What is a Signet Ring?

woman wearing multiple signet rings on her fingers with roses in the background

Traditionally a masculine piece of jewelry, signet rings have now become a popular style among both men and women. Historically worn by royalty and used as a seal or signature, these unique rings have transitioned over time and are perfect for adding a touch of class and sentiment to your jewelry collection. Let’s learn more about signet rings and how to wear them. 

History of the Signet Ring

Signet rings date back to 3500 BC when people of Mesopotamia wore cylindrical seals around their neck to authorize documents. Later the Egyptians transformed the concept into a ring for added security. By the Minoan period signet rings were carved from soft stone or bone, then made from harder stones like onyx. With the Bronze Age came discoveries in metalsmithing and jewelry was then made from metals like gold and silver that stood the test of time.

During the Middle Ages until the 19th century, signet rings were often worn by royalty or influential members of society. When the person died the rings were often destroyed to prevent forgeries. Ornate designs, family crests, symbols and initials were often carved into these rings. With the introduction of sealing wax signet rings transitioned from being made with a raised carving to intaglio, meaning their design was sunken to leave an impression in wax more effectively.

Wax seals were often used to authenticate documents and were commonplace in most royal chanceries. Over time sealing in wax became less elitist and then eventually obsolete legally but signet rings were still a sign of wealth and importance and often passed down as family heirlooms. It wasn’t until the later part of the 19th century when technology made jewelry production easier and more accessible that signet rings became more popular among women.

What is a Signet Ring?

From the Latin “signum” meaning “sign” signet rings are characterized by a raised, flat surface that sits above the rest of the ring. This surface historically housed an intaglio engraving with an image or icon meant to signify something memorable like someone’s initials, a family crest, coat of arms or a meaningful symbol. Signet rings were so personal that they could be considered fingerprints. 

Over time the meaning of signet rings has changed from signifying class and nobility to sentimental and fashion pieces. Often given as a coming of age gift at age 18 or 21, they symbolize a moment in an individual’s life like the transition from childhood to adulthood. Much like the meaning of eternity rings or promise rings, signets are sentimental pieces, sometimes passed down in families and now worn by all genders. 

Traditionally a signet ring was worn on the small pinky finger of the wearer’s non-dominant hand. Nowadays they can be worn on any finger, but despite their ongoing popularity, they cannot be used to legally sign documents anymore and are simply jewelry that holds special significance to the wearer. 

Whether worn daily or for special occasions, a signet ring can make a wonderful gift that can be cherished for generations to come. Give us a call at 303-385-8449 or click here to schedule a custom jewelry appointment