The signet ring is one of my all-time favorite styles of jewelry. Its unisex styling, its rich and lengthy historical presence and its connection to family give it dimension, not only in physical form, but also in meaning. And any piece of jewelry that can look as sexy on a woman as it can on a man is pretty much a jewelry unicorn in my books.
But what I find most interesting about the signet ring is how its modern-day incarnation also serves as a symbol of how significantly society has changed since its origins. Let’s explore further.
It’s said that the signet’s place in history dates back to the Pharaohs, but it was invited to sit at the cool kids’ table, that is to say it became popular, in the Middle Ages.
The original function of the signet ring was as a seal or signature. The intaglio, or engraving, of a monogram, a family coat of arms or other identifying elements, made for the perfect stamp or seal, so it was used as a way of authenticating one’s identity before literacy was a thing. It was typically made of gold and worn on the pinky finger for those occasions when you needed a rapid-fire signature.
Given that you had to be pretty special (read rich) to even have a family coat of arms, the rings were pretty elitist. They were used by the aristocracy and those with influence, so wearing a signet ring was a signal that you were of a higher class than most. Even royal decrees weren’t taken seriously until they had that signet stamp.
The stamp of the signet held such authority that after its owner had died, the ring was destroyed so that it couldn’t be used fraudulently. Once the rings became more ornamental as written signatures usurped the seal they started to be passed down across familial generations.
The signet was usually passed down to the son, and so it came to be known as “the gentleman’s ring.” But if there’s anything that women like more than jewelry itself (and yes I know not every woman likes jewelry!), it’s taking something traditionally dominated by men and turning it in on its head.
Not only are women wearing signets with pride, they’re making them, and they’re doing a damn good job. So here is a celebration of signets, by women, for women, as they say.