And while it’s rather impossible to wiggle within those restrictions when it comes to suits or shoes, we are left with some freedom when it comes to accessories.
Ties, watches, cufflinks, and handkerchiefs (pocket squares) are usually the options men go for. Jewellery, often diminished to lonesome wedding rings, is more of a women’s accessory in today’s world.
Nonetheless, as you’ve most likely noticed – popularity is a loop. Trends come and go. Classic men’s style, even so permanent, changes ever so slightly. The unfairly forgotten, in my humble opinion, interest in men’s jewellery seems to be on the rise, with more and more individuals, risking the discomfort of standing out from the crowd, turning their gaze to the intricate world of the never-ending possibilities of expression that jewellery has to offer.
Today, we shall focus on rings. Signet rings, to be more precise.
What is a signet ring?
A signet ring, also called a seal ring, is a specific type of men’s jewellery that was designed to serve as, you guessed it, a seal. The most classic decoration consists of a mirrored, indent symbol, initially a coat of arms, that will produce a raised impression when pressed into liquid wax.
Don’t get confused, however. A signet ring is not a mere utility gadget, as in the past, those who had to seal things were usually of noble or otherwise important background. Now, speaking of the past…
Signet ring’s history
The first mention of something of similarity to the seal rings we are discussing today, dates back to as long as 3,500 BCE. According to The History Press, some records strongly suggest that the people of Mesopotamia utilized cylindrical seals as a mark of authenticity.
The Ancient Egyptians transformed those seals into what we now know as seal rings, which were worn by pharaohs and other powerful figures. By the Middle Ages, a signet ring became an indispensable element of authority and influence, and was used to sign letters and documents of legal importance.
King Edward II (fourteenth century CE) decreed that all official documents must be henceforth signed with the King’s, and the King’s only, signet ring. The majority of rings of this period didn’t make it to showcase their glory today, as they were usually destroyed after their owner’s death, simply to avoid any possibility of forgery post factum.
Nowadays, it’s rather impossible to find a ring that serves any legal purpose, and thus signet rings have become a mere fashion item for most and a sign of affinity to those who stay loyal to the traditions or are actually of noble pedigree.
Who can wear a signet ring?
‘Can I wear a signet ring, then?’, you may ask me. And the answer is rather simple. Yes. Yes, you can. I’ll tell you even more – you should!
First, it is still one of the most classic types of men’s jewellery, and therefore, if you’re not yet comfortable diving deeper into the world of rings – that’s a marvellous starting point.
Second, it is an even better reason to design your own family crest… I’m not a nobleman, but I’m also not a traditionalist who’s going to gatekeep who can or cannot have a crest.
Out of numerous traditions that I discard, creating a legacy, something of bigger sentimental value to you and your family, is a beautiful thing I won’t stop advocating for.
When to wear a signet ring
As it often goes with the books on etiquette, each author has their own ‘single source of truth’, and thus you might come across diametrically different opinions. Some say wearing a signet ring in the twenty-first century is a mauve ton. Some reserve the right to do so to those of noble roots. Some claim it is acceptable to wear it only outside of black and white tie occasions. Whoever you decide to agree with – that’s up to you.
In my humble opinion, and considering my marketing background, wearing a signet ring is not only a splendid conversation-starter, but also a fine detail that can easily help you build your personal brand identity.
How to wear a signet ring
Now, if you decide to give it a try and start wearing a seal ring, let’s talk hands and fingers.
Which hand to wear a signet ring on?
According to a widespread rule of the symbolism of body sides, the left side symbolizes feelings, the right – power and authority. Since a signet ring is historically a ring of power, it is usually worn on the right hand.
Surprisingly, at least to me, finger-related symbolism is really in-depth. Whether to respect what I’m about to elaborate on below is up to you. Don’t feel in any way obligated to follow it, as it might appear to you as extremely outdated. Which is fair enough.
The name itself implies that one should seek no more and wear their signet ring on the ring finger. Its Latin name (digitus medicinalis) means ‘medicine finger’ and was widely believed to have a vein that connects it to the heart, quickly making it the most important finger, more often than not affiliated with magic capabilities.
Yet, a regular signet ring was not considered the most significant of rings, especially due to its utility role. And since a symbol on its top was a negative – it was thus believed wearing it on a ring finger would produce a negative effect on its wearer. Whatever that means…
For no apparent reason, humans of the past had little to no interest in a middle finger. It was as neutral as they come. Usually used to wear rings that otherwise were not allowed to be worn on the other ones.
Somehow, personally, I prefer to wear my rings on the middle fingers too. They appear to be the most comfortable ones, especially with larger rings.
My research indicates that the index finger was considered a god’s finger, often times related purely to religious traditions. Since I’m an atheist and I have zero interest in learning about the details of each religion, I’ll advise you to search within your specific one, if you happen to be a theist.
A thumb is regarded as a phallic symbol. If you’d use it to wear a wedding ring, some might read that as your intention to emphasize the sexual nature of your relationship. In the ancient times, it was believed that wearing a ring on a thumb enhanced a man’s potency.
According to etiquette, accentuating your sexual preferences is not considered elegant, and thus it’s advised to gentlemen to avoid wearing jewellery on their thumbs.
The most commonly accepted finger for wearing a man’s signet ring is a pinky finger. No surprise here, as it is logically the most comfortable way to wear something that was used by our ancestors to sign letters and documents throughout the day.
Signet rings’ shapes
Here was supposed to be an entire section about the intricacies behind all the various signet rings’ shapes, presumably having evolved in different eras and offering different meanings, but it wasn’t as spectacular as I had hoped for.
Sure, you have the most commonly used classics like an oval-shaped or a cushion-shaped signet ring, but none of them seem to have any added message behind them. It’s a mere design choice and should be treated as such by selecting the one that looks best to you and can produce the perfect impression when pressed into wax.
If your particular crest or symbol wouldn’t properly fit into a circular shape – inspect other options, which is best to do with the jeweller or engraver you’ll be working with.
All in all, signet rings are slowly coming back. If you’ve fancied an idea of getting one yourself – nothing should hold you back. Don’t have a family crest? No problem, make one.
If you’ll end up not wearing the ring, creating your own coat of arms might not only be a marvellous way to spend time with your close ones, but also serve as an artefact of great importance to you and your future generations… if you decide to have offspring, that is. Gentlemen can be child-free after all.