Signet rings are rings that date from the times of the early Greeks. Records show the earliest signet rings were made of iron and used as military achievement symbols. Also known as "seal rings" that were later used for ornamentation, signet rings have a rich and interesting history and served practical used in ancient times.
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Signet rings date from the time of the early Greeks, when iron rings were worn by army commanders as a symbol of victory. Later, Romans began using materials other than iron to make rings, and the designs etched into them were reminiscent of Egyptian, Oriental and Greek motifs. In the Augustan age of Rome, rings were so prized that families kept them in specially designed boxes.
While signet rings were first worn by only highly decorated warriors as signs of victory, Romans later allowed others to wear them as signs of wealth and status; in the lavish Roman style, some rings were so large that their weight caused them to slip off the wearer's fingers in the heat and humidity of the Italian climate. The highly valued rings were removed from an owner's finger up his death, so it was an unlucky sign if a ring fell off the finger.
Very early iron signet rings were rather crudely made and had a thick shank. As finer jewellery-making skills were developed, Roman craftsmen created gold rings that often held polished gemstones, such as sapphires, emeralds and carnelian agate, that were set flush with the bezel that surrounded the stone and had the owner's seal carved into the surface. As their goldsmithing skills advanced, Roman ringmakers began to include filigree, granulation, fretwork and pierced work.
Signet rings developed into a personal seal or signature. The polished stone, usually rounded on top and carved on the flat side, had a tiny hole drilled through it. A small post was inserted through the hole and the post was attached to the ring shank, so the stone could rotate on a post. When the owner wanted to validate a legal document, he would remove the ring, flip the stone to reveal the flat, incised side and press it onto hot wax that was dripped onto the folded paper.
Signet Rings Today
Signet rings of today are worn by both men and women. Typically made of gold or silver, they often are incised with the family coat-of-arms. Many signet rings also bear fraternal lodge emblems or school symbols. Others are etched with the owner's initials.
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