A Guide to Signet Rings - the History and Meaning of an Enduring Style

A Guide to Signet Rings - the History and Meaning of an Enduring Style

Signet rings, also known as seal rings, have a fascinating history that dates back to the time of the Pharaohs. The name "signet" comes from the Latin word "signum," meaning "sign." These rings have been cherished throughout the ages as an important piece of jewellery and to this day they are a much coveted jewel for any gender - a marker of style, a signifier of the wearer’s identity and values, and an expression of individuality. 

The Purpose of Signet Rings

Signet rings were traditionally used as a means of identification. The engraved face of the ring could be pressed into soft wax or clay, leaving behind a distinct impression. This impression acted as a unique mark or signature, signifying the wearer's identity and serving as a personal seal.

Signet Rings - From the Ancient to the Contemporary

The earliest signet rings date back to ancient Egypt c.1800 BC, and as well as being a mark of identification, they were also worn as protective amulets, often engraved with potent symbols such as the scarab, alongside the individual sign of the owner. 

The signet ring style was popular in the Ancient Greek, Etruscan and Roman worlds, often featuring intricately carved and engraved gemstones as seal stones set into the face of the ring, and while their functionality as seal rings stayed important, over time they were increasingly worn for purely aesthetic purposes, a notion that continues to this day.

With the development of heraldry as a means of identification in the late Middle Ages anyone with a coat of arms or family crest would wear a signet ring engraved with their own crest, and they would often be passed down as family heirlooms. By this time the signet ring was not reserved only for the nobility or those with status, and anyone could wear a signet ring - for those without a coat of arms, simpler engraved signs could include letters and initials, or other personal marks. 

raw textured signet ring, inspired by historical treasures

Signet Rings as Wedding Rings

During the early Middle Ages there began a fashion for signet rings as love or betrothal rings, sometimes deeply engraved with portraits of the betrothed couple. and the signet ring as wedding ring is a great choice today for someone wanting to make a bold, non-traditional wedding ring choice.

The versatility of the style, from heavy-weight and chunky to slim and subtle, means that signet rings can be masculine, feminine or completely neutral, making them a great choice for any gender. The alt-bride style of a pair of complimentary signet rings for the couple, each one unique but sharing the same story, is a nice nod to the historical signet ring as wedding ring while staying very contemporary for the non-traditional at heart.

The Enduring Appeal of Signet Rings

After the 18th century and with the increase in literacy, the need for signet rings as seal rings became less essential, but as a mark of fashion, style and identity, their popularity has endured. They have evolved beyond their original purpose, which has not only dismantled the rules on who can wear one and on which finger, but has also allowed the design and personalisation of signet rings to become much more creative and sentimental.

What makes signet rings truly timeless is their ability to transcend trends, and signet rings have maintained their allure throughout history. Their classic design and meaningful symbolism ensure that they remain a cherished accessory for any gender and any age, and their capacity to reflect a multitude of styles and aesthetics make them endlessly desirable.

How to wear a signet ring

Through history signet rings were often intended to be worn on the little finger of the non-dominant hand (thought to be a tradition stemming from antiquity when they would be worn on the non-dominant hand in order to avoid showing too much of the personal engraving to the ‘enemy’), and while the little finger is still a popular choice for wearing a signet ring, nowadays there are no strict rules - they can be worn on either hand and on any finger, or worn on the left ring finger they can be a unique wedding or engagement ring. 

women's gold signet ring

It can be fun to draw on the rich history of signet rings and update it to suit your own style - they’ve always been associated with identification and commemoration, and we can do the same, choosing a signet ring to commemorate a personal milestone or to display textures, shapes, symbols and letters that are meaningful to you. 

Do signet rings need to be engraved?

Absolutely not! While in the past the function of signet rings as a marker of identity meant that engravings and carvings were an integral part of the design, now we can be much freer about what, if anything, we add to our signet rings. Many wearers still choose to wear signet rings engraved with imagery that is meaningful to them, but it is equally acceptable to wear a signet ring with no decoration other than the beauty of the raw metal and the shape and texture of its craftsmanship - understated and timeless. 

Sometimes it is the particular shape or texture of a signet ring that calls to you, and there is no need for anything extra. Signet rings, as with so many meaningful styles of jewellery, can act as an amulet that allows us to keep close that which we hold dear, whether that's through the engraving of meaningful letters and symbols, the addition of gemstones, or simply their shape, form and texture.

bespoke signet rings 

You can shop raw-textured signet rings, beautifully balanced and individually crafted, here.


Back to blog