Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Signet ring

Signet ring

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    16th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Engraved gold

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dame Joan Evans

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

A seal or signet ring was used to apply the wearer's personal mark to the sealing wax on a document. The seal demonstrated the legality of the document and identified the issuing authority or individual. Signet rings could be engraved with a coat of arms or crest, an initial, a merchant's mark (a geometric symbol used to mark goods or personal belongings), or a personal symbol. Sixteenth and seventeenth century portraits show signet rings worn on the forefinger or thumb, presumably to make it easy to apply the ring to the wax by turning the hand. They were items of jewellery with a practical function but the use of precious metals and engraved hardstones indicates that they were also signs of status.

The bezel is engraved with the initials AF in reverse, probably those of the wearer, joined by a Bowen or true lover's knot terminating in flowering sprigs.

This ring was formerly part of the collection of Dame Joan Evans (1893-1977), art historian and collector. Early on she collected gems and jewels which resulted in the 1921 book, English Jewellery from the 5th Century BC to 1800. She published widely on jewellery, French medieval art and architecture. Evans was elected the first woman president of the Society of Antiquaries in 1959 (through 1964). She was a trustee of the British Museum (1963-67). In her personal life, she donated time and money to many charitable historic causes, nearly all of them anonymously. Her will left collections to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and the Birmingham City Art Gallery.

She gave her gem and jewellery collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum through a series of gifts, beginning in 1960. Her association with the museum went back to her childhood and she developed personal friendships with the museum curators and Directors. In 1975, two years before her death aged 84, Joan Evans made over her remaining jewels to the museum, choosing to remain anonymous during her lifetime. As she wrote jokingly to curator Charles Oman, her village was ‘divided into those who think it must have been me and those who say it cannot have been because I am so shabby.’

In her final years, offering her collection to the museum, she wrote movingly that ‘My jewels come to your Department with love and gratitude. It has been kind to me for 65 years.’

Physical description

Gold signet ring, the oval bezel engraved with a true lovers' knot, three sprigs and 'AF'.

Place of Origin

England (made)


16th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Engraved gold

Marks and inscriptions



Height: 2.2 cm, Width: 2.4 cm, Depth: 1.7 cm

Descriptive line

Gold signet ring, the oval bezel engraved with a true lovers' knot, three sprigs and 'AF', England, 1550-1600





Subjects depicted

Knots (motifs); Floral sprays


Jewellery; Metalwork


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.