Gone are the days when signet rings belonged solely to the aristocracy and landed gentry.
These days, signet rings cross castes and are as likely to boast bespoke images as family crests and denote personal style, as well as select group membership.
While they are no longer used to seal all but the most ceremonial of documents and letters, they are high-tone accessories, and the whimsical among us may still press their personal seal on handwritten letters
It's art at heart
You could find a jeweller with the right tools to get the job done, but if you want your signet ring to become a treasured heirloom and last through the ages, you need to find a master at hand engraving rings. You want someone who can engrave the most delicate of details and do so in reverse so you can use your crest as a seal if you so choose. In a word, you want an artist. One such artist is Gary Callaghan, the master engraver at Masters Hand Engravers. He has over 30 years’ experience as a hand engraver, starting with a five-year apprenticeship with R.H. Wilkins at Hatton Garden. Callaghan’s skill has earned him acclaim as a prize-winner from both the National Association of Goldsmiths and De Beers.
Masters Hand Engravers is a conscientious company with a conscience. It uses only Fairtrade gold from South Africa, and each ring receives the British Hallmark from the London Assay Office. Hallmarking is important because it assures consumers that the precious metal item they’re buying is genuinely gold, platinum, or silver, as advertised. It's an independent mark of quality, and Masters Hand Engravers is proud to have Assay Assured Jewellery Retailer status.
Reverse goes first
Hand engravers use reverse, or seal engraving, to create a signet ring that stamps the crest or image the right way round in a wax impression. The engraving also has to be deep enough so that the crest is sufficiently prominent to stand out in the wax.
Reputable reverse seal engravers can work with both precious metals and semiprecious gem stones. This is great for those who like a splash of colour, as opposed to understated elegance. In fact, according to some retailers, plain and engraved gem stones are becoming more popular, especially among women.
The growing popularity among women makes a lie of the idea that signet rings are 'gentlemen's rings.' Women, like men, are choosing signet rings to pay homage to their families and family history. However, men and women are also choosing their own designs, from delicate blooms to favourite pets, and the more tattoo-inspired skulls and snakes twining around swords.
Designing women (and men)
If you're particularly arty yourself, you can create your own design and go to your engraver with a crystal clear vision of what you want. If you have a vague idea only, you and your engraver can work together to translate your vision to paper before you commit the design to a ring. You can also discuss reverse engraving if you have visions of signed, sealed, and delivered correspondence. Even if you know exactly what you want, your hand engraver will help you decide which metal and which shape will best show off your design.
There are more shapes than you might realise. There is the classic round shape and the equally classic square shape; these are the ones people most associate with signet rings. Rings with semi-precious stones are usually used with the classic round shape, whereas precious stones are often used with the square shape.
If your style is not even remotely understated and you’re all about the bling, then you might want a statement ring. They’re bigger than the standard ring and are chock-full diamonds, rubies, and various precious metals, including gold, white gold, and rose gold.
Traditional or not
Given that tradition is walking on the window ledge, it’s no surprise that consumers are less concerned about which finger is the traditional one for a signet ring. If you are a traditionalist, then your little finger is the way to go. You can take a step further and wear it on the little finger of your non-dominant hand. Practically speaking, it keeps the ring out of the way, but it still makes a statement.
Now, you can wear your signet ring on whichever finger you please, from the ring finger to the index finger, and even, if you really want to buck tradition, your thumb.