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What is a Signet Ring?

First worn by the ancient Egyptians

What is a Signet Ring?

Thursday 11th May 2017

The history of signet rings is lengthy and illustrious, dating back to 1400 BC where they were first worn by the Mesopotamian and ancient Egyptian civilisations. Throughout history, signet rings were often decorative and beautiful, however they were also highly functional items which played an important, administrative role within society. By pressing the signet ring into hot wax or soft clay, a distinctive impression would be left that then functioned as an official seal. Hence, signet rings were developed purely as an identificatory mark and so rather than one signing their name on a document, one would simply use their ring to make their mark instead.

Used by royal rulers and religious leaders, a signet ring could be used to mark a document, a doorway or even to seal a tomb, thus proving authenticity. The seal could not be opened without damaging the identifying mark, making it incredibly difficult to tamper with. Because of how they were used, signet rings are also referred to as seal rings. Designs featured an identifiable mark of the person wearing it and often this took the form of a coat of arms or heraldic family crest. Because the ring was intended to leave a distinct impression, the ring maker needed to create the design in mirror-image onto the ring and that way, the finished impression would come out correctly.

In ancient Egypt, pharaohs and nobles used distinctive signet rings made of hardstone or a blue pottery called faience. Such rings were flat on one side, with an ornately inscribed design incorporating symbols and hieroglyphic text.

The Bible also contains intriguing references to signet rings and in particular, the Old Testament and the story of Daniel in the lion's den. ‘The king closed the mouth of the den, and then sealed it with his signet ring and those of his nobles, so that Daniel could not escape.' (Daniel 6:17)

In the Middle Ages, signet rings were used by wealthy, powerful individuals to sign and seal their letters, proving that they were indeed authentic documents whilst preventing forgeries and tampering. By the fourteenth century, it was compulsory for all important legal documents to be stamped with a signet ring and in the reign of King Edward II, it was further established that all official government documents had to bear the seal of the King's signet ring. Monarchs would not allow copies of their own rings to be in circulation as they could be used for fraudulent purposes and rings were also often destroyed when their wearer died. As a result, authentic Medieval signet rings are very rare and valuable.

Post Medieval Signet Ring Engraved With A Thistle & Initials L.I
Berganza Collection

Thanks to a growing merchant class, signet rings became a form of branding during the Renaissance. As European merchants took to the Silk Road and began transporting goods overseas, they split up shipments among boats and caravans to minimize loss from theft and piracy. Merchants used signet rings to stamp seals on shipments, making it easier to identify goods on arrival. Their rings became a new sign of wealth and success.

Post Medieval Signet ring Engraved With A Fleur-de-Lis & Niello Filled Pattern
Berganza Collection

By the Victorian era, signet rings had become a staple of the well-dressed gentlemen, and part of the revivals of Renaissance and ancient engagement rings and jewellery. Signet rings remained a staple through the Art Deco and wartime eras, and maintained a high level of quality and elegance.

We are privileged to be able to offer such a unique and outstanding collection of these very special and rare rings which can be prized, appreciated and worn today.

Ancient Roman signet ring berganza hatton garden
Ancient Roman signet ring engraved with Victoria (Victory), circa 2nd century AD.
Ref: 25462
Ancient Roman 'EVT/VXI' gold signet ring berganza hatton garden
Ancient Roman 'EVT/VXI' gold signet ring, circa 2nd - 3rd century AD.
Ref: 27540
Byzantine silver niello ring berganza hatton garden
Byzantine silver and niello guilloche ring, circa 12th-14th century AD.
Ref: 26396
Medieval lion intaglio ring, circa 11th 12th century AD. Hatton Garden
Medieval lion intaglio ring, circa 11th-12th century AD.
Ref: 27572
Victorian sardonyx cameo of John Milton berganza hatton garden
Stuart sardonyx cameo of John Milton mounted in a Victorian gold ring, English, circa 1901.
Ref: 17172
front view Renaissance gold signet ring berganza hatton garden
Renaissance gold 'Bamme Family' signet ring with rock crystal seal, circa 16th-17th century.
Ref: 26409
Early hardstone cameo ring of King George III. Hatton garden
Early hardstone cameo ring of King George III
Ref: 14437
Victorian sardonyx signet ring, English, 1862. Hatton Garden
Victorian sardonyx signet ring, English, 1862.
Ref: 27705
Art Nouveau gold signet ring, French, circa 1905. Hatton Garden
Art Nouveau gold signet ring, French, circa 1905.
Ref: 27798
 S. Kind & Sons sugarloaf cabochon sapphire ring, circa 1935. berganza hatton garden
S. Kind & Sons sugarloaf cabochon sapphire ring, circa 1935.
Ref: 14365
 vintage diamond engagement ring hatton garden berganza
Solitaire rose cut diamond ring, circa 1950.
Ref: 26454
Burmese sapphire solitiare ring, circa 1990. hatton garden
Burmese sapphire cabochon solitaire ring.
Ref: 27352
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Updated 18/05/2024 at 3:51PM

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