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Signet ring

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (made)

  • Date:

    1550-1600 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gold with a reverse painted and gilded chalcedony intaglio

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Jewellery, Rooms 91, The William and Judith Bollinger Gallery, case 9, shelf B, box 2

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.

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 chalcedony intaglio is carved with a warrior's head which would create an impression in the wax. The back of the stone is painted and gilded in red and gold.

This ring forms part of a collection of over 600 rings and engraved gems from the collection of Edmund Waterton (1830-81). 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 oval bezel set with a reverse painted and gilded chalcedony intaglio engraved with a warrior's head, with gold details of the helmet painted underneath.

Place of Origin

Germany (made)


1550-1600 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Gold with a reverse painted and gilded chalcedony intaglio


Height: 2.9 cm, Width: 3 cm, Depth: 2 cm

Object history note

ex Waterton Collection

Descriptive line

Gold signet ring with a reverse painted and gilded chalcedony intaglio engraved with a warrior's head, made in Germany, 1550-1600.


Gold; Chalcedony


Painting (coating); Gilding; Engraving (incising); Intaglio

Subjects depicted

Helmets; Warrior; Intaglios; Heads (body part)


Jewellery; Metalwork; Europeana Fashion Project


Metalwork Collection

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