Create your own piece of heirloom jewellery and make your stamp on the world!
All you need to know about Signet Rings by L.Sadler at Gold Arts
The Signet Ring is an iconic design – adorning the fingers of the great and powerful throughout history, signifying ancestry, securing secret documents, and passing down through generations becoming one of the most treasured heirloom pieces of jewellery – but how does this heritage jewellery fit in modern society?
The answer is…with as much style and elegance as it always has. This blog runs through the key design styles to create modern wearable heirloom pieces of jewellery and ‘make your stamp on the world’
What is a Signet Ring?
A traditional signet ring looks like a solid ring with a flat surface on the head. The head may be different shapes including shield, round, cushion, square, octagon and oval. The ring may be all metal or might be set with a gemstone, typical examples include black onyx, bloodstone and cornelian. The head might include a surface engraving, such as a monogram or it might have an intaglio engraving – a 3D image in relief, sometimes in reverse/mirrored.
What were signet rings originally used for?
A traditional signet ring looks like is a solid ring with a flat surface on the head. The head may be different shapes including shield, round, cushion, square, octagon and oval. The ring may be all metal or might be set with a gemstone, typical examples include black onyx, bloodstone and cornelian. The head might include a surface engraving, such as a monogram or it might have an intaglio engraving – a 3D image in relief, sometimes in reverse/mirrored.
How is a signet ring worn?
Really, it’s a personal choice, but commonly men and women wear them on their pinkie finger of their non dominant hand or ring finger of their right hand.
Are signet rings just for men or can women wear them too?
Women’s signet rings today are a powerful signifier of independence, equality, identity and modernity. Traditionally men wore signet rings to reflect their status and to seal documents, a role which historically, sadly women were denied. Today influential and fashionable women wear signet rings, to represent what they feel is important to them.
Both Pippa and James Middleton are often spotted wearing signet rings on their pinkie fingers. When the Middleton’s were due to become related to the Royal family with the marriage of William and Kate, a new Coat of Arms was designed and presented. The symbolism reflects their position in society and their heritage. For example, one element is the Acorn, representing the oak trees of Berkshire where they resided and being a long-established emblem of both ‘England’ and ‘Strength.’
What design can I have on my signet ring?
Traditionally signet rings were a signifier of social position, which today sounds a bit elitist, so a more modern translation is to think of the design as a signifier of your personal identity. Lots of people feel that family is at the heart of their identity, so an intaglio engraving of your family crest is both attractive, personal and keeps with tradition. Alternatively, a monogram of your initials in a scroll script makes an attractive design. In addition, dates, names or personal messages can be engraved on the inside of the ring.
The design doesn’t have to be of your family, choose something that relates to your interests, career or simply a design that you like. Beautiful examples from antiquity such as classical designs from ancient Greece and the Roman Empire survive and can easily be copied into a modern ring.
Some people choose designs that show membership to a club or society. Masonic rings use the iconography of the Freemasons and are available to order from Gold Arts, we also stock a selection of antique Masonic jewellery.
What are the types of engraving suitable for signet rings?
This gives a 3D picture – with wonderful depth and detail, perfect for family crests, heraldry and pictures. You can decide whether to keep it true to the design so the text is readable or have it engraved in reverse / mirrored keeping with the tradition of seal engraving. It’s a fun activity to research your family’s surname to find your ancestral heraldic motifs and get ideas to creating your own design.
Traditional hand engraving (surface engraving) is of uniform depth carved into the ring – ideal for text, monograms or for more delicate jewellery. The NAG style sheet of typography is a useful resource for selecting a style of text. Alternately our in-house designer Kerry Newman would be happy to help out with design elements and suggestions and create a unique monogram for you.
A simple monogram made from our shop initials G A J (Gold Art Jewellers) This could be a surface engraving or cut deeper intaglio style.
What are the popular gemstones used in signet rings?
A signet ring doesn’t have to be engraved with a motif, the head can remain plain, or you could choose a satin finish or simple pattern on plain gold or silver or have the ring set with a gemstone.
At Gold Arts we offer a lapidary service, sourcing your gemstone of choice for one of our stock rings or to fit a ring you already own. Engraving on gemstones is a true art form and we have reliable craftsmen who will execute your design to perfection. Smaller gemstones can be set into the shield of signet rings. Diamonds are a popular choice, and there is still room for engraving if you wish.
Image: left to right – Onyx, Tiger’s Eye, Bloodstone, Lapis Lazuli, Cornelian
Popular choices for signet rings include:
- Black Onyx – shiny black and opaque, suits both yellow and white gold.
- Tigers Eye – golden brown stripes displaying chatoyancy – goes well with yellow gold.
- Bloodstone – very dark green with speckles of red – popular in Victorian jewellery
- Lapis Lazuli – rich royal blue with veins and flecks of gold coloured pyrite - popular in ancient Egyptian jewellery
- Cornelian (Carnelian) – an orangey-brown semi translucent gemstone, a true classic.
Does a Signet ring make a good gift?
For a gift to be something the recipient will really treasure, it needs to be memorable and show that you understand their personality and that you have put thought into the gift. A signet ring is a wonderful choice and can be tailored to suit your budget.
If you are choosing the ring as a fashionable everyday ring, then think about the metal they like to wear (silver/gold?) and perhaps have the ring set with a gemstone?
If it’s to mark a special occasion like a 21st birthday, then you probably have a larger budget and an engraving with a family crest or monogram pairs beautifully with the idea of coming of age and taking a more responsible position within the family.
You don’t have to buy a new ring. If you have a ring already in the family ready to hand down, we can restore your ring to make it in perfect condition to give as a gift, with a professional clean and polish costing from as little as £20.
If the engraved design is no longer crisp, we can restore it or if you would like a new design, we can polish out the old motif and replace with a new one, provided there is enough depth in the metal.
TIP – If you’re buying for a gift, check with the jeweller about ring resizing before commissioning an engraving.
How do I buy a signet ring from Gold Arts?
1. RING DESIGN - We have a selection of rings available to buy online, but this is not our full inventory. Most of the styles come in various sizes – to suit men or women, and in various metals. Please browse our online selection for ideas and contact us for a quote for your bespoke design.
2. ENGRAVING DESIGN – provide us with a photo or drawing of the design, an old seal, or we can look through the family crest books and help you decide. There are lots of fantastic websites which can help you trace your family name and ancestor heraldry and give you ideas. Latin phrases can make an interesting moto for your family. The more detailed the image, the better it will look on your ring.
3. DECIDE ON MATERIALS – Silver, 9ct Yellow Gold, 9ct White Gold, 18ct Yellow Gold, 18ct White Gold, Palladium or Platinum. We also can set with any gemstone you like, as a full head of the ring, with or without an engraving.
4. TYPE OF ENGRAVING – Intaglio Engraving is a deep detailed 3D, perfect for family crests, heraldry, pictures and text. You can decide whether to keep it true to the design with readable text or have it engraved in reverse / mirrored keeping with the tradition of seal engraving. Alternatively, traditional Hand Engraving / Surface Engraving where it is of a uniform depth is carved into the ring. This is ideal for text, monograms or for more delicate jewellery.
5. COST AND DELIVERY – Every design is unique, so the size and the detail of each design will be reflected in the price. The cost of engraving starts at approximately £100 for surface seals and intaglio engraving starts at £200. Each design is hand produced so can take up to 4 weeks. The material of the ring is another variable factor, we have silver signets from £65 and 9ct gold rings from £350. It is possible that we might have a bargain in our second-hand section too.
6. PRESENTATION- All jewellery will be supplied with a luxury leatherette velvet lined gift box and for deal engraving you will also receive a wax impression of your design.
We stock an extensive range of Signet Rings designs, available in a choice of silver, 9ct or 18ct yellow or white gold, palladium or platinum all suitable for personalising. We use our in-house designers and goldsmiths and work alongside other local specialised craftsman.
We are proud to be an independent jewellers based in Sussex for 40 years. Our sales team is always on hand, so if you have any questions or would prefer a chat, then we are always happy to hear from you.