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What are Signet Rings?

In the past, signet rings were functional on top of being ornamental, as they were used as a form of official signature.
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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 29 July 2014
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Modern signet rings are pieces of jewelry usually engraved with the wearer's initials or other personalized designs. The bands may be very ornate, with Celtic or Egyptian influences, or rather plain. Designers often present an array of fashionable but blank bands and request engraving information from the customer. Class rings with initials on a flat bezel may be considered signet rings.

Today's signet rings are largely ornamental, with personal initials replacing the intricate coat of arms found on antique rings. Historically, they were used by politicians, religious leaders and wealthy citizens as a form of official signature. Documents and decrees were often sealed with wax or soft clay to prevent tampering, allowing the bearers of signets to press their distinctive seals into the material. For this reason, they are also called seal rings.

One important difference between antique signet rings and their modern counterparts has to do with these official seals. In the past, authentic rings were functional as well as ornamental, so they had to be readily recognized as official. The engravers would create a mirror image of the wearer's coat of arms, initials or signature, so the seals would not contain a reversed image. Modern forms are not used as official signatures, so the engravings are no longer done in mirror style.

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Antique signets are highly collectible, primarily because of their scarcity. Only a few authorized copies of these rings were ever created, in order to reduce the chances of fraud. Quite often, the official rings of popes would be ceremonially destroyed upon their deaths. Surviving signet rings of political leaders or other notable personalities would most likely be found in museum collections or under strict lock and key.

Modern signet rings can be ordered through retail jewelry stores, catalogs or online shopping outlets. In general, a blank band is selected first and then the various fonts and script lettering can be chosen. Custom designs are often generated from detailed photographs or drawings provided by the customer. They are not usually decorated with large stones, relying more on the intricacies of the band and the engraving for their visual appeal.

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anon118138
Post 4

Signet rings are classy. I wear a very large silver one on my right pinky. I agree that silver does scratch but you can take to a jeweler and have it polished. It looks like new again. --Dee

googlefanz
Post 3

I think that white gold signet rings can look really nice, whether they're old or new -- I love the look of silver, but I hate how easily it scratches, which can be a big deal with an intricate signet ring. That's why I think that when it comes down to it, white gold is the best, even if it's not quite as classy as some of the old mens gold signet rings.

Charlie89
Post 2

I have never been a fan of signet rings, but that's just me. I think they look cool in a museum, but less so on your hand.

I guess I would be more OK with someone wearing an antique signet ring, but I hate seeing those shiny monogram signet rings that so many people get made today.

I think men are especially bad about this, in particular old businessmen. They get some jewelry designer who specializes in mens signet rings to make them an "antiqued" version of a signet ring, and then walk around wearing it like it's been handed down in their family for centuries.

Guess that's just not my thing...

rallenwriter
Post 1

I love signet rings; I think they just look so classy. Of course, it has to be a nice one, not some one off fake gold signet ring. I used to wear an initial signet ring all the time, and it not only looked great, but it was the best conversation starter.

One good thing to remember when buying ladies signet rings though is to make sure you don't get one that's too big -- otherwise you get the unfortunate "man hands" look. So avoid the gigantic onyx signet ring chunkers, and stick with a nice, lady sized ring.

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