Today many people wear or own signet rings as they are often family heirlooms.
In historical times signet rings (also known as seal rings) were often decorative and beautiful but were also developed as an identification mark. Used, as a signature would be used today, to provide authenticity. Wax would be melted onto a document and the top of the ring was impressed into the wax to leave a clear and permanent mark.
Every ring was unique with identification markings of the person wearing it. This was often a coat of arms or family crest. Because the ring was intended to leave an impression the ring maker needed to create the design in mirror image on the ring.
Records show that people in Mesopotamia used signet rings as far back as 3500 BC. They were usually cylindrical devices that would be rolled across wet clay leaving an impression. Jars and packages were sealed in this way.
By the middle ages the wealthy and powerful would wear signet rings to show their position. They used their rings to sign and seal letters. All important legal documents were stamped with a signet ring and these rings were often destroyed when they died.
The nineteenth century saw signet rings become more of a status symbol rather than a legal mark and the top of the ring had decoration or engraving and also often had precious or semi-precious jewels added to them.
Today signet rings are worn as a personalised piece of jewellery rather than a means of identification. Family crests, initials or some other personalised design is now used. Reverse designs are no longer needed as they are no longer used to make impressions. Favoured nowadays by both men and women, they have become a fashion statement to showcase a distinct sense of poise and sophistication.
Signet rings passed down from generation to generation are still authentic but the markings are no longer unique to the current ring wearer.