Put a Ring On It

How the Old-School Signet Ring Found a Modern Appeal


November 20, 2018 Style : Accessories By Photo by Chase Pellerin
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When Mona Jensen and her husband Morten Isachsen got married in 2010, neither one of them could find the perfect wedding band. And after an extensive search for something appropriate that felt personal, Jensen — the designer behind the Norweigan jewelry brand Tom Wood — and her fiance alighted on a pair of vintage signet rings. To commemorate their union, they had their wedding date engraved on the flat, oval surfaces of each one.

“After that, I started to like the weight and feeling of the wedding ring, it became an important part of my daily wear,” Jensen said. “So it was very natural to start out with signet rings as I knew them well by wearing one for years.”

Her first jewelry collection for Tom Wood, launched in 2013, was focused around “a modern interpretation of the rings,” she said. “They are still an important part of our collections.”

Cushion Inka Black Ring by Tom Wood $433

Fast forward a few years, and Jensen is far from the only jewelry maker offering the rings. Brands large and small have caught onto its appeal. And that might be because this recently trendy ring has a history older than the modern concept of trendiness.

Long before we suffered the irony of clicking a box to prove to our robot overlords that we are, in fact, flesh-and-blood humans, an engraved seal was mankind’s way to demonstrate that certain important documents were signed for and authenticated. And a signet ring was the tool by which many people were able to readily leave such an imprint.

Sterling Silver Multistone Ring by Foundwell Coming Soon

Signet rings, which have been worn by Ancient Egyptian royalty and modern rappers alike, are history’s first and most lasting mark of self-identification — the original signature. Historically, their bezels were set with an engraved relief of a family crest, or some other marking that would help to classify its wearer. These wearable stamps could be pressed into warm wax, leaving an impression that said, in effect, “I approve.”

“I like the historical aspect and tend to get a lot of inspiration from vintage pieces that have a bigger reason to be a part of a person’s life,” Jensen said.

For Tom Wood, Jensen offers a variety of signet ring styles, some smooth, some with whimsical markings, others decorated with coins and many inlaid with stones like turquoise, lapis or mother of pearl. Lots of other brands are also on board. From the subversive blank bezels offered by the French labels A.P.C. and Maison Martin Margiela to the Game of Thrones-leaning designs at David Yurman, there are endless options for guys looking to get into the trend. (And if you want to carve your crest or initials into the surface, you can still reach for clean, modern designs like the ones from Tiffany & Co.)

Sterling Silver Ring by TAKAHIROMIYASHITA THESOLOIST. $760

“Not so long ago, wearing jewelry was a pretty bold statement for a man, but we’ve noticed a significant increase in the offering for men, and in particular, with signet rings.”

The style has resurfaced throughout history in various iterations. Its best-known descendants, the class ring and the championship ring, serve the dual function of being decorative and proving membership to a specific club or institution. Which makes sense: these rings originally belonged almost exclusively to the noble classes, so they carry a reputation of exclusivity and serve as a not-so-subtle signifier of privilege. And while these days we don’t need to go to such extremes to show that we approve of a contract or graduated from a certain school, the signet ring is so recognizable and adaptable, especially in its purest form, that it’s still a key piece in the jewelry market.

Cigar Brushed Silver Ring by Miansai $95

“I think the signet ring is the entry point into men’s jewelry,” says Simon Spiteri, the senior buyer at the luxury online men’s retailer Mr Porter, noting that there are as many signet rings offered with decoration as without. “They often are simple and understated, so it’s not an overwhelming or intimidating purchase.”

And there are lots of options on the market right now. Earlier this year, a report from Reuters emphasized that the men’s luxury market was set to outpace womenswear in coming years, led by accessories and shoes. This proliferation of signet rings mirrors both that growth, but as well as changing attitudes toward what a guy can get away with wearing. “Not so long ago, wearing jewelry was a pretty bold statement for a man, but in the in the past five years, we’ve noticed a significant increase in the offering for men, and in particular, with signet rings,” says Spiteri.

Heirloom Sterling Silver Onyx Ring by David Yurman Coming Soon

In these times when the formerly understood status symbols are being upended — sneakers are now office-appropriate, slouchy track pants are being worn in lieu of selvedge denim — these sorts of throwbacks can be a sly way to broadcast a certain upper crust aura. But that’s not to suggest that every plugged-in millennial wearing one of these things is trying to go undercover as gentry. “I’d like to think consumers are thinking about sealing envelopes in wax with their signet rings, but it’s all about the style,” says Spiteri. “Today, you go on Instagram and see a range of guys like Jeff Goldblum, A$AP Rocky and Colin Firth wearing signet rings and think, ‘I can wear that.’ More and more, it’s become a wardrobe essential.”

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Max Berlinger

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