In which G.M. Norton waxes lyrical about signet rings.
Recently, I’ve become ever so slightly obsessed with signet rings. They have an utterly compelling history involving ancient Egypt, Kings, future Kings, power and authority, villains stealing identities, friends or foe on the battlefield and family heirlooms and traditions.
As an enlightened reader, you may already be aware that signet rings aren’t merely decorative jewellery. Oh no! In the days of yore before electronic wizardry, signet rings were used to authenticate important correspondence.
Traditionally, a family crest is engraved in reverse on the bezel of the ring (although initials, letters and monograms are also popular). This allows one to wax signature seal correspondence with one’s family mark.
By dipping the signet ring into hot wax or soft clay, it leaves a distinct seal that was once considered to be more official than that of a signature.
Dating all the way back to ancient Egypt, signet rings are seen as a symbol of great power and authority and popular among the aristocratic and Church alike.
Indeed, each Pope wears one which is then destroyed after their demise.
As society has a keen obsession with royal or heraldic traditions, titled aristocrats naturally took to wearing them.
Like anything, signet rings have been in and out of vogue. At one point, they found themselves left forlornly in the family jewellery box, with people preferring to have their seals placed in an ornamental mount or on a fob.
Signet rings also became the means by which power and authority was transferred to one’s rightful heir. Thus, it became the practice to hand the signet ring down from father to son, through the generations.
A scoundrel has stolen my identity
For many families in the upper echelons of society, it also became tradition for the whole family to wear them, with a family signet ring presented on your 21st birthday.
Strong arm of the crown
Heraldry is a fascinating subject. Dating back to the 12th century, heraldry is the process of granting and designing coats of arms specific to a family. They are known as a 'coat of arms' as the symbols were drawn onto the coat of a soldier's clothing, allowing him to be identified quickly as either a friend or foe on the battlefield.
The fact that family crests evolved from the battlefield is quite brilliant so no wonder people are still so protective of them.
If you quite like the idea of having your own coat of arms, you need to submit an application for a Grant of Arms with the College of Arms. Fair warning! If you are fortunate to get past the approval stage, the creation of a new grant of arms and crest costs an eye-watering £5,500. What's more, the design process can take as long as a year. This is because each new design must be completely unique so some poor person has to manually trawl through more than 100,000 existing designs. Crikey!