Personalisation plays a huge factor in the decision to buy a signet ring,” explains Emmet Smith, director of Rebus Signet Rings. “People don’t want to buy one of many mass-produced items because jewellery is very meaningful and symbolic. The signet ring is a classic design that is a blank canvas for the customer to personalise with any symbol they like.”
Rebus is responsible for some of the finest signet rings in the country, produced by an award-winning team of engravers and goldsmiths, using traditional tools to create custom designs by hand. For Smith, an essential element of his signet rings is the personal touch. “We have just finished a pair of signets that will be used as wedding rings,” he explains. “The designs were inspired by a poem the couple loved by Gerard Manley Hopkins called As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Dragonflies Draw Flame. One piece had a dragonfly engraved on to it and the other a kingfisher. It was the sentiment that went into the rings that made them so special.” This personal service extends through to the process by which Rebus signets are made: “We individually handmake each ring at our workshop in Hatton Garden and our customers can visit to watch the process and meet the craftsmen. It is this interaction and sense of involvement that makes the jewellery even more precious,” Smith says.
For many customers, purchasing a signet ring is the chance to craft a family heirloom. The first step to creating this legacy can involve picking out a family crest. “We have a database of crests which contains approximately 30,000 family names and 4,000 crest images which we sourced from a Victorian reference book called Fairbairn’s Book of Crests,” says Smith.
“But just because a crest is associated with your name doesn’t mean it was granted to your particular family.” Because of this, Smith recommends clients establish whether their family has a coat of arms by contacting the College of Arms on Queen Victoria Street. At the College, those wishing to create a new coat of arms must submit a request to the Earl Marshal. No specific set of criteria defines whether your application will be accepted, but eminent subjects of the British crown, such as members of the armed forces or those with a recognised professional qualification or university degree, are usually deemed eligible. Once the petition has been approved, the arms can be designed. Each new design must be completely unique and checked manually against the 100,000 existing designs, so the process can be lengthy, but ultimately rewarding – resulting in a family crest that can be kept forever.
A PERSONAL RECORD
This idea of a signet ring as a mark of personal, educational or professional distinction has led to the rise in popularity of university rings – cast with the crest or symbol of the university attended by the wearer. Jewellery designer Bianca Jones specialises in an alumni signet ring stamped with the crest of independent boarding school Fettes College. Herself an ex-student of the school, Jones was approached to create something to commemorate each student’s time at Fettes. “It was an honour,” says Jones. “It fits so well with my own ethos that jewellery tells a personal life story – tangible pieces of your life that you can carry with you. Each ring is handmade and personalised with the details of the student’s attendance, creating a heritage piece they can keep forever.”
For Jones, who also offers a wide range of other styles, the resurgence of interest in signet rings is part of a wider trend. “I think signets are coming back into fashion as an interest in British craftsmanship flourishes,” Jones says. She continues: “Buying a signet ring is creating a contemporary heirloom. There’s so much that can be done to a ring to make it your own – engrave it with the initials of a loved one or set it with gemstones that have significance to you, or even a quote from a poem.” It is this quietly personal quality that also characterises jewellery designer Laura Lee’s creations. “I’m not interested in status symbols and showing off,” explains Lee. “A whisper is more sophisticated in my view.” Lee’s pieces range from understated signets with engraved initials, to her bestseller – a design bearing twinned flaming hearts inspired by a romantic Georgian motif. Lee’s work is less about the social status of a family crest and more about the personal symbolism of the piece. “I’ve designed signets with all kinds of imagery including owls, dogs and quotes that tell the customer’s own story – we even made a signet for actress Emma Watson with an engraving depicting her cat,” she says. For a personal piece that can span generations, a signet ring is the perfect purchase.