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Signet Rings - in short
by: Anonymous

Hi Gail

there seems to be a lot of confusion around SIGNET RIngs - if it's old, gold and not set with gemstones, one often jumps to the conclusion that the ring is a signet ring. Not necessarily so....

Metal signet rings can also be cast, which is cheaper but yields a weaker material, not all signet rings are made of gold and many old signet rings are not hallmarked.

Heads up on Old Signet Rings

The wearing of signet rings from Latin "signum" meaning "sign" goes back to ancient Egypt; the distinctive personal signature was not developed in antiquity and most documents needed a seal. The tradition continues, especially among the armigerous, in European and some other cultures. In Latin America, it is also traditional for the descendants of the old criollo aristocratic families to wear signet rings in the Spanish tradition.

Because it is used to attest the authority of its bearer, the ring has also been seen as a symbol of his power, which is one explanation for its inclusion in the regalia of certain monarchies. After the death of a Pope, the destruction of his signet ring is a prescribed act clearing the way for the sedevacancy and subsequent election of a new Pope.

Signet rings are also used as souvenir or membership attribute, e.g. class ring (typically bear the coat of arms or crest of the school), as an alternative to one with a stone.

The wearing of a signet ring is declining as the European aristocracy diminishes, however noble families have upheld long standing traditions of wearing signet rings for centuries.

Signet rings, in recent times generally bearing a coat of arms, are made by intaglio engraving, either in metal or engraved gems (generally semiprecious).

Agate is a frequent material, especially carnelian or banded agate like sardonyx; the banding make the impression contrast with the ground. Most classical engraved gems were originally worn as signet rings.


2nd July 2010

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