Signet Rings ~ A Personal History
Signet rings, for both men and women, have become increasingly popular. There is something about the heft of the gold weight on your hand that takes on a rich and important look. These signet rings usually have a monogram or design engraved on the top, making them more personalized and fashionable.
Historically, however, signet rings played quite an important role in business and politics. A gentleman of noble descent, would have worn a ring that was engraved with his unique family crest, emblem or monogram. He would have dipped the ring into heated wax or soft clay that had been poured on a document to seal it. At the time, when the majority of the population did not write, the seal would have been seen as more binding and important than a signature.
The engraving on these unique rings was done by hand and featured intricate family coat of arms. These coats of arms were a blend of symbolism that was unique to each family and represented their noble status, contributions as well as where they hailed from. Pictured below are signet rings that belonged to my father (left) and great-grandfather (right). My great-grandfather’s ring is from the Surcouf side of the family. Originally, from St. Malo (located in Brittany, France) the crown is that of the “Baron d’Empire” or Baron. You also see a chevron which was common in both British and French coat of arms. It represents the roof of a house, thus symbolizing protection. The three “coquilles” or scalloped seashells were golden and were representative of a successful commander who had made long journeys or gained great victories. Seeing these seashells is not a surprise considering the crest was created by my great-great-great (six times) grandfather, Robert Surcouf, who gained national acclaim under Napoleon for his naval battles against the English. Lastly, above the chevron sits the stately lion which symbolizes courage, nobility and royalty.
My father’s ring is from the Italian side of the family, originally from Albenga (just outside of Genoa). The Duke’s crown sits atop the three pinecones, or pineapples as they are officially called in heraldry, which are representative of inexhaustible abundance of life in nature. To the right of pinecones, the golden lion appears once more with “bends”, or diagonal lines behind him symbolizing the “knight’s scarf” or defence.