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The History and Etiquette of Signet Rings

by habituallychic

08 . 03 . 21

I’ve started wearing a Revere Signet Ring and thought it might be nice to put together a post together on the history and etiquette of how to wear them.

I took this photo of gold Byzantine signet rings from 900-1300 inscribed with Greek at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. According to The History Press, signet rings go back as far as “3500 BC when the people of Mesopotamia used cylindrical seals as marks of authenticity. By the time of the ancient Egyptians the seal had become attached to a ring and Pharaohs and other important people of the day would wear them to show their position.”

“By the Middle Ages, any person of influence had a signet ring. This included all the nobility and they were used to sign all letters and legal documents. In fact, in the 14th-century King Edward II decreed that all official documents must be signed with the King’s signet ring. The majority of rings dating from these periods were destroyed when their owner died. This is because they were unique and it avoided any possibility of forged documents appearing after a nobleman’s death. Having a ring during this period marked you as a member of the highest class and above other, common men.”

Revere gifted me the custom Heritage Signet Ring and diamond stacking band above last year. When they reached out, I had to think about what I wanted to be engraved on my ring. We were in the middle of the pandemic but it also happened to be the 400 year anniversary of the Mayflower landing on Plymouth Rock. I decided on the crest of my ancestor who came over on the Mayflower for the engraving. I figured if he could survive the crossing and winter in New England in 1620 (unlike the one on the other side of my family who didn’t make it through the winter) and I could survive 2020, the ring would be a great reminder that anything is possible. They were kind enough to engrave the inside with 1620-2020 too. It’s honestly one of the best things anyone has ever given me and if you’d like to order one for yourself or as a gift, Revere is offering HC readers 10% off with the code CHIC10 which is valid until 31 August 2021.

Since receiving my signet ring, I’ve learned more about the etiquette surrounding them too. They are most prevalent in the United Kingdom since they have historic estates and crests that would have actually been used to seal documents and letters. I also learned that it’s tradition for children to be presented with a signet ring with the family crest on their 21st birthday.

If you don’t have a crest, you can always have your initials engraved on a signet ring like this Large Signet Ring.

Unlike the ring in this photo, the crest should always face toward you, never away. According to The Rake, “you never bear arms to the enemy. In skirmish, when rings were huge stone things, you didn’t want the enemy to see who’s coming. The theory being the signet is the most specific part of your outward identity, the enemy can’t get personal, goading and taunting by name. Another battle styling tradition states that the signet is always worn on the ‘guard hand’, the left, which is why it is often called a guard ring.” Usually this means the pinkie finger of the left hand. I always defer to the British Royal Family for matters of etiquette and Prince Charles always wears his official signet of the Prince of Wales on the pinkie finger of his left hand facing toward him in case you didn’t believe me.

This Retrouvai Grandfather Fantasy 14-karat Gold Ring looks British and is inscribed with the “fearless and extraordinary” on the inside which is a great motto.

Since titles are passed down the male line in the United Kingdom, signet rings were almost exclusively worn by men but women have started to adopt the signet ring too. I loved the gold signet ring on the character Sidonie in Madame Claude on Netflix that identified her as being from an aristocratic family.

This Small Signet Ring is a good size if you have smaller more delicate hands.

Tradition also states that the signet ring should be worn on the smallest finger of the non-dominant hand which is usually why it’s worn on the left hand but if you are left-handed, you can wear it on your right hand.

I love the oval shape of this Monogram Signet Ring.

The other reason the signet ring is worn on the pinkie is so the wearer could just turn their hand over to seal a document or letter. The ring later became symbolic with other stamps used to seal documents without burning your hand in hot wax.

You could always get the look with a plain gold signet ring if you can’t commit to a monogram.

You can find a wide array of new and vintage signet ring styles on Etsy, eBay, and 1stDibs.

This round demi-fine 14k gold-plated signet ring is another simple style that can be monogrammed with your initials.

I think signet rings always look best in gold and not silver. There’s also a difference between a signet ring and a pinkie ring if you know what I mean.

If a traditional signet ring isn’t your style, this handcrafted molten texture Lion Signet Ring is the perfect alternative.