is a custom that Vatican officials break the Papal signet ring when he dies with two hammer blows. That way, they form the sign of the cross.
The Symbolism of a Signet Ring
Except used for practical purposes, this ring also has a symbolic meaning. Every detail, including an engraving on the surface, the type of stone, and the ring material, shows its owner’s social status and wealth.
Members of many secret societies, such as Masons, are recognized by the signet ring they wear. A man can also receive a signet ring as a member of the organization he belongs to, whether it is a college fraternity, a business company, or a military unit.
The engraving on the signet ring is an essential detail. Family coats of arms often contained monograms, animals, or a verse that passed down through the generations, along with the family name.
The crucial thing is that goldsmiths engrave a coat of arms in a mirrored image. That way, the ring leaves the right mark on the wax when used. Plus, engraving often includes significant, small details that tell connoisseurs of the symbols a lot about family history.
Wearing a Signet Ring
There are several ways to wear a signet ring, starting with whether the engraving is facing outwards or inwards, towards the owner. There is a lot of debate on this topic, and there is still no definitive conclusion.
However, many believe that this ring’s symbolism sends a message to the owner, so many people wear the ring towards themselves. That way, the ring reminds the wearer of the family duties, expectations, and traditions.
On the other hand, members of the Masonic Lodge wear a ring facing outwards. It shows the people they meet their belonging to that society.
The choice of a finger for wearing the signet ring also varies, depending on tradition. It is common for men to wear a seal ring on their thumb or middle finger in the Middle East.
In this part of the world, the signet ring is massive, made of yellow gold, and decorated with gemstones to attract attention and show the owner’s wealth.
Most gentlemen in the US and UK wear it on their left hand’s pinky finger. Thus, the ring doesn’t interfere with daily activities. Plus, the jewelry looks subtler and discreet that way.
An example is Prince Charles wearing the official signet ring of the Prince of Wales on the pinky finger of his left hand. On the other hand, there are exceptions like Winston Churchill, who always wore his signet ring on the third finger of his right hand.
Signet Ring Today
In modern times, a signet ring slowly loses its symbolism and exclusivity. This item is mass-produced, with identical engravings or blank surface. As a result, there are thousands of similar signet rings in the world nowadays.
Instead of a coat of arms or a monogram, many modern signet rings have motifs such as imitations of the tribe tattoo, skull, or 4-leaf clover. You can see them equally on men and women.
Fortunately, there are still signet rings that are part of the family heritage, mostly among the Royal Family and the European nobility members. Their owners often keep them in safes and jewelry boxes and wear them only in official situations.
From time to time, world leaders use the signet rings with their signature on crucial political documents. However, a few of them wear it every day, not only during particularly solemn occasions.
Where to Buy a Signet Ring?
There are plenty of jewelry stores where you can buy or order a signet ring. The choice of the place of purchase depends on your wishes and the budget.
If you want a unique handmade ring with personalized engraving, you should set aside at least a few hundred dollars. Embedded diamond or some other gemstone on the band can increase its value many times over.
On the other hand, you can order an affordable copy of famous signet rings for less than $50 on eBay or similar sites. Keep in mind that such a ring has a quality level in accordance with the price. Manufactures mostly use cheap alloys to make it, so they may often cause a skin rash or an allergic reaction.
Signet Ring Variations
Nowadays, you can buy whatever signet ring you want, and the customization options are almost limitless. The most common materials for making this type of jewelry are 14K and 18K gold, silver, and platinum. Luckily, some traditional signet ring features have been retained to this day.
Popular Design Choices
Signet rings with the family coat of arms – This traditional design has been used for centuries and passed down from father to son. Nowadays, you can create your own coat of arms and wear a ring with its engraving even if you are not of noble origin.
Masonic signet rings – You will get a ring when becoming a member of a secret society like Masons. That is a way for other members to recognize you wherever you meet. Copies of this design with various symbols on the engraving are highly popular today.
Graduation signet rings – Students of some prestigious universities receive a signet ring in addition to a diploma. Usually, the ring is engraved with the school’s coat of arms, the quote, and the year of graduation.
Military signet rings – It is not uncommon for members of elite military groups, such as the Navy Seals, to wear signet rings with the logo and year of service. That way, they show pride in belonging to the group and respect for comrades they have lost.
Monogram signet rings – The engraving on this type of ring includes the first, middle, and last name’s initials. Often the initials are written in calligraphy or decorated with various motifs.
Gemstone signet rings – A gemstone, including a diamond or bloodstone, increases the signet ring monetary value. Plus, such a ring is massive and shows the wealth of the wearer. The jeweler can engrave the stone or place it as a detail next to the engraved surface.
Custom signet rings – One of the signet rings selling online has Hello Kitty as an engraving. No kidding! Nowadays, your ring can have anything you want on it. Popular choices include flowers, skulls, specific dates, or a word that means something to you.
Signet Ring Shapes and Gems
The signet ring’s shape changed through the centuries with fashion trends, the owners’ social status, or their religion. However, the main forms include:
- Round shape
- Oxford, square shape with the rounded corners
- Bulbous, oval, massive, nearly circular shape
- Octagon shape
- Cushion shape typical in Victorian England
Also, there are dozens of types of semi-precious and precious stones used for jewelry. However, the most common are:
- Bloodstone (green jasper with red lines)
- Lapis Lazuli (marine or indigo blue semi-precious stone)
- Black Onyx (a sort of quartz)
- Cornelian (a red shade that tends to brown)
For centuries, the owners used their engraved signet rings to seal letters, packages, and official documents. Most often, the engraving represented the family coat of arms. Nowadays, many nobility members and world leaders wear the signet ring in official situations, but many men use it as a fashion detail, as well.