The History of Signet Rings
SKYDOG loves signets.
One of the oldest of jewelry styles, their enduring popularity is thanks to a long history of functionality and beauty. Here’s a look at how it all began…
The history of the signet ring
Dating back to 3500 BC, signet rings have a long and rich history throughout human civilizations.
The word ‘signet’ is derived from the Latin word ‘signum’ which means ‘sign’. Originally, signet rings were largely practical pieces of jewelry.
Throughout the Byzantium period to Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, rings consisting of a flat bezel engraved with a sign, symbol, or family crest were used by members of high society to mark their identity and their status.
The people of Mesopotamia would use cylindrical seals attached to a ring to authenticate identity, and in Ancient Egypt Pharaohs and powerful individuals would wear gold rings with symbols that detailed their position.
The earliest personalized jewelry
We sometimes think of personalization as a modern desire, but we can trace the origins of the trend back to signets. A signet ring was classically a completely bespoke piece - no signet ring was the same as another. In fact, many signets were actually destroyed when the owner died.
Signet rings were emblems of identity, a visual fingerprint, completely unique to the individual. It’s why they were so important and effective as identifiers and signatures.
This ability to identify their owner also played into the most common usage for signet rings - marking and sealing documents by pressing the engraved face into clay or hot wax.
Whilst this was a common usage throughout their history, it became particularly prominent during the Medieval Ages. At this time, the design changed from raised engravings to being intaglio (sunken) and the image was engraved in reverse solely for the purpose of creating a raised image in a wax seal.
In England in the 14th century, it was decreed by King Edward II that all official documentation had to be sealed with his own signet ring, and noblemen across the globe soon followed suit.
At a time when many people were not able to write, signing a seal with your signet ring was an equivalent of a signature - a distinguishing mark of identity. Family crests and coats of arms were very important to the Medieval Ages, so the idea of being able to have your heraldry on your signet ring made them incredibly popular items amongst the nobility.
Gemstones & signets - a perfect pairing
As the world moved into the Renaissance period, it became popular to set signet rings with bloodstone, carved or engraved with a family crest.
The reason for this was purely symbolic - the red specks in the stone were thought to symbolize family blood and the lineal heritage behind a family crest. With this, the idea of passing down signet rings as family heirlooms gathered popularity.
Bloodstone is a classic choice for signet rings, particularly men’s designs. But today we also draw upon the meaning and properties of a wealth of other stones, the relatively large size of a gemstone-set signet offering perfect opportunity to show off the individual nature of the stone.
Signets are usually set with cabochon and flat-cut semi-precious stones, all the more beautiful for their unique colors, inclusions, and texture.
Once the preserve of society’s elite, signet rings soon spread. Merchants or tradesmen began using signets engraved with symbols of their trade (a hammer, a boat, etc) to sign business documents or even mark their goods.
Even when seal waxes became a thing of the past, signet rings continued to be used by military groups, secret societies, and clubs as a marker of membership.
Passed down through generations, signet rings became the ultimate heirloom, their personal nature making them precious objects of belief, belonging, and family history.
Whilst signet rings were no doubt practical pieces of jewelry, they were also ornate, beautiful, and often highly decorated pieces. Mainly made from gold and sometimes set with precious gems, the large size of the face of signet rings lends itself to beautiful and intricate designs.
The practical use of a signet ring is no longer relevant for most wearers, but their capacity for individuality makes them one of the most compelling pieces of jewelry.
Having a signet engraved with initials or symbols continues to make signet rings meaningful and potent pieces of jewelry. How wonderful to have a tangible representation of your identity and individuality.
If celebrating the past isn’t your thing you can look to the future, carving out your hopes and dreams in symbolic form. Or perhaps you simply like the aesthetic of a signet ring, a real statement piece of jewelry in minimalist metal or beautiful gemstones.
Excited to create your own unique signet ring? Reach out on email@example.com to begin your bespoke process.