The history of the seal dates back many centuries, to the beginnings of the first civilisations. From ancient Mesopotamia were carved limestone cylinder seals that were used to roll on to a two-dimensional surface to ancient Egypt where you find examples of seal rings or more commonly known as signet rings today.
Signet, derived from the Latin “signum” meaning “sign” or “mark”, and in ancient Egypt was a marker of great wealth and power. Only a pharaoh or someone of great wealth would wear the signet ring that bore their family’s crest.
If we fast forward to the end of the 10th century, you find that in western traditions, royal and aristocratic families were using wax seals to forge legal documents and that carried on until the 20th century. It was gradually phased out and superseded by rubber stamps.
The signet ring today means far more to families than a formal way to sign off a legal document. It is a way to continue a family tradition that we see Fathers and Mothers pass down to their children from their own parents. Some signet rings are now family heirlooms, but some families are just starting the tradition and we have seen both at J. McCarthy for decades. We have also begun to see a trend of a new generation wishing to create a bespoke design of a seal using elements of their own design, and others who wish a bespoke design to be surface engraved onto a ring.
If you are starting the tradition with us at the shop, we can supply a variety of signets, from 9ct to 18ct yellow Gold or Platinum, in solid metal, or source a ring set with a set stone of Deep Green Bloodstone with red flecks, Cornelian in a deep reddish orange, Lapis in royal blue with gold flecks, Sardonyx, Onyx, Agate, or even Amethyst carved in Intaglio form.
The next step is to have a ‘die’ created for you from an image of the crest you would like if you do not already have one. We will discuss the parts of the coat of arms you would like to see on your ring (for example some customers prefer not to include the scrollwork with motto), our engraver skilfully creates the die by hand in a hard resin. You will be given this die to keep and use for future rings.
This detailed ‘die’ is what is used to make the seal engraving in the ring.
We will size the ring to the desired finger, traditionally the little ‘pinky’ finger of the non-dominant hand, and send the ring to our experienced engraver where he will painstakingly engrave the family crest into the ring in reverse, as is the traditional way.
Our pricing for the service is subject to a few variables but typically to supply a 9 carat Gold signet ring, seal engraved with a full coat of arms starts from around £1000 total. In 18 carat and platinum from around £2000 total. Engraving into hard stone is a bespoke service and can be discussed in store if desired.
Signets are now extremely fashionable and can be worn as fashion items on any finger as a statement piece alongside other rings. A crest of a loved one or someone significant to you could also be engraved to remember them, or instead of a family crest, monogram initial lettering or a bespoke engraved design could be added in place of the seal onto one of our blank Gold Signet rings. For small sizes the blank rings start at at around £500. Monogram initials start at £35 per letter and more bespoke designs pricing varies.
We look forward to discussing your bespoke signet ring with you.