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A Bespoke Red Gold Signet Ring, Handmade in Cornwall

Signet Rings are back with a bang, and they are the perfect way to celebrate milestones.

Signet rings are associated with status and wealth, but they have such an interesting history that dates all the way back to ancient Egypt! A signet ring is a chunky style of ring with a wide head, complete with a shaped, flat surface that is traditionally engraved with a family crest or identifying marker. Today signet rings have a wider appeal, and a bespoke signet ring is the perfect opportunity to get creative.

Signet rings are also a wonderful gift, as it’s a tangible connection to family. I often design jewellery with its future in mind, considering how it might be durable and timeless enough to be inherited and cherished for many years to come ... Signet rings are well known for making their way through the generations, and often help us feel more connected to our family history.

Looking for a gift for a milestone birthday? Signet rings make for a beautiful coming of age gift, and I’ve made a fair few now for 18th and 21st birthdays.

Let's Talk About the History of Signet Rings:

Before we chat about a bespoke signet ring I made, I wanted to share a little more about the history of signet rings, because the origins of this style staple are astounding! Whistle stop tour of signet rings coming up:

One of the first forms of personalised jewellery, signet rings initially had a functional use in Ancient Egypt. A metalsmith would carve distinctive hieroglyphs, or an identifying design into the head of the ring, leaving a raised impression. This is called an intaglio design, and this raised surface allowed the ring to be pressed into soft wax to seal a document. This meant whoever received the letter had confirmation of who sent it.

Signet rings became more of a style item in ancient Greece, where they were used as an homage to the ancient Greeks' love of the natural world. Gold, silver, or bronze rings were often adorned with motifs from nature and were worn purely as decoration.

2nd Century Signet Ring engraved 'Utere felix', meaning 'Use happily' or 'use with luck'.

We continue the very quick world tour of signet rings, to ancient Rome. Here gold signet rings were still symbolically important and worn by powerful officials to reflect their status. Those not quite so high up in the social standing sported iron rings. Ancient Rome is where they started to experiment with signet rings, using gemstones that were easy to carve and also durable.

Gold signet ring, engraved with a skull surrounded by the name 'EDWARD x COPE', with behind a fragment of bone, presumably a talisman or relic. Made in England, early 1600-50.

So, until the European Renaissance signet rings were very much for the elite few. It wasn’t until the Renaissance from the 14th-17th century that trade, culture, and travel exploded, and the growth of the mercantile middle class meant more people were wearing personalised rings. Landowners, businessmen, skilled craftsmen, philosophers, explorers, royalty and religious spokespeople all wore rings that signified themselves or their profession, which were also used to seal important documents.

Sailing Ship Signet Ring, with the initials T. / I.R., Made in England, 1500-1600.

Fast forward to today, and signet rings are worn by anyone who loves the style, and the weight of a gorgeous chunky ring. We’re not using them to seal documents anymore (although wouldn’t that be fun) but we are still using them as a way to show our unique personality.

The Bespoke Jewellery Brief:

The lovely customer, C, came to me with the hope of creating a signet ring complete with her family crest. C had a collection of inherited red gold jewellery which was old fashioned or damaged, and not quite reaching its potential while gathering dust in her jewellery box.

The fact she didn’t wear these preloved rings didn’t take away their precious sentimental value, but she was longing for them to be remodelled into a style she’d love and wear day in and day out. I was going to give C’s existing jewellery a new lease of life!

After chatting it through, I showed C some design options, and once agreed I began the remodelling process to create a red gold signet ring in my independent Cornish jewellery workshop.

Melting Down Old & Unworn Jewellery for the Remodelling

Step one is to melt down C’s existing jewellery, a motley crew of 9ct red gold which has a lovely warm pinky hue. Side note - to find out more about red gold, and the different types of gold, this recent blog gives you the low down.

Using a blowtorch, I melted the red gold and poured the molten precious metal into an ingot mould, where it cools and takes the shape of a rounded rectangular bar. This is the blank canvas from which to work from, and is such an exciting step!

Getting the Perfect Signet Ring Shape

Signet rings are beautifully chunky, and consist of a wide band which gradually narrows to the back of the finger, but still must hold the weight of the top-heavy style at the front. I rolled the ingot into a metal sheet, and then transcribed an oval signet ring shape onto this sheet. This was my guide when it came to the saw!

I sawed around the signet ring shape, and then thinned out the back by hammering it down. The oval of the head needs to be lovely and deep for the engraver to work their magic, but you want the back to be thinner for comfort.

Once I had this basic form of the ring, I turned it round in my ring shank bender, which gives the band that smooth circular shape needed to fit onto your finger. I then soldered the gap in the circle to close the band and make it seamless.