18x18mm “oversize” signature signet rings. Photograph from @northernlegacy on Instagram
Style Necessary Style

To wear or not to wear: the almost Shakespearean flair of the signet ring

Pinky swear, the signet ring is the only bling you need to wear. Nothing says class or pedigree or style more than this very becoming bauble.
Monchet Olives | Jan 22 2019

I am not into bling.  A man’s jewelry collection should be kept to his watch, an ID bracelet (I blame Cartier for this), cufflinks, a wedding ring, and the signet ring.  My signet ring proudly bears my family crest.  When appropriate, I wear it on my left pinky.

Director Guy Ritchie and costume designer Joanna Johnston are credited for the return of true costume design in Guy Ritchie’s homage to the 60s, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Closer attention to the sartorial flick reveals Napoleon Solo, Henry Cavill’s character, sporting a gold ring on his left pinky. That bling was a signet ring, made at Cavil’s suggestion to give his Napoleon a coat of lineage and breeding.

Henry Cavill’s character, sporting a gold ring on his left pinky. Photograph from Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Today, the signet ring is referred to as the gentleman’s ring. Born in the middle ages, it served as the family signature. It was emblazoned with a symbol – a crest, initials, or animals that represented trade or pedigree. Like the Chinese chops, a design was engraved in reverse into the metal; alternatively, semi-precious gems like jade or onyx, were pressed into wax to create a personal symbol. The signet ring was the sign of a patrician, the kind of bling only borne and worn by the upper class.

As the decades passed and monarchs adopted more ornate attires, the signet ring went from practical and simplistic to fashionably eccentric. When an owner eventually dies, the ring would often be destroyed with him, not handed down to his son the way it was in the 1800s and onward. It meant to end the era, after which a new coat of arms would be created.

Monogram signet ring. Photograph @rosettejewellery on Instagram

Today, signet rings are more fashion than necessity. Would you sign a memo with a wax seal, and pigeon it to another floor? In a word: no. I know a lot of guys who have kept their family rings, and wear them with pride.

Well, I do have one, and yes, I wax seal my hand notes with it. Wish it came with a bank account though.  For guys who do wear them, it is simply an heirloom handed down through generations. Ours has a symbol of an olive tree (kind of obvious connotation there given my surname) and our Lady of the Three Medals (who my ancestors were extremely devoted to).  Rings today are also a symbol of fraternity, and are worn by groups like the Freemasons, the military, and even the Lions Club (this dates me).  But let’s be honest, the signet ring these days is a mark of sophistication that elevates the style of a rakish gentleman.

Customized signet ring used as a wax steal stamp. Photograph from @backtozeroco on Instagram

Buying a signet ring is easy; accessories stores carry them as they do bangles. But getting the right one can be intensely personal—there are relatively no standards of what’s acceptable in this modern world. Designs range from the traditional crest, monogram, and coat of arms, to more contemporary skulls, logos and tattoo-inspired artwork.

Ring buyers are of two tribes. The first tribe consists of  traditional gentlemen who prize quality craftsmanship, and place value on the importance of an heirloom-quality bespoke ring. The second tribe is made up of young men interested in a bit of flash, and who will use the ring with white sneakers and a body suffering under the weight of other bling.  The question begs to be asked about what type of ring a classic dandy should consider.

Matching pair of autumnal squirrels. Photograph from @ruffs_signet_rings on Instagram

Although signet rings have become fashionable, remember there are some rules in wearing them—such as which finger to wear the ring on or what crest or design to display on your ring.

The etiquette of wearing signet rings varies around the world. In Belgium, men and women both wear signet rings upon the little finger of their left hand; however, in England and Ireland, it is only men who do so. In Switzerland, men wear signet rings upon the ring finger of their right hand, while in France, men use the ring finger of their left hand, and women use the little finger of their left hand.

Titanium Steel Signet Ring. Photograph from @dappershop.pk on Instagram

Etiquette governing signet rings in the United States is far from strict—it is usual for the ring to be worn on the little finger of whichever hand is used least, for both men and women–but a ring can still be a sign of family, nobility and loyalty. It is even possible to revert to the customs of Ancient Rome and use the ring to display not a family crest but an individual’s personality. In certain situations, it is important to know the correct etiquette concerning signet rings. For example, when meeting the pope, it is polite to kiss his signet ring (known as the papal ring, or the Ring of the Fisherman).

Finally, good quality signet rings come with a price.  In Manila, I would suggest you visit Natalya Lagdameo or reach out to Neil Felipp San Pedro (of Suarez Bros. fame) to help you get started. If you are just looking for bling, Greenhills is a start. Or ask the guys at 13 Lucky Monkeys to help you with a bespoke skull ring. Cura V at Rockwell may pique your interest. Likewise, Kathy and Kathy Bespoke can work with you on your first ring too. Or simply go on the prowl for sales or jewelry stores. We do not have a signet vintage store tradition here as they do in Europe, but when you have a chance to make a trip, put it in your agenda. I think it’s a far better memento, and a much more rakish purchase than some other piece of apparel.

Signet stack rings. Photograph from @nlagdameo on Instagram

Now where to wear it? The rake generally puts his signet ring on the pinky, the ring finger or the forefinger. The pinky is the most appropriate finger for the rakish gentleman. It is less obtrusive. It doesn’t inhibit movement or dexterity. It is subtle but noticeable, which makes it a refined and elegant choice.

In the end, how you wear your ring is entirely up to you. There are no rules, except that it is highly recommended not to wear a ring you aren’t entitled to. Even if it’s inherited. Rings such as class rings, masonic rings, military branch rings, firefighter rings are all rings which a person must earn the right to wear.

Photograph from @tuggledesigns on Instagram

Since these rings are crafted with such precision, they are quintessential heirloom items. With that in mind, I recommend sticking with a design your rightful heirs will be proud to wear. A simple monogram, family crest, or coat of arms should do (by which I mean, dear reader, to please choose them over skulls and crossbones, or a paw print of Bambi, your family Frenchie).