What Is A Signet Ring?

A signet ring is a historically important piece of jewelry that was generally used to denote either authority or power, or as a signature for transactions.

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Signet rings go back about 4000 years to Egypt.  You can think of it as an old fashioned way to sign something, using a signet ring.

Back in its earlier days, only royalty or high level officials had any need to sign or conduct large business transactions that needed to be approved.  As many people were illiterate back then and writing was not common place, it became easy to simply wear a unique ring that could be pressed into a wax seal, and leave a recognizable shape that couldn’t be duplicated.

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These rings would be in a mirror image and dug into the ring, so as to press and leave the mark on the seals looking the right way.  Signet rings were generally made of silver and gold and were meant to be quite sturdy.  Some were even made of precious stones.

Because so few people owned these rings back then except for those with power and resources that needed to be verified, signet rings became correlated with that.

In later years, Greeks and Romans would wear signet rings that would have everything on it from animals to symbols to gods and emperors on them.  Even warriors and senior officials started to wear signet rings around the turn of the millennium.

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As the use of signet rings continued to spread, around 300 AD it started to become a sign of household and family possessions.  Around this same time, for the first time, women started wearing signet rings also.

The eldest male, or the one in charge of the family, generally wore their signet rings on the same finger as their wedding band (left ring finger).  Other family members would wear the family’s signet ring, but on their right pinky finger.

Women who wore signet rings did so on their pinky fingers.  If the women were married, they generally had an oval shaped signet ring of her husband’s family coat of arms (or if her husband did not have a coat of arms, she may keep her father’s coat of arms.  In some circumstances, she may get a ring that mixed the two).

If the woman was unmarried, she would wear a diamond shaped signet ring of her father’s coat of arms.  Women’s signet rings were often more bare, as they did not have military titles, or other such statuses that men may have acquired.

Since signet rings were only unique to family’s now for the most part, this helped show the hierarchy within the family.

Signet rings became less popular around the 1500s, as printing and using signatures became a more widespread practice.  Shortly after, it became more about symbolism and either relating to their family or their ranking/title.

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Pseudo-signet rings started becoming more popular in later centuries.  What makes it a pseudo-signet ring is that the signet rings were no longer a mirror image with indentations meant to be pressed into something.  These new versions of signet rings were meant just for the sake of themselves.

Signet rings dipped a bit in popularity in the 1900s, but are oftentimes still passed down in certain family lines.

What do you guys think, would you like a signet ring?  We won’t be including them in our men’s accessory subscription boxes, but we think they are cool nonetheless.

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For further reading on signet rings, check out:

Wikipedia, this Jweel blog post, and this National Jeweler discussing the matter.

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