One piece of jewellery which has a function or a purpose other than to make someone enhance their appearance or show off their wealth is the signet ring. The function of signet rings was originally to be able to make a seal with wax (sealing wax) or clay. These rings are also called seal rings.
They may also represent a club or fraternity id verification ring that you belong to. These signet rings are ornamental but do serve that other purpose of identification to a specific group as well.
The early and ancient signet ring had a very real purpose and it functioned very well as a kind of olden time security measure.
A document in earlier days was carried by messengers on horseback or by sea from the writer to the reader. In order to make sure that no one tampered with the document or that it was read by anyone else but the intended reader a wax seal was made to close or seal the document. The seal was an impression of a signet ring pushed into the hot wax.
Sometimes the seals were not rings but stamps of other kinds, but if it was a ring worn then it was even more credit worthy as only the wearer could make the seal on the document. Every design was unique and if it wasn’t worn on a finger it was hung around the neck.
Seals and signet rings were made and used as far back as ancient Egypt. Back then they were mostly made of stone. The impression was often made into wet clay.
Once a seal ring was made the engraver made several wax impressions from the ring. These were distributed to family and others who would receive correspondence from the wearer of the ring. When a document was received this specimen seal could be matched against the unbroken seal on the received document to make sure that it was authentic. Once the owner of the ring died the ring was broken so that it could never be used again.
Seal rings were and still are engraved in reverse so that when you push the ring into wax to make an impression then the positive or readable image is seen. Sometimes, and probably most times these days, the image is engraved in the positive way as the ring is for show only and will never be used to stamp into wax. The engraving which has been traditionally carried out is an ancient art and trade. There are relatively very few jewellery engravers around today. We are not confusing these craftsmen with the engraver found in a shopping mall who for $5 quickly scratches your girlfriend’s name on the ring you just bought her.
One such craftsman is Neil Oliver who engraves seals in metal and stone working from his workshop in the Scottish Highlands. When working in gold he first dusts the surface with a layer of fine powder and with a feather he draws a design onto the ring. Once this is perfect he uses a metal scriber to etch the final design onto the gold. He then uses hand tools that he has made himself to cut the impression into the metal. Eventually the face of the seal is highly polished. What an amazing trade where you need to work with a reverse of what is eventually seen. It must take very special characteristics to be a master of this trade.