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Signet rings have a history—these timeless pieces have been worn by everyone from kings and emperors to modern-day princesses. They are beautiful and sentimental pieces that can instantly become family heirlooms and can even be worn as engagement rings or as part of a wedding set.
What Is a Signet Ring?
A signet ring is typically engraved with a crest, monogram, or other design and worn on the pinky finger of the right hand. Originally, men used these rings as seals to confirm signatures on important documents, contracts, and letters, but today, many people wear signet rings as a fun accessory.
Ahead, learn the history and meaning of signet rings, including how to care for one, from jewelry experts Sandy Ip and Angela Kennedy. Read on for more!
Meet the Expert
History and Meaning of Signet Rings
Signet rings date back centuries and were popular in ancient Greece and Rome, among many other ancient civilizations; they were even found amidst the artifacts and treasures of the pharaohs in ancient Egypt! Traditionally, these rings were engraved with a family crest or a royal symbol and used to seal official documents or signify status. "A signet ring is traditionally worn by men of influence and high social status. It was worn on the pinky of the non-dominating hand," explains Ip.
The purpose of a signet ring, however, changed throughout the centuries. "During the Renaissance period, married couples wore signet rings with intertwining initials representing their union. From the 14th to 18th century, signet rings continued to be used as a symbol of prestige and used as seals for contracts, documents, private letters, and correspondences," Ip adds. "As more people became literate during the 19th century, signet rings were no longer used for business. Although by this time, many people wore their signet ring passed down from generations, representing their heritage and personal statement." Signet rings were primarily worn by men, but in the 1920s and 1930s, women began to wear signet rings with white, green, and violet stones to signify their right to vote.
The style has been especially popular with royals and families with long, storied legacies. Meghan Markle is a fan of the signet ring, as is her father-in-law Prince Charles, who is often seen wearing a large signet on his pinky. Signet rings can signal anything from membership in an organization to family legacy to your rank in the military. "What’s great about a signet ring is that it can suit anyone’s style. Anyone can wear them and they are a fun go-to accessory," shares Kennedy. "Signet rings are a great gift for a wedding, graduation, birthday, or a really fun gift to purchase for yourself that makes a statement and shows off your personal style."
What to Look for in a Signet Ring
- What shape is the face of a signet ring? Faces are commonly square, squoval, or circular shapes.
- Do I need to engrave my signet ring? While many opt to engrave their ring with their initials, a small design, or something sentimental, it’s certainly not required; they’re just as beautiful and compelling when left blank.
- How do I wear a signet ring? Signet rings are typically worn on the right hand, frequently on the pinky finger.
- What metal should I choose for my signet ring? Signet rings are most frequently seen in gold, but they are also available in other metals like white gold, rose gold, or silver.
How to Care for a Signet Ring
Because many signet rings are vintage pieces, it’s best to approach both cleaning and engraving delicately. If you’re looking to re-engrave a piece, speak to a trusted jeweler before proceeding. "Since most signet rings don't have stones set all around the shank, resizing is most likely not an issue. But to re-engrave, we would need to inspect the ring," shares Ip. "When taking a stone out of a vintage piece, we risk damaging the stone. The stone may have already experienced some degree of damage from decades of wear and tear; with even mild pressure from the production process, it could fall apart."
As for cleaning and caring for your signet ring, Kennedy recommends making it part of a regular routine so your piece looks its best. “"It’s important to clean your ring regularly if you want it to look clean and to really shine," she says. "If you are wearing it every day, it can build up dirt and grime from your skin and also from hair products and the environment. The best advice is to clean them regularly—experts recommend a minimum of a weekly cleaning with quality at-home products." If your ring is vintage, Ip recommends cleaning with utmost care. "For vintage pieces, we do not know exactly what methods were used to create the piece, so the best strategy is to clean it very gently to avoid accidentally damaging it. Avoid using strong cleaning solutions (baby soap is enough), and avoid putting [the ring] into a jewelry cleaning machine," she shares.
When it comes to a signet ring, it really is all about you. Check out some of the many different signet ring styles we love, from bold and modern pieces to delicate vintage designs.
Missoma Gold Open Heart Signet Ring
This pretty piece in 18K gold vermeil comes with Meghan Markle's stamp of approval. The Duchess of Sussex was spotted wearing it several years ago and it’s still available today.
Filigree Jewelers Victorian Signet Ring in 10K Yellow Gold
If you’re looking for a vintage signet ring with a traditional shape, look no further than this romantic Victorian piece with a hexagonal face.
Leo Black Small Heirloom Signet Ring
This delicate signet ring, which you can customize to your liking, will easily become a daily essential and piece you hand down in the future.
Mejuri Signet Ring
This simple signet ring is a wallet-friendly choice that looks good with anything, and it’s a great way to dip your toe (or should we say pinky?) into the signet world if you’re not sure the style is for you.
Mejuri Signet Pinky Ring Swiss Blue Topaz
For a twist on the classic signet ring, consider a ring with a gemstone set in the center of the face instead of engraving.
Tiffany & Co. Signet Ring in 18K Gold
Nothing says classic like Tiffany, and this simple gold signet ring is pure, elegant perfection. If you’re looking for something totally timeless, look no further!
Tiffany & Co. Makers Signet Ring in 18K Gold
This flat horizontal gold signet ring is ideal for someone who loves the idea of a signet ring but wants something less traditional and more modern in shape.
Jennifer Fisher Large Signet Ring
Go bold with a large, sleek, and shiny piece like this one from Jennifer Fisher. It comes in yellow, white, or rose gold and you can choose to engrave the face or leave it shiny and polished.
Anna Beck Large Smooth Signet Ring
If you prefer a larger ring, this circular design from Anna Beck may be the perfect fit. It’s handmade in Bali and made of 18K gold plated over sterling silver.
Zoë Chicco 14K Gold Large Oval Signet Ring
Simple, elegant, and totally modern, this 14K piece simply glows whether or not you choose to engrave it.
Foundrae Yellow Gold Balance Classic Signet Ring
Find your balance with this zodiac-inspired celestial piece. It’s handcrafted with a sun and moon design and is an inspired pick for anyone with an interest in astrology.
Shinola Runwell Pendant Signet Ring
Simple and smooth, this shining 14K gold ring has rounded edges and a cool disc shape that retains the spirit of vintage signet rings but gives the design a chic, modern spin.
Charles and Colvard Caydia Lab Grown Diamond Signature Cushion Initial Signet Ring in 14K Yellow Gold
This yellow gold piece is subtle but no less eye-catching than bolder pieces. It features a hidden lab-grown diamond in the band for an extra special detail.
Kay Jewelers Men’s Angel Warrior Signet Ring
Looking for a ring with more drama and embellishments? Look no further than this 10K yellow gold ring with a warrior angel design.