There are few things in the modern wardrobe that can approach the signet ring in pure longevity. Before they were a stylish piece of statement jewellery, signet rings were worn by Egyptian pharaohs, Mesopotamian kings and medieval monarchs, and have made regular appearances on the fingers of powerful, trend-setting men ever since.
While early examples of the signet ring varied slightly in design, both its form and function have remained notably unchanged for millennia. As the name suggests, the signet’s broad, flat surface – traditionally engraved with an official seal or family crest – was intended for signing important documents by leaving a mark in wax or clay. This basic form, which lends itself to decorative embellishment, has made these rings uniquely adaptable to centuries of changing tastes and trends.
“The important thing about these rings is that they visually displayed your power,” says Eve Townsend, a lecturer at the Ryerson University School of Fashion and an expert in 20th-century jewellery. “By wearing one, your status was on display for all to see.”
In more recent decades, says Townsend, the signet ring’s universal association with wealth and status has only deepened thanks to its place on the fingers of notorious TV and film characters. “Think of Tony Montana in Scarface, Roger Sterling in Mad Men, Napoleon Solo in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Tony Gillingham in Downton Abbey, James Bond… the list goes on,” she says. It’s hard to imagine anything else a medieval king, a 1960s ad executive and a Miami drug lord could have in common.
Whether you’re wearing a single piece or stacking on multiple rings, focus on cool or warm metals that coordinate with the watch straps, tie clips, cufflinks and belt buckles already in your wardrobe.
(From top to bottom) Pave ring in black titanium with black diamonds, $2,440 at David Yurman. Bee Chic silver hexagon ring, $295 at Maison Birks. Maison Margiela silver and black duet ring, $535 at Ssense. Northwest ring with black onyx, $850 at David Yurman. Alexander McQueen silver ring, $455 at Ssense. Wool flannel blazer, $4,925 at Hermès. Paul Smith blue suede jacket, $2,595 at Holt Renfrew.
For a more eclectic mix, ornate rings that incorporate bold stones and embossing seals highlight the historic side of signets.
(From top to bottom) Gucci silver Garden logo ring, $455 at Ssense. Petrvs lion ring in 18 karat gold, $1,250 at David Yurman. Versace gold round Medusa ring, $425, Maison Margiela silver ring with mother of pearl, $585, JW Anderson gold brushed ring, $330 at Ssense. Sweater, $2,610 at Prada.
Many jewellers can customize the bare facet of a signet with the wearer’s monogram. Otherwise, embrace your brand loyalty wearing a piece embellished with the logo of your go-to fashion label.
(From left to right) Ring in 18-karat gold, $4,500 at Tiffany & Co. K&Co Bespoke lion ring in 14-karat gold, $5,200 through kcobespoke.com. Oval ring in 18-karat gold, $4,500 at Tiffany & Co. Versace Medusa ring, $450 at Ssense. Petrvs 18-karat gold horse ring with black oynx, $3,400 at David Yurman. Bee Chic yellow gold ring, $1,295 at Maison Birks. Tuxedo jacket with detachable scarf, $3,128 at Dior Men.
Grooming by Christine Jairamsingh using Detox Mode Here + There Balm and Zyderma HS Clarifying Cream, available at the Detox Market. Manicure by Milena Iaizzo for Plutino Group. Models: Gio at Plutino Models, Sean at Dulcedo Management, Szymon at Want Management. Photo assistant: Alexandra Votsis. Stylist assistant: Amarinder Chahal.