By Beth Bernstein
Super stylish signet rings, which date back to 1800 BC, have become a mark of personal distinction and individuality. Unlike the more delicate rings bearing hearts, flowers and cluster designs, these antique signet rings are gutsy, statement pieces that can be worn on any finger, just as their original owners did.
It’s not surprising that contemporary jewellers have now picked up on these standout pieces and are re-imagining them with their own unique brand of engraving, size, shape, motifs and gemstones.
Throughout history, signet rings took many forms and were designed in diverse materials ranging from bronze or gold, to hard stone or crystal intaglios with reverse carvings. In the book Rings: Jewelry of Power, Love and Loyalty, author and historian Diana Scarisbrick writes, “At a time when only a few could write, seals that bore a distinguishing mark or badge - equivalent to a signature - which could be impressed on wax or clay so as to stand out in relief as a mirror image, were essential for rulers, government officials and all engaged in business, to authenticate documents and establish the ownership of property. For convenience, they were worn as rings on the finger, ready for use when needed.”
The signet as a seal continued throughout time, but this style also took on different roles, which included representing occupations, beliefs, hobbies, heraldry, classical and mythological subjects, great ancient pictorial scenes, and everyone from poets to nobility. These were engraved into gold or into hard stone intaglios, most often carnelian, bloodstone, onyx, agate and sardonyx, which were then set into gold. Mottos and monograms were also the stuff of signet rings and either one’s initials were engraved or the initials of a married couple would be linked together in a beautiful design, sometimes accented by leaves and floral motifs.
Today’s collector is attracted to those mottos and engravings that have a personal meaning. A lion holding a heart, symbolising “protector of my heart”, or a ring that depicts wheat for prosperity, and mottos in English, French or Latin that speak of trust, truth, loyalty, love and wisdom, are all highly desirable. Finding antique rings with your initials or of someone in your family is truly a must-buy. Personally, I have found my mother’s initial in agate, both my niece and nephew together in gold, and a ring with two birds that says “love” in old English font in a carnelian intaglio, all of which express what I hold dear.
Contemporary designers will custom monogram and also create one-of-a-kind shanks, accented by your favourite stones. They have also been inspired by their own messages and motifs, and even poetry. Whether authentic and antique, or with a modern stamp of style, these vintage signet rings deserve your seal of approval.