A signet or seal ring is one that features a central incised decoration, either engraved directly into bezel of the ring or into a flat gemstone. The signet ring is one of the earliest forms of jewellery, originally a utilitarian object used to authenticate documents by impressing the seal into wax or clay, thus transferring the owner’s name or symbol.
Some of the earliest known signet rings were made by the Minoans in the sixteenth century BCE, though cylindrical signets set as pendants were used by the Sumerians as early as 5000 BCE. The ancient Egyptians wore signets rings with raised engraved metal bezels as well as rings set with hardstone scarabs which rotate to reveal a signet on the bottom of the stone. The ancient Greeks also embraced the practice of wearing signet rings, most commonly set with gems carved with gods and goddesses, though they are thought to have become primarily decorative in purpose. The ancient Romans, reinstated signets for sealing purposes. The use of seal rings continued throughout the Byzantine Empire, though they were made primarily in metal as knowledge of gem carving had been largely lost, and Christian symbolism replaced the Greco-Roman deities.