History of Signet Rings

Written by vernelle nelson
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History of Signet Rings
The signet ring has long been a symbol of superiority (vintage ring image by studio vision 1 from Fotolia.com)

Signet rings have been used to affix personal identification marks and stamps of approval to documents throughout history. Signet rings are ornamental pieces of jewellery that have traditionally been adorned with coats of armour, family crests or symbols representing membership in specific organisations or associations. When pressed into a blob of hot wax, the signet ring doubles as a personalised stamp of approval.

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Signet Rings in the Bible

The term signet ring or seal has its origins in the Hebrew and Greek words "hotam" and "sphragis." Original signets were put to use much the same way as today's signatures or signs of authority and were displayed on documents, doors or tombs. The Bible contains stories of the signet ring or seal both literally and metaphorically. "A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel's situation might not be changed." Daniel 6:17 (NIV)

Early Egypt

Signet rings in ancient Egypt were made from stone. They were flat on one side, round on the other. The flat side was ornately decorated with inscriptions, symbols, hieroglyphics or images of the scarabaeus or the sacred beetle, which was worshipped by both Egyptians and Phoenicians as well as other ancient cultures. These seals were occasionally made from blue pottery.

Mesopotamia

Around 3500 BCE cylindrical signet seals were first used in Mesopotamia. Packages or jars were sealed by rolling the signet seal across soft wet clay.

Birth of the Modern Day Signet Ring

During the Middle Ages, signet rings were used to show that the wearer was privileged and as a means of sealing letters to prove their authenticity. Before long, signets rings and seals were the single indicator that legal, government and business documents were genuine. Beginning with the reign of England's King Edward II (1307-27) and ending in 1851, the seal from the king's signet ring was required on all official documents.

Signet Rings Today

Today, the signet ring is no longer accepted as a legally binding signature or an indication of authenticity. However, it continues to be worn by individuals who choose to publicly display their family lineage or affiliations for all to see.

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