The story behind the signet ring, one of the most important jewelry designs in history, is very fascinating. The signet ring is a design that houses a raised, flat face on a shank, or ring, and is typically engraved with an image or icon meant to signify something memorable- like someone’s initials, a family crest, coat of arms, or a meaningful symbol. But signet rings weren’t always as casual as they are by today’s standards.
Signet rings as we know them have been popular for centuries, and date back to as far as 3500 BC, when the people of Mesopotamia wore cylindrical seals around their neck to authorize documents with their seal, usually in clay or wax. Later with the Egyptians this concept transformed into a ring for added security, and it’s purpose was used in the same manor. By the early Minoan period, signet rings were often carved from softer stone or bone, but by the end of this period were made from harder stones like onyx. With the Bronze Age came great discoveries in metalsmithing and suddenly jewelry was made from metals that stood the test of time, like gold and silver.
During the Middle Ages and through the early 19th century, all jewelry, but especially signet rings, was often worn by royalty or influential members of society that held important roles in government. When the person died, the rings were often destroyed to prevent forgeries after death. Ornate designs, family crests, symbols, and initials were often carved into precious metals, and then set into the bezel were precious stones such as diamonds or rubies. The use of these materials signified status and the important roles these people played in society.
It was not until the Industrial Revolution in the later part of the 19th century when technology made jewelry production much easier and accessible, that the signet ring became popular among women. By this time signet rings didn’t hold as much legal status as they once did, but still were a sign of wealth and importance. Traditionally, a signet ring is worn on the small finger of the wearer’s non-dominant hand. Today signet rings are immensely popular and still hold special significance to the wearer.