The Story of Signet Rings

Est. Reading: 3 minutes
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November 23, 2023
a gold signet ring with an engraved face
Table of Contents

Once as reliable as a handwritten signature, signet rings were once the must-have writing tool in a world where the majority of people were unable to read.

Dating back to ancient Egypt, these fascinating rings have a history as long and varied as the documents they were used to seal.

In this post, we’ll take a brief look at their history, their evolution, and how they grew to become one of today’s most popular personality statements in modern jewellery.

Firstly, What Is a Signet Ring?

Coined from the Latin word “signum”, meaning “to sign”, signet rings are rings which feature an engraved design or symbol on the ring’s flat or curved upper face – usually consisting of a series of words, letters, or a particular image.

These unique designs are usually created to represent the ring’s wearer in some way – most often this design involves using a name, the wearers initials, a job title, a club or organisation, or a family coat of arms.

The Ancient History of Signet Rings

The first appearance of the signet ring can be traced back as far as 3500 BC, during ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian times.

During this period, these rings were worn and used exclusively by nobles and pharaohs to ‘sign’ important letters and legal documents. This signing process involved dipping the ring’s engraved design into hot wax in order to leave a distinctive seal – unique to the ring’s owner – which was considered to be more official than a simple signature.

The reason for this is, that although legal documents existed at the time, the art of handwriting was extremely uncommon – making signet rings vital.

Signet Rings During the Middle Ages

By the Middle Ages, signet rings were in wide use across Europe.

Traditionally reserved for aristocracy and members of the nobility however, these signet rings were still considered the only authentic way to sign official documents without the concern of tampering or forgery.

As a result, signet rings were also viewed by many as a powerful tool and a status symbol – so much so, that once the wearer passed away, the ring was often destroyed to avoid any possibility of forged documents appearing after the nobleman's death.

The Modern Evolution of the Signet Ring

a gold heart shaped signet ring

From the 19th century onwards, signet rings were no longer simply reserved for the nobility.

Gradually, signet rings became much more about fashion and status than the signing and sealing of important documents. This change increasingly saw signet rings become increasingly more decorative, as both precious and semi-precious gemstones were added to their gold and silver bezels.

Today, signet rings are now enjoying a resurgence once again – being worn by both men and women from all walks of life. Many of these modern signet styles aren’t dissimilar to the ancient styles however.

Often, modern signet wearers still choose to embrace their highly-personalised aspects, often having them engraved with a coat of arms, a family crest, or the initials of their loved ones.
As a true blank canvas for creativity, a custom signet rings can offer the opportunity to feature powerful bespoke designs with equally powerful imagery that are completely unique to the wearer.

Looking to design your own completely-custom signet ring?

At Martin Gear Jewellers, we feature a fine range of men’s and women’s signet ring styles.

As one of the only jewellers in Dublin with an onsite manufacturing workshop, we can also easily design your own custom signet ring – one that perfectly represents your personal style and individuality.

To learn more, simply drop into our store on 5 Mary St, Dublin 1, or alternatively, give us a call on (01) 872 8726.

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