Saturday, 10 October 2015

The ring masters

In which G.M. Norton visits Blighty’s finest signet ring specialist.


Given the choice, a gentleman seldom rises before the clock has chimed six bells. Especially when the bed is so warm and there is still a dark hue to the morning October sky.

It transpires that the chance to visit a signet ring workshop is enough motivation to get me jumping to my feet. Two hours and seven minutes after leaving Manchester, the train smugly pulled in at London’s Euston Station.
A short walk to the London Underground and within a couple of tube stops, I was walking along the famed Hatton Garden, the renowned jewellery district. Rebus Signet Rings are just behind Hatton Garden on the delightfully named Leather Lane.

Leather Lane is full of life and character. Street traders filled the pavement, selling their wares. I loved the atmosphere, excitedly I counted the numbers – 35, 37, 39 – before reaching no. 59, the home of Rebus.
 
I pressed the buzzer on the door and was quickly granted safe passage. Upon entering, I was warmly greeted like an old friend.

Emmet Smith, the director and owner of Rebus Signet Rings, greeted me personally before taking me to the downstairs workshop. A cup of tea was soon thrust into my hand, making me instantly smitten with the place.
 
The workshop is small but perfectly proportioned, with strange looking objects as far as the eye can see. 
There was a quiet, studied, focused air as the skilled craftspeople used traditional hand-engraving tools to perfect chunks of gold, silver and platinum. 

It certainly made a welcome change from a mouse and keyboard.

I couldn't help chuckling when I spied the painted wall sign, ‘Keep focused and get a massive amount of shit done’.
Emmet kindly explained the process of making a signet ring. He handed me the 9ct yellow gold signet ring that had been made for me in the very room I was standing in. I slipped it onto my little finger, a perfect fit.
The ring will carry my Norton of Morton monogram, which will be deep engraved in reverse. This will mean that I’ll be able to use it just like King Charles II did, and sign off my gentlemanly correspondence with my wax seal.
Emmet is a lovely chap. He told me how he started at Rebus as an apprentice before having the foresight to buy the business and become the owner. The story of Rebus Signet Rings keeps getting better and better.
Emmet proudly brought over two beautiful Victorian reference books. The first lists all manner of family surnames, with a reference number alongside them. Using the second book, you can use the reference number to find the corresponding family crest for the surname you are interested in. It turns out that ‘Norton’ has quite a number of family crests previously assigned to it.
As he explained, the books help to fire imaginations. You really can have almost anything engraved on a signet ring. 
Rebus also boast Initial and Talisman collections, which are proving extremely popular. The Talisman collection includes whippets, seahorses and bumble bees. Emmet's personal favourite is the owl, which is surprisingly not one of their best sellers. 
Whatever style you plump for, it is clear to see that signet rings are extremely precious and should be cherished.
What I absolutely adore about Rebus Signet Rings is the fact that they do everything in the traditional, time-honoured way. All designs are hand-drawn before being hand engraved, including the most intricate coat of arms imaginable. 
There's simply no comparison between an individually hand made ring crafted in the City of London and some mass-produced rubbish made by machine. Each ring that is crafted by the skilled men and women at Rebus is made with the utmost care and attention to detail. 
It was fascinating watching the team of engravers work, with magnifying visors and eye glasses, meticulously giving all their attention to tiny pieces of metal. 
Rebus caters for all tastes, so rings are available in yellow gold, rose gold, white gold, silver and platinum, with a choice of various face designs. You can also add jewels or stones.
Rebus recently opened a York office which is managed by Rachel, who worked and trained at the London workshop for many years. This is ideal for those in the North of England who rather fancy their own signet ring. It's close to Betty's Tea Rooms too, making a visit even more appealing! There must be something about Yorkshire (known as God's Own Country) as Cordings are opening up a gentleman's outfitters in nearby Harrogate.
Thanks awfully to Emmet and the team at Rebus for making me feel so welcome. It really was a pleasure to make your acquaintance.

G.M. Norton
Protagonist of 'Norton of Morton'

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