What is a Signet Ring?

signet rings

Written by Sonia Su

When I was preparing for my high school graduation, I encountered a tradition that was completely new to me: the signet ring.

Until then, I had never given much thought to this piece of jewelry and had no idea that people have worn signet rings for thousands of years. However, as I began ordering my gold signet ring, I found myself intrigued by its history and significance.

The more I learned about signet rings, the more I appreciated their role as a timeless symbol of identity, heritage, and achievement.

This experience sparked my curiosity and led me to delve deeper into the fascinating world of signet rings, uncovering their rich and varied past. In this article, I cover the definition and features of a signet ring, its evolution from a practical sealing device to a symbol of identity and prestige.

signet rings


What is a Signet Ring

A signet ring is typically worn on the little finger and is historically used to seal documents by pressing the engraving into soft wax or clay. Here are the key features of a signet ring:

  • Engraved Design: The defining feature of a signet ring is its flat bezel, which is typically engraved with a unique design, such as a family crest, coat of arms, monogram, or personal symbol.
  • Material: Signet rings are usually made from precious metals like gold, silver, or platinum. Some may also incorporate gemstones.
  • Shape: The bezel can be of various shapes, including oval, square, round, or cushion-shaped, each providing a distinctive look.
gemstone signet ring

A signet ring is a versatile and meaningful piece of jewelry that has evolved from a practical tool for authentication to a personal and fashionable accessory, rich with historical and cultural significance.


Origins of the Signet Ring

The origins of the signet ring trace back thousands of years, with its history deeply embedded in various ancient civilizations.

Ancient Egypt

Signet rings first appeared in ancient Egypt around 3500 BCE. These rings were often engraved with hieroglyphics and used by Pharaohs and officials to sign documents and mark possessions.

The engraved design on the ring, usually bearing the owner's name or a symbolic motif, would be pressed into soft clay or wax, creating an official seal.


In Mesopotamia, around 3500 to 3000 BCE, signet rings also emerged as important tools for authentication and security. The rings typically featured intricate designs and were used by merchants and government officials to seal transactions and secure goods.

Ancient Greece and Rome

The use of signet rings expanded to Ancient Greece and Rome by the 5th century BCE. Greek signet rings often depicted gods, goddesses, and mythological scenes, signifying not only the owner’s identity but also their beliefs and social status.

In Rome, signet rings became widely used by senators and officials. Roman rings were usually crafted from gold or silver and featured the owner's emblem, family crest, or an image of a deity.

gold signet ring

A gold signet ring is a classic and prestigious type of jewelry traditionally crafted from gold, though they can also be made from other precious metals like silver or platinum.

A gold signet ring is distinguished by its flat, smooth bezel (the top part of the ring), which is traditionally used for engraving. A gold signet ring often bears intricate designs, family crests, monograms, or other personalized, meaningful symbols.

Historically, the gold ring has been worn by individuals of high social status, including nobility and royalty, as well as by professionals such as lawyers and doctors.

Medieval Europe

During the Middle Ages, signet rings continued to hold significant importance in Europe. Nobility and royalty used them to seal letters and official documents, ensuring their authenticity. The rings were often passed down through generations, becoming family heirlooms.

gold signet ring

By the 14th and 15th centuries, the use of signet rings had become more widespread, extending beyond the nobility to include merchants and other influential individuals.

Renaissance to Modern Times

In the Renaissance period, the artistry of signet rings flourished. They were meticulously crafted and became symbols of power and prestige. The tradition of using signet rings for sealing important documents persisted, even as signatures became more common.

Kendra Scott's Signet Ring in Oxidized Sterling Silver


Contemporary Use

Today, while the practical use of these rings for sealing documents has diminished with modern technology, they remain popular as symbols of heritage and status.

Many families still cherish them as heirlooms, and they are often used in ceremonies or as fashion statements, engraved with family crests, initials, or personal symbols.

Overall, the signet ring’s evolution from a practical sealing device to a symbol of identity and prestige underscores its enduring significance across different cultures and eras.

signet ring


Common Signet Ring Styles

Signet rings come in a variety of styles, each with its unique characteristics and historical significance. Here are some of the most common styles:

Style Name


Materials Commonly Used

Historical Period/Origin


Features an engraved design (recessed into the surface) which creates a raised impression when stamped.

Gold, Silver, Gemstones

Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome


Has a raised (relief) design carved from a contrasting material, often depicting profiles or scenes.

Agate, Onyx, Shell, Lava

Ancient Greece, Rome, Renaissance


Engraved with a family crest or coat of arms, often used to signify noble heritage.

Gold, Silver

Medieval Europe


Features initials or a monogram, often intertwined in an ornate design.

Gold, Silver

Victorian Era

Plain Signet

A simple, unadorned surface, sometimes used for personal engraving or left as is for a minimalist look.

Gold, Silver, Platinum



Engraved with a detailed family or organizational crest, often used in traditional ceremonies or as heirlooms.

Gold, Silver

Medieval Europe


Specifically designed for creating seals, often with intricate, reversed designs for stamping into wax or clay.

Gold, Silver, Brass

Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt


Engraved with the emblem or insignia of a school or university, often worn by alumni or graduating students.

Gold, Silver

Modern Times

Class Ring

Typically features a stone (often a birthstone) and engravings related to the wearer's graduating class or school achievements.

Gold, Silver, Platinum, Various Gems

20th Century to Present


Engraved with Masonic symbols such as the square and compass, often worn by members of the Freemasons.

Gold, Silver

18th Century to Present

Modern Artistic

Features contemporary designs, sometimes abstract or minimalist, often incorporating unconventional materials and innovative techniques.

Various Metals, Mixed Materials

20th Century to Present


Authentic or replica styles from past eras, often characterized by intricate craftsmanship and period-specific designs.

Gold, Silver, Enamel, Gemstones

Various Historical Periods


Engraved with the logo or emblem of a company or organization, used to signify affiliation or membership.

Gold, Silver, Platinum

20th Century to Present


Features insignia, crests, or symbols related to military service, often used to denote rank, unit, or branch of service.

Gold, Silver

Various, prominently from the 19th Century


Custom-designed rings that may include a mix of monograms, crests, or unique symbols meaningful to the wearer.

Various Metals and Materials


This table provides an overview of the diverse styles of signet rings, highlighting their unique features, materials, and historical origins.


The Benefits of Wearing a Signet Ring

Wearing a signet ring offers a variety of benefits, ranging from personal expression to practical use. Here are some key advantages:

signet ring

1. Symbol of Identity and Heritage

  • Personal Connection: Signet rings often feature family crests, initials, or personal symbols, making them a unique representation of one's identity and heritage.
  • Legacy: These rings are frequently passed down through generations, serving as cherished heirlooms that connect the wearer to their ancestry.signet ring

2. Status and Prestige

  • Social Significance: Historically, signet rings have been associated with nobility, royalty, and influential figures, symbolizing status and power.
  • Recognition: Wearing a signet ring can signify one's membership in a prestigious family, organization, or society.

3. Fashion and Style

  • Versatility: Available in various styles, shapes, and materials, signet rings can complement both formal and casual outfits, adding a touch of elegance and sophistication.
  • Statement Piece: A well-crafted signet ring can serve as a distinctive accessory, drawing attention and sparking conversations.

4. Personal Security

  • Authentication: Historically used to seal documents, the unique design of a signet ring can still serve as a personal mark for authenticating letters or agreements.
  • Signature Alternative: In certain contexts, a signet ring can be used in place of a handwritten signature, adding a layer of security and personalization.

5. Tradition and Ritual

  • Ceremonial Use: Signet rings are often used in various ceremonies and rituals, such as graduations, inductions, or family gatherings, symbolizing important milestones and achievements.
  • Cultural Significance: In many cultures, signet rings hold deep symbolic meanings and are integral to traditional practices.

6. Emotional Value

  • Sentimental Worth: Beyond their material value, signet rings often carry emotional significance, representing personal milestones, relationships, and memories.

  • Gift of Meaning: Gifting a signet ring can be a powerful gesture, conveying deep respect, love, and connection.

7. Customization and Uniqueness

  • Bespoke Design: Signet rings can be customized to reflect personal tastes and preferences, making each piece unique.
  • Artistic Expression: Engraving and design choices allow for creative expression, turning the ring into a personal work of art.

8. Practicality and Durability

  • Durable Material: Most signet rings are typically made from robust materials like gold, silver, or platinum, signet rings are designed to withstand daily wear and last for generations.

AllSaints' Ryker Sterling Silver Stone Ring
  • Everyday Use: Their sturdy construction makes them suitable for everyday wear, providing both beauty and functionality.

9. Connection to History

  • Historical Link: Wearing a signet ring connects the wearer to centuries of tradition and history, offering a sense of continuity and timelessness.
  • Educational Value: Understanding the history and significance of signet rings can enrich one's appreciation for cultural and historical heritage.

In summary, wearing a signet ring offers multifaceted benefits, from enhancing style and signifying social status to preserving family heritage and providing practical security.


How to Wear a Signet Ring

Wearing a signet ring involves more than just slipping it on your finger; it carries cultural, traditional, and personal significance. Here are some guidelines on how to wear a signet ring:

1. Choosing the Finger

signet ring on pinky finger
  • Pinky Finger: Traditionally, signet rings are worn on the pinky finger of the non-dominant hand. Wearing it as a pinky ring is the most common placement, particularly in British and European traditions.
  • Ring Finger: Some people prefer to wear their signet ring on the ring finger, especially if the pinky finger feels uncomfortable or if they want to pair it with other rings.
  • Index Finger: In some cultures, wearing signet rings on the index finger is a symbol of authority and power.signet ring on index finger
  • Middle Finger: Less common, but wearing signet rings on the middle finger can make a bold fashion statement.

2. Orientation of the Engraving

  • Facing Outward: When traditionally worn, the engraving on the signet ring traditionally faces outward, towards the tip of the finger. This orientation is practical for using the ring to seal documents.
  • Facing Inward: Some prefer the engraving to face inward, towards themselves, which can be a personal choice or signify that the ring is a private or personal symbol.

3. Matching with Other Jewelry

  • Metal Consistency: Match the metal of your signet ring with other jewelry pieces you wear, such as your watch, bracelets, or other rings, to create a cohesive look. So if you wear a rose gold signet ring or a classic gold signet ring, try pairing the gold ring with gold accessories, such as this gold silk pocket square or black and gold tie clip from Nimble Made.
    Gold pocket square
  • Minimalist Approach: If your signet ring is ornate or has a bold design, consider keeping other jewelry minimal to allow the ring to stand out.

4. Occasions for Wearing

  • Formal Events: Signet rings are ideal for formal occasions, adding a touch of sophistication and elegance to your outfit.
  • Everyday Wear: Many people wear their signet rings daily. Choose a design that is comfortable and suits your daily style if you plan to wear it often.

AllSaints' Ryker Sterling Silver Stone Ring

allsaints mens signet ring Sterling Silver Stone

  • Special Ceremonies: Signet rings are often worn during important family or social ceremonies, symbolizing heritage and tradition.

5. Style Considerations

Kendra Scott's Signet Ring in Oxidized Sterling Silver

  • Classic Designs: For a timeless look, choose classic designs such as oval or cushion-shaped rings with simple engravings.
  • Modern Designs: Contemporary styles might include unique shapes, mixed metals, or additional gemstones, catering to more fashion-forward preferences.
  • Personalization: Consider customizing your signet ring with engravings that have personal significance, such as your initials, family crest, or a meaningful symbol.

6. Cultural and Traditional Practices

  • Family Heirloom: If the signet ring is a family heirloom, it's essential to honor the traditions associated with it, such as the finger it is worn on or the direction of the engraving.
  • Cultural Norms: Be aware of cultural norms and practices related to signet rings in your heritage or the heritage of the ring’s origin.

7. Comfort and Fit

  • Proper Sizing: Ensure your signet ring fits well—snug enough to stay in place but loose enough to be comfortable. An ill-fitting ring can be uncomfortable and may even cause damage over time.
  • Adjustment: If the ring is too loose or too tight, have it professionally adjusted to avoid discomfort or loss.

8. Maintaining the Ring

  • Regular Cleaning: Keep your signet ring clean by regularly polishing it with a soft cloth and using appropriate jewelry cleaners for the metal and stones.
  • Professional Maintenance: Periodically have your ring inspected by a professional jeweler to ensure the engraving remains sharp and the setting is secure.

By following these guidelines, you can wear your signet ring with confidence, respecting its history and significance while also reflecting your style.

How to Wear Multiple Signet Rings

Wearing multiple signet rings can be a stylish and sophisticated choice when done thoughtfully. Here are some guidelines on how to wear multiple signet rings effectively:

1. Balance and Proportion

  • Even Distribution: Spread the rings across both hands to avoid looking overly cluttered on one hand. For example, wear one or two rings on each hand.
  • Finger Selection: Choose different fingers to wear each ring. A common approach is to wear signet rings on the pinky fingers of both hands or the pinky and ring finger of one hand.

2. Coordination and Style

  • Matching Metals: Ensure the metals of your signet rings are consistent or complementary. Mixing metals can be stylish if done carefully, but matching metals typically offer a more cohesive look.
  • Consistent Style: Choose signet rings with similar styles or themes. If you have a classic signet ring, pair it with another classic piece rather than a modern, avant-garde design.

3. Engravings and Symbols

  • Complementary Designs: If your rings have engravings or symbols, ensure they complement each other. For instance, a family crest or initials can work well together.
  • Personal Significance: Wear rings that have personal significance and reflect your identity. This could mean wearing rings from different family members or rings that symbolize different aspects of your heritage.

4. Outfit Coordination

  • Formal vs. Casual: Consider the occasion and your outfit. Multiple signet rings can work well with both formal and casual attire, but the style and size of the rings should match the dress code.
  • Simplify Other Accessories: If you’re wearing multiple signet rings, keep other jewelry minimal. For example, avoid wearing chunky bracelets or multiple necklaces that might compete for attention.

multiple rings

5. Comfort and Fit

  • Proper Sizing: Ensure all your rings fit properly. Rings that are too tight or too loose can be uncomfortable and may risk slipping off. Be sure to check out our ring size calculator for your perfect fit.
  • Comfort: Wearing multiple rings should not impede your daily activities. Make sure they are comfortable and practical for everyday wear.

6. Cultural and Personal Significance

  • Respect Traditions: If wearing multiple signet rings has cultural or family significance, adhere to those traditions. This could include specific fingers to wear the rings on or the order of wearing them.
  • Personal Style: While traditions are important, personal style should also be considered. Wear your rings in a way that feels authentic to you.

7. Maintenance and Care

  • Regular Cleaning: Keep your rings clean and polished to maintain their appearance. Use appropriate cleaning methods for the materials.
  • Professional Checks: Have your rings periodically checked by a jeweler to ensure the engravings are sharp and the settings are secure.

ring cleaning

Example Arrangements:

  1. Classic and Balanced: Wear a signet ring on the pinky finger of your right hand and another on the ring finger of your left hand.
  2. Modern and Bold: Wear a larger signet ring on the index finger of one hand and a smaller, simpler one on the pinky finger of the other hand.
  3. Layered Look: Wear a thin signet ring stacked with a plain band on one finger, creating a layered effect.

By following these guidelines, you can wear multiple signet rings in a way that is stylish, comfortable, and meaningful, while maintaining a balanced and elegant appearance.


Where to Buy Signet Rings

When looking to buy a signet ring, there are several types of places to consider, each offering a range of options in terms of style, customization, and price. Here are some recommended sources:

jewelry store

1. Jewelry Stores

  • Local Jewelers: Visiting a local jeweler allows you to see and try on rings in person. Many jewelers offer customization options and can provide expert advice.
  • High-End Retailers: Luxury jewelry stores like Tiffany & Co., Cartier, and Harry Winston offer exquisite signet rings, often with the option for bespoke engravings.

2. Online Retailers

  • Etsy: Etsy is a popular platform for unique, handcrafted signet rings. You can find a wide range of designs from independent jewelers and artisans.
  • Blue Nile: Known for its high-quality jewelry, Blue Nile offers customizable signet rings with various metal and engraving options.
  • James Allen: Another reputable online retailer, James Allen provides detailed images and customization options for signet rings.

3. Specialty Websites

  • Signet Ring Company: Dedicated to signet rings, this company offers a wide range of traditional and contemporary designs, with extensive customization options.
  • Rebus: Specializing in hand-engraved signet rings, Rebus offers high-quality, personalized rings crafted by skilled artisans.
  • Herff Jones: Known for class rings and other commemorative jewelry, Herff Jones provides customizable signet rings for special occasions.

4. Antique and Vintage Stores

antique shop
  • Antique Shops: Visiting local antique shops can yield unique, historical signet rings with intricate designs and rich histories.
  • Vintage Jewelry Stores: Specialty vintage stores often carry a selection of antique signet rings, each with its own story and character.

5. Auction Houses

  • Sotheby’s: Renowned auction house Sotheby’s occasionally features antique and high-end signet rings in their jewelry auctions.
  • Christie’s: Another prestigious auction house, Christie’s, offers a variety of signet rings, including rare and historically significant pieces.

6. Custom Jewelers

  • Bespoke Jewelers: For a truly unique signet ring, consider commissioning a custom piece from a bespoke jeweler. This option allows you to work closely with a jeweler to create a ring that perfectly matches your vision.

7. Family Heirlooms

  • Inherited Rings: Sometimes the best place to find a signet ring is within your own family. Heirloom rings carry significant sentimental value and can be resized or restored if needed.

Tips for Buying a Signet Ring

  • Research: Before making a purchase, research different styles, materials, and engraving options to ensure you find a ring that suits your preferences and needs.
  • Reputation: Choose a reputable jeweler or retailer, especially if buying online. Check reviews and ratings to ensure quality and reliability.
  • Customization: If you want a personalized signet ring, inquire about customization options such as engraving, choice of metal, and gemstone additions.
  • Sizing: Ensure you have the correct ring size. Many jewelers offer sizing guides or will help you determine your size in-store.
  • Budget: Set a budget and explore options within your price range. Signet rings can vary widely in cost depending on the materials and craftsmanship.

By exploring these various sources, you can find a signet ring that not only meets your style and preference but also carries the significance and quality you desire.

For more on accessories, check out these guides from Nimble Made below:


Frequently Asked Questions about Signet Ring

What does wearing a signet ring mean?

Wearing a signet ring traditionally signifies a connection to heritage, family lineage, or a particular institution. It often reflects status, authority, or membership in a specific group or organization. The engraved design on the ring serves as a personal emblem, representing identity and serving practical purposes historically, such as sealing documents. To wear a signet ring in modern times can also be a fashion statement or a way to honor tradition and history.

Who gets a signet ring?

A signet ring is typically worn by individuals seeking to display personal or familial heritage, often passed down through generations. They are commonly worn by those in positions of authority, such as nobility, officials, or professionals, to signify status and identity. Additionally, these rings are popular among individuals commemorating significant milestones, like graduations or achievements, making them a symbol of personal accomplishment and tradition.

What finger should you wear a signet ring on?

A signet ring is traditionally worn on the little finger of the dominant hand. This placement allows for easy use when sealing documents or making impressions in wax or clay. However, in modern times, these rings can also be worn on any finger that feels comfortable and suits personal style, including the ring finger or middle finger of either hand. The choice of finger often depends on individual preference and cultural norms.

What is a signet ring in the Bible?

In the Bible, a signet ring symbolizes authority and authenticity. It was used as a personal seal to validate documents and decrees, often by pressing the ring's engraved design into wax or clay. These rings were associated with kings, nobles, and officials, indicating their official approval or ownership of a document or object. This ancient practice underscores the ring's significance in establishing and affirming legal and official matters in biblical times.

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