Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Signet ring

Signet ring

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    17th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gold with sapphire intaglio

  • Museum number:

    820-1871

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Signet rings, engraved with a coat of arms, owner's initial or the mark used by a merchant to identify his goods are amongst the most common types of surviving medieval and Renaissance rings. The engraved bezel of the ring was pressed into sealing wax and this was then fixed onto a letter or deed. They were made of gold, silver or bronze, depending on the means of the owner and continued to be widely used until the 18th century when they were largely replaced by fob-seals, worn on the watch chain. The coat of arms was the heraldic motif, generally enclosed in a shield shape, which was used as a sign of identity by some wealthy families or individuals. The use of heraldic arms was regulated by tradition and later in England, by the College of Arms.

A particularly glamorous type of signet was developed in the 16th century. The coat of arms or heraldic device was engraved onto a hard stone such as rock crystal, or in this case, a pale sapphire. The colours of the coat of arms could be painted onto foil which was placed under the stone. This allowed the carved stone to be pressed into hot wax without fading the bright colours on the ring. This ring was made for a member of the Savoia of Carpi family, who had close ties with the Papal court. His arms are shown incorporating the insignia of the Gonfalonier of the Holy Roman Church, a ceremonial office which entitled him to bear the papal banner.

This ring forms part of a collection of 760 rings and engraved gems from the collection of Edmund Waterton (1830-87). Waterton was one of the foremost ring collectors of the nineteenth century and was the author of several articles on rings, a book on English devotion to the Virgin Mary and an unfinished catalogue of his collection (the manuscript is now the National Art Library). Waterton was noted for his extravagance and financial troubles caused him to place his collection in pawn with the London jeweller Robert Phillips. When he was unable to repay the loan, Phillips offered to sell the collection to the Museum and it was acquired in 1871. A small group of rings which Waterton had held back were acquired in 1899.

Physical description

Gold signet ring, the octagonal bezel set with a sapphire intaglio depicting the arms of Pio do Savoia of Carpi, the back fluted.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)

Date

17th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Gold with sapphire intaglio

Marks and inscriptions

coat of arms
Intaglio, the arms of Pio do Savoia of Carpi, incorporating the insignia of the Gonfalonier of the Holy Roman Church

Dimensions

Height: 2.2 cm, Width: 2 cm, Depth: 0.9 cm

Object history note

Ex Waterton Collection.
The arms engraved on the sapphire include the insignia of the Gonfalonier of the Holy Roman Church which were borne by members of the family as early as the time of Ascanio Pio (d. 1649).

Descriptive line

Gold signet ring, the octagonal bezel set with a sapphire intaglio depicting the arms of Pio do Savoia of Carpi, the back fluted, Italy, 17th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Bury, Shirley, Jewellery Gallery Summary Catalogue (Victoria and Albert Museum, 1982), 33/J/13
Oman, Charles, Catalogue of rings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1930, reprinted Ipswich, 1993, p. 90, cat. 532
A catalogue of the antiquities and works of art exhibited at Ironmongers Hall in the month of May 1861, edited by George Russell French, London 1869, vol ii, p. 502

Materials

Gold; Sapphire

Techniques

Intaglio

Subjects depicted

Fluting; Escutcheons (coats of arms); Intaglios

Categories

Jewellery; Metalwork; Christianity

Collection

Metalwork Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.