For thousands of years, men of influence have been donning a wearable form of identification and communication known as the signet ring. Today, it’s simply an attractive accessory that any man can wear. We’ll explore how.
Table of Contents
- What is a Signet Ring?
- The History of Signet Rings
- The Signet Ring Today
- No Family Crest? No Problem!
- Signet Ring Shapes
- Modern Signet Ring Options
- Where to Buy A Signet Ring
- Outfit Rundown
What is a Signet Ring?
Have you ever wondered why some men wear engraved rings on their ring or pinky finger? It is a signet ring. Signet rings have been a practical part of men’s fashion for thousands of years. For wealthy and important men, a signet ring was a powerful tool akin to a signature. A signet ring is set apart from other rings based on an engraved or raised symbol, series of words or letters, or image on the top half of the ring that was representative of its wearer in some way. It could have been a name, initials, job title, rank, organization or family crest.
Though no longer necessary to seal correspondence, it was once an essential part of society and culture and played a significant role in history. We’ll explore the rich history of the signet ring, how to wear it, and where and how to buy one. Considered the “gentleman’s ring”, we hope you enjoy this primer.
Interested in a Signet Ring?
The History of Signet Rings
Historically, signet rings played a significant role in business and politics. Used as a seal, a gentleman would use his ring featuring his unique family crest, emblem or monogram to stamp important documents. By dipping the ring into hot wax or soft clay, the ring left a distinct seal that was considered, at the time, to be more official than that of a signature.
Used on a global scale by the world’s leaders and monumental men, the ring was seen as a way to prove authenticity. They are often referred to as seal rings today.
And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel. (Daniel 6:17)
In the Early Minoan age, the rings were formed out of soft stones and ivory. Come the Middle Minoan age they were made of harder stone, and by the Late Bronze age, they had become the signet rings we would recognize today. During the Hellenistic period (323 BC – 31 AD), they were considered an art form in addition to being used for a purpose. Around the same time. King Mithridates VI of Pontus was an avid collector of signet rings.
By medieval times, most members of the nobility wore a signet ring and used it to sign and seal their letters of nobility or other important papers. The signet ring was now widely considered the only authentic way to sign without concern of forgery or tampering.
Despite legal documents being around, the art of handwriting was not and that’s one reason why the signet ring was so vital and important to members of society who would be responsible for signing such documents. Since the ring was so powerful, it was sometimes destroyed when the man died and often a ceremony or ritual was performed.
The image would be left when the ring was pressed into it, therefore, had to be resilient to wear and damage. Often the rings would be made of gold or silver with the design cast, rather than carved into the flat end of the ring.
With the popularity of the rings increasing, many families would keep these heavy and large rings in family jewel boxes as they became more ornate and decorated over the years. Many times men would opt not to wear them on their finger and instead mounted them on chains or the fob of their pocket watch.
The most common rings were initials and monograms with the more titled men wearing rings decorated with their official coat of arms or family crest. Some had simple symbols and others had one letter or a distinct pattern.
The Signet Ring Today
Today the signet ring doesn’t hold much meaning in society anymore. It’s more of a fashion statement or family heirloom handed down from one generation to the next. The Royal family in England and other aristocratic families in Europe represent a few types of people you might expect to see wearing an authentic, inherited signet ring.
In most cases today it’s a matter of personal style when a man wears a signet ring.
Some clubs, corporations, and families continue to give seal rings as gifts upon a certain length of service, a graduation or a commendation. Many military men wear signet rings that reflect their rank as a status symbol whereas others wear symbolic rings to showcase the branch they served with.
No Family Crest? No Problem!
If you like the design or the concept of a signet ring but your family doesn’t have a coat of arms, should you get one? Legally, the answer is clear. Anyone can go out and create a ring with their own coat of arms and some people who are traditionalists may argue that it is more the sign of an impostor because you pretend to be part of the nobility or of a class of society that you are in fact not.
While certain families have had coat of arms and family crests for generations, they all started at one point in time and just because your family didn’t have one, and you really want one for your family, we think it’s legitimate to simply start a new tradition. Of course, the design is entirely up to you.
At the end of the day, it’s entirely up to you. It’s a unique piece of jewelry and as a man, besides your wedding band and maybe your collar pin or a tie pin or your cufflinks, there’s not a whole lot of jewelry you can wear and still appear elegant.
There are no hard and fast rules, so you can wear a ring on any finger you choose! That being said, there are many traditions about which fingers rings should go on. In Britain, traditionally, the signet ring is worn on the pinky finger of the left hand. During Victorian times, men would wear their pinky ring and their wedding band stacked together on the left pinky finger. Winston Churchill wore his signet on his right ring finger.
Most rings come in 10, 14, or 18 karat gold. Either a white gold or rose gold or yellow gold. You can also go with sterling silver which is a lot lessexpensive but also with things like palladium which are more expensive.
Most rings come with a flat stone on top that can be engraved. If you don’t like a center stone, you can also go with simple metal. Traditional shapes include round, oval, or long oval, or rectangular, squares with rounded edges, or even like cut edges that gives you an octagonal look, there really is no limit under the sun as long as the stone is flat and not domed.
In terms of color and stones, the most popular are black onyx, blue lapis lazuli, a bloodstone, which is dark green with red inclusions, you can also find a carnelian which is dark red, and we use those stones also for our cufflinks which you can find in our shop here which go quite well if you want to coordinate.
Signet Ring Shapes
There are six shapes most commonly available in signet rings, with of course others that have been introduced over the years. Here are the popular six which have lasted through time:
- Round: an elegant, traditional shape
- Straight Oval: by and large the most popular signet ring shape, it’s very easy for the engraver to work with
- Oxford: a heavy, square-ish ring that takes the shape of a solid square or rectangle with rounded corners
- Bulbous Oval: a heavier, more distinctive looking ring that is nearly round
- Octagon: a very modern, far less traditional ring style
- Cushion: a favorite shape during the Victorian era, this is the next most popular style second to the straight oval
Engraving & Ring Details
For a crest, you should decide if you want it raised or engraved. When it comes to engraving, there are different options. You can either have it engraved at all the same
depth or the more three-dimensional engraving which takes more time it looks much nicer but it’s also more expensive.
Another great detail in rings is where the bottom part of the stone is open or closed.By default, most rings are open so you can see the stones from the bottom. The problem with that is that it just collects dirt over time and it’s very difficult to clean so you have the option to close that off with metal but since it uses more material, it’s also more expensive.
Modern Signet Ring Options
In recent years, technological advancements have allowed for laser-engraved signet rings. Personally, I think it looks cheaper, it’s less traditional, and if you opt for a signet ring, you obviously like the tradition and the historic look. For the same reason, I’d stay clear of showy diamonds because it’s just too loud and it’s not really part of the traditional signet ring.
Where to Buy A Signet Ring
There are a few options: custom made, vintage, or new. Custom made rings tend to run $2000 – $5000, while vintage rings can be much less expensive but also much less predictable in terms of price. For new pieces, consider checking out your local jeweler that caters to men.
Because it is so difficult to find affordable men’s signet rings we are looking into creating our own line of them but we need your input to get a better understanding of what you are looking for. Please take our survey here so we can help you find exactly the ring you want at a price that won’t break the bank.
Want a debonair signet ring without breaking the bank?
Whether you wear the ring as a status symbol, for authentication or simply because it was handed down to you, a signet ring is still considered a mark of the elegant gentleman. We hope you’ve enjoyed this short primer on signet rings and will share the story of your ring in the comment section below.