The signet ring, one of the oldest and most enduring jewelry styles, has become a chic staple of modern fine jewelry design.
The basic signet design is old—ancient, in fact. Historical evidence shows that humans were adorning themselves with signets as early as 1400 B.C., and since the days of ancient accessorizing, numerous different cultures have put their own spin on the style. Now, a new generation of designers has rediscovered the signet as a handy canvas for creativity.
The name, derived from the Latin signum meaning “sign,” gets at the ring’s most defining feature: a flat top that’s left smooth or engraved or otherwise festooned with imagery. Traditionally, signets served as a kind of identification, denoting the wearer’s lineage, profession or status, and also doubled as a tool for imprinting clay or wax seals. Think of them as the original QR code. A favorite accessory for aristocrats, they can be spotted on many a royal pinky, including King Charles II’s.
That may be one reason why signet rings feel so right for right now. Social media is a daily exercise in personal branding, and there may be no better jewel for expressing yourself than a signet. It’s also genderless. And the wearers’ choice of embellishment or decoration makes them one of the most customizable styles in all of jewelry.
After all, signets can convey anything, stylistically speaking; they can be preppy, romantic, delicate, bulky, goth, etc. Many modern makers celebrate the signet’s history with talismanic motifs, from mythological animals and zodiac glyphs to classic monograms. What’s novel about the best new signets are the materials and methods used to illustrate these designs.
British brand Cece Jewellery uses artfully detailed enamel paintings in combination with engraving. Fellow Brit Castro Smith employs traditional Japanese hand-engraving techniques to yield designs with remarkable depth and intricacy. Another Anglo brand, Ferian, creates neoclassical mashups setting antique Wedgewood porcelain cameos in contemporary gold bands.
Others have taken a more abstract approach, using gemstones and playful engravings in lieu of symbolic imagery. Japanese brand Shihara offers several sleek, minimalist signets in either plain solid gold or adorned with a single rough diamond. Los Angeles-based Polly Wales studs hers with a kaleidoscopic array of colored gems. Australian designer Seb Brown also uses colored gems and even pearls, though his charmingly naïf smiley face ring is particularly lovely.
In any iteration, signets offer an endlessly wearable jewel steeped in history and individual expression. Here are a handful of new (and let’s face it, already classic) signets for your consideration. —Kareem Rashed
Cece Jewellery 18k gold, enamel and diamond ring, £2,860
Atelier Narce 14k gold and champagne diamond ring, $1,500
Castro Smith 18k gold, ceramic and silver ring, £3,300
Alison Lou 14k gold and enamel ring, $1, 595
Shihara 18k gold and rough diamond ring, from $5,430
Seb Brown 9k gold ring, $895
Sidney Garber 18k gold zodiac ring, $2,900
Ferian 9k gold and ceramic ring, $638
David Yurman 18k gold and diamond ring, from $1,300
Top photo: Polly Wales 18k gold and rainbow sapphire ring, $3,960