History’s Gems: Signet Rings

History's Gems

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Signet rings were once an important part of creating official records and documents.  And while they are rarely used for that purpose now, their tradition lives on in accessory form, worn by both men and women.  Read on learn more about the history and look of Signet Rings.

What is the purpose of a Signet Ring?

il_570xN.780159128_gy05Historically, a signet ring was used to sign and seal documents.  For much of history, the ability to read and write was a rare skill, even for the aristocracy.  In lieu of being able to sign a document, a signet ring was used as a person’s personal seal and signature.  The use of signet rings dates back to Ancient Egypt, when rings with a name-cartouche were used to seal documents.

il_570xN.667492925_ogtuA signet ring bear’s a person’s family crest, coat or arms or initials.  This image is engraved on the ring so that when the ring is pressed into softened sealing wax, a raised image of from the ring would transfer to the wax.  When signing or sealing a document, a blob of sealing wax would be placed on the document and the ring pressed into the wax.  The resulting image was considered proof of the document’s legitimacy.

Who wears Signet Rings now?

il_570xN.732443250_hy8aTraditionally, signet rings were worn by men.  For most of history, women lacked legal standing, and because of that, there was no need for them to have signet rings to sign official documents.  Even as literacy became widespread and the use of signet rings for official purposes died out, the tradition of men wearing signet rings lived on.  The signet ring became a traditional piece of men’s jewelry.  Presently, signet rings are still predominately worn by men.  However, there are some signet-inspired options for women, too!

What does a Signet Ring look like?

A signet ring typically has a flat bezel with a family crest, coat of arms or initials engraved on it.  The engraved image is usually carved into the metal of the ring itself or into semiprecious gemstones, such as agate, carnelian, and sardonyx.

Vintage Italian Men's Signet Ring on Etsy
Vintage Italian Men’s Signet Ring on Etsy
Monogrammed Signet Rings on Etsy
Monogrammed Signet Rings on Etsy
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