Signet Ring thumbnail 1
Signet Ring thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Jewellery, Rooms 91, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery

Signet Ring

1600-1700 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This ring would have been used as a signet, pressed into hot wax to seal a letter or packet. Personal seals (secreta) provided an essential legal safeguard and were used to witness documents such as wills, deeds of gift, loans and commercial documents, personal letters and land indentures. A letter from Lord Berengario in Verona in 906 underscores the importance of the signet: ‘So that this may be more truly believed and more faithfully observed, we order this to be sealed with our ring, confirming it with our own hand’.

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.



object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Engraved gold
Brief Description
Gold signet ring, the octagonal bezel engraved with a skull and inscribed IB (sic) MEMENTO. MORI. (Remember death). England, 1600-1700.
Physical Description
Gold signet ring, the octagonal bezel engraved with a skull and inscribed IB (sic) MEMENTO. MORI.
Dimensions
  • Height: 2.3cm
  • Width: 2.2cm
  • Depth: 1.4cm
Marks and Inscriptions
  • 'IB (sic) MEMENTO. MORI.' (Inscribed)
  • A skull (Engraved)
Credit line
Given by Mr T. B. Clarke-Thornhill
Subjects depicted
Summary
This ring would have been used as a signet, pressed into hot wax to seal a letter or packet. Personal seals (secreta) provided an essential legal safeguard and were used to witness documents such as wills, deeds of gift, loans and commercial documents, personal letters and land indentures. A letter from Lord Berengario in Verona in 906 underscores the importance of the signet: ‘So that this may be more truly believed and more faithfully observed, we order this to be sealed with our ring, confirming it with our own hand’.



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.



Collection
Accession Number
M.378-1927

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record createdNovember 25, 2005
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