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Signet Ring History
Did you know that these were used to close letters with the help of wax or seal in the past? Discover the history behind these peculiar rings.
A signet or seal is a small object with a flat surface on which a coat of arms, a name or other symbol is engraved that in other times functioned as a kind of signature, representing an individual (a monarch or high official) or a collective (a country/nation or professional guild).
How did the seal work?
The seal could be made of a variety of materials, from wood to gold or silver, or even hard stones. A little bit of melted wax was applied to the document to be certified and the seal was pressed onto the wax, which, after drying, was imprinted on it in relief. This is in the West, since in countries like China or Japan, instead of wax, they used dark ink extracted from cuttlefish and squid, that is, these symbols ended up being stamped.
Since it is an object of such great importance, as it could replace a signature and also to facilitate its use, from very early on the signet was worn in the form of a ring, it was always at hand.
The first seals
The first seals date back to about 3000 years BC and like the invention of writing they arise from a very practical need. Groups and tribes of a few dozen individuals give way to complex societies of several thousand. The former tribal chiefs are now princes reigning over hundreds and hundreds of souls, and their kingdoms now have borders that are lost on the horizon. A single person cannot evaluate and sign all the documentation inherent in the day-to-day administration of an empire, it must be delegated. The monarch gives his provincial governors copies of the royal seal, which, in addition to the usefulness for which they were created, also carried a social badge for the people holding them - that official was the local substitute for the king.
Its use can also be observed in correspondence, using wax or seals to close the letter and somehow guarantee its inviolability until it reaches the recipient. Or in diplomatic documentation, in which these seals are used as a complement to the signatures of those involved
Over time these seals, especially the signet rings, of a more personal nature, those representing family coats of arms, rather than being used as a signature, began to acquire a status of social distinction. Whoever wears a signet ring is usually a nobleman, automatically by the coat of arms of his ring he can demonstrate who he is, this in a time before the ID Card and similar documents. Of course, all those who were not aristocrats but who had pretensions to social status also wore these rings.
The signet ring today
Many of these examples are still common today. See in today's monarchies how many of their male members continue to wear on their little finger a ring with the coat of arms of their lineage, some academics wear so-called graduation rings that identify them as professionals in their fields, or one of the most famous ever called the Fisherman's Ring, the Pope's ring. This is one of the most emblematic symbols of the head of the Roman Catholic Church. So much so that whenever a Pope dies, one of the first ceremonies that takes place is the breaking of his ring.
Discover our ESCUDO signet rings, inspired by the Portuguese Escudo:
Discover the entire ESCUDO collection, a celebration this Portuguese symbol since the 15th century: