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One of the hottest trends of the moment, the signet ring is making a fashionable comeback on the fingers of stylish men and women alike. This type of ring has a long and interesting history, dating back many centuries.
In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about signet rings and how you too can sport the signet ring.
What is a Signet Ring?
The signet ring was the original ‘signature’, used by aristocratic men to create an embossing on wax, sealing important documents. When illiteracy was common, the signet signature was considered more authentic than a written signature. Some of history’s most important documents were made official with the seal of a signet ring.
Signet, meaning small seal, was originally worn by men with the ring bearing their family crest. It existed in a world where men made the rules, owned property, and had a signature. These rings were known as the gentleman’s ring.
But, today signet rings are seen stylishly adorning the fingers of women as well, showing just how far society has come. Today, it is a fashion choice and a way to express your personality, style, and taste.
Signet rings are highly personal and the best ones are made by hand to suit the individual wearer. Their typical features include engraved crests, intaglios, monograms, inset gemstones, and large bevels.
History of Signet Rings
Here’s a timeline of the evolution of signet rings:
- The first evidence of an official seal was found in Mesopotamia, as early as 3500 BC. The Mesopotamians carved icons into limestone and used signets for authentication purposes.
- Egyptians began carving the symbols into rings worn by the Pharaohs and other prominent men to represent their status.
- The signet began to evolve when ancient Greeks created signet rings out of ivory or easily worked stones such as marble, selenite, or limestone, and used them as signatures of identification.
- The Bronze Age introduced metals into societies and the origins of the first metal signet rings.
- By the Middle Ages, signet rings were worn by most European noblemen. At the end of the middle ages they fell out of fashion for a period of time, however by the 18th century the signet ring was again the preferred form of a seal.
- The 19th and 20th centuries saw the introduction of gemstones and ornate carvings into the signet ring.
- The 21st century sees the signet ring as a fashion accessory.
Meaning of Signet Rings
Traditionally men wore a signet on the little finger of the non-dominant hand to reflect status and seal documents. The signet itself was a family crest, but each would also reflect a marking for personal identification. Signet rings were of the highest quality, bearing hard-to-copy insignia. When the ring-wearer died, the signet ring was destroyed as well, ensuring no replication or plagiarizing of the nobleman’s seal.
Today, however, wearing a signet ring is a nod to traditional fashion with a modern take. It can signify community, closeness, and belonging. For example, a ring with a family crest will be a constant reminder of family and closeness. A ring sporting a crest of society, fraternity, or institution will enhance a sense of belonging to that group. Having a symbol or personal icon is a popular form of expression and wearing a ring can be a daily reminder of meaningful identification.
Signet rings can also represent independence and a break from tradition. In the past, this was a type of ring worn only by men, but today it’s worn by women too, symbolizing equality and modernity.
The signet ring has also inspired many other types of meaningful rings. Freemasons wear rings similar to signet rings but bearing a representation of their trade. Sports teams, motorcycle gangs, and educational institutions all have various rings bearing individual insignia. All of these traditions evolved from the concept of the original signet ring.
Who Can Wear a Signet Ring?
As we’ve mentioned already, historically women did not wear signet rings. You might be wondering why this was the case. Unfortunately, it was because women lacked legal standing and therefore were not required to sign documents. As a result, they had no need for the signet ring.
Many fashionable women have been seen with signet rings worn on their little fingers. In the UK, when the Middletons were given their crest by marrying into the royal family, Pippa Middleton commissioned a singlet ring with the family crest. She is rarely seen without it decorating her little finger. Celebrities such as Kate Moss, Elvis Presley, the Pope, Princess Diana, Cara Delevigne, and many others have been known to wear a signet ring.
Another point to note is that signet rings were also only worn by the elite, the rich, and the noble. However, this association is slowly fading away.
You might be wondering:
But isn’t a signet ring pretentious? It depends on how you wear it. I suppose if you wore a signet ring and walked around with pride, you’d be classified as pretentious. However, as I mentioned above, this type of ring is no longer simply for family crests and signatures. You can get creative and showcase your personality through signet rings. Today, the signet ring is simply a piece of jewelry for anyone who wants to wear it.
How to Personalize a Signet Ring
Personalizing a signet ring largely depends on your budget. The signet ring can be a simple blank metal bevel which in itself is a stunning fashion choice.
However, engraving the signet ring with a meaningful symbol is the most traditional way to wear the signet ring. These include a meaningful crest, a monogram, or a special symbol. The choice is yours as there is no right or wrong to this.
There are many metals to choose from when choosing a signet ring, and multiple semiprecious stones can be added to the bevel and then carved with the insignia of your choice.
Types and Styles of Signet Rings
A signet ring commonly has a flat bevel centerpiece on which the seal is engraved. There are many types of signet rings to choose from today.
1. Shape of Signet Rings
When considering the shape of the ring, you have 5 main options to choose from. These include:
- Round – Here the ring has a round bevel. The size can vary depending on your preference.
- Oxford – The Oxford signet ring refers to a square bevel with rounded corners, much like a cushion shape.
- Straight Oval – This is probably the most common type of signet ring and has a very traditional look. It features a wide oval.
- Bulbous Oval – This refers to the large, heavy signet rings with a more traditional look. These have large sides and are quite chunky.
- Octagon – Featuring 8 sides, the octagon signet ring is quite unique with a very geometric look. It’s a great modern style.
2. Customizable Signet Rings
There are many types of images and designs carved onto signet rings and there’s no end to how creative you can get. Whether you opt to engrave a made-up family crest, a special image, or other insignia, your creativity doesn’t have to know any bounds.
3. Monogrammed Signet Rings
A monogram refers to a motif made of more than two letters intertwined artistically. Typically, people choose their initials for a monogram but you can also opt for letters signifying something else of importance to you.
Many customizable signet ring designers will create a monogram for you based on your specifications. This is a nod to tradition and a unique expression of identity.
4. Gemstone Signet Rings
A signet ring with colored gemstones is a nice way to add a touch of color to your look. However, you can also opt for neutral-colored gemstones like aquamarine. If you opt for a gemstone, you don’t need to have the ring engraved.
5. Blank Signet Ring
Blank signet rings come in a variety of shapes and metal types, such as gold, silver, or platinum. Down the track, you can opt to have them engraved but this simple style is very arresting and makes a statement with minimum effort.
Which Finger Do You Wear A Signet Ring On?
As mentioned above, traditionally the signet ring is worn on the pinkie finger of the non-dominant hand. So, for example, if you are right-handed, the ring would go on the little finger of your left hand.
However, in France men traditionally wear it on the right finger of the left hand, and in Switzerland, men wear the signet on the right finger of the right hand. In the Middle East, the ring is worn on the middle finger or the thumb. Some decide to wear it stacked with a wedding ring.
These days, anything goes. There are no rules to abide by and you can choose the most comfortable finger to wear your signet ring on.
Signet Ring Etiquette
Traditionally, an important rule of signet ring etiquette is that it is not acceptable to wear a signet ring you are not entitled to. Signet ring etiquette holds the meaning of the sign in high regard. You must earn the right to wear it, and it is not appropriate to wear a symbol that you did not achieve or deserve.
While there are no hard and fast rules these days, here are some points to consider
1. Men’s Signet Ring Etiquette:
Men’s signet ring etiquette depends on whether or not the man is married or single. If the ring is worn on the left ring finger, it could be interpreted as a wedding ring, and if the man is single, could potentially deflect prospective connections, and affect the reputation of the wearer. In Europe, if the ring is worn on either ring finger, it could potentially mean that the man is married.
2. Women’s Signet Ring Etiquette:
Because signet rings are a new addition to women’s jewelry, there are no traditional rules to consider. However, as for men, wearing the signet ring on your ring finger could be confusing to others, who may mistake it for a bridal ring.
How To Wear A Signet Ring
There are many arguments about how the ring should be worn. Should it be worn with the insignia facing down towards you as a daily reminder of its significance, or facing out to the world to represent the meaning of the symbol?
Ultimately that decision is up to you, but it could be argued that the purpose of the signet ring is to declare a signature identity, therefore wearing it facing out towards the world would probably be the best way to wear the signet ring.
Where to Buy Signet Rings
Because of how, popular signet rings have become, there are many places that offer beautiful designs.
Etsy is a treasure trove of beautiful signet ring designs and we recommend starting your search there. You’ll gain an idea of the different types of rings and be able to zero in on the type that suits you best.
We also love Amazon’s collection of signet rings, which range in price and style. Check them out here.
For high-end signet rings, Blue Nile has a small and exclusive collection. Check it out here.
The signet ring is more than just a ring. It is a wearable daily reminder of tradition, meaning, and significance. The signet ring adds subtle sophistication and style while representing tradition and individual values, a must-have iconic piece for trendsetting men and women.