Signet Rings ~ A Personal History

Updated: Jan 19

signet ring gold heraldry coat of arms ancestry ancestor history
My father's signet ring (left) featuring the d'Aste (Italian) coat of arms and my great-grandfather's ring (right) featuring the Surcouf coat of arms.

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.

signet ring fleur de list gold french custom jewelry
A weighty modern signet ring featuring the French Fleur-de-lis.

The engraving on these unique rings was done by hand and featured intricate family coats 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 above are family signet rings. The crown is that of the Baron d’Empire or Baron. You also see a chevron which was common in both British and French coats 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. Lastly, above the chevron sits the stately lion which symbolizes courage, nobility, and royalty.

The Duke’s crown sits atop the three pinecones, or "pineapples" as they are officially called in heraldry, which are representative of an 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 defense.

signet ring lady's custom jewelry yellow gold personal gift for her san francisco
A lady's customizable gold signet ring with a knife-edge shank. This ring can be engraved with a monogram, initial, personal message or a design.

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