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

Signet Ring

14th century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

This ring would have been used as a signet. 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’.

Signets could be engraved with a coat of arms for those entitled to bear them, with a personal device or sign or an initial letter. The most expensive signets were made of gold, sometimes set with an engraved gem or hardstone. More affordable alternatives were engraved silver or bronze. The ridged hoop of the ring is engraved with the phrase 'I was dead, I was brought to life, I was lost and I was found', taken from the parable of the prodigal son in the Gospel of St Luke (Luke 15:24). The use of religious names and phrases was believed to give rings a special power and ability to protect their owners.

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.


Object details
Categories
Object type
Materials and techniques
Engraved silver
Brief description
Silver signet ring with a circular bezel engraved with a coat of arms and inscribed in lombardic characters + N NOTAR ANGELIS ACC. the ridged hoop inscribed, West Europe, 14th century
Physical description
Silver signet ring with a circular bezel engraved with a coat of arms and inscribed in lombardic characters + N NOTAR ANGELIS ACC. the ridged hoop inscribed MORTUUS. FUERAM. A.REVIT/+PERIERAM ET INVENTUS SUM
Dimensions
  • Height: 2.2cm
  • Width: 2.3cm
  • Depth: 1.2cm
Marks and inscriptions
  • engraved with a coat of arms
  • inscribed + N NOTAR ANGELIS ACC. (in lombardic characters)
  • inscribed MORTUUS. FUERAM. A.REVIT/+PERIERAM ET INVENTUS SUM (the ridged hoop)
Object history
Acquired by Edmund Waterton in Rome
Subject depicted
Summary
This ring would have been used as a signet. 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’.



Signets could be engraved with a coat of arms for those entitled to bear them, with a personal device or sign or an initial letter. The most expensive signets were made of gold, sometimes set with an engraved gem or hardstone. More affordable alternatives were engraved silver or bronze. The ridged hoop of the ring is engraved with the phrase 'I was dead, I was brought to life, I was lost and I was found', taken from the parable of the prodigal son in the Gospel of St Luke (Luke 15:24). The use of religious names and phrases was believed to give rings a special power and ability to protect their owners.



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.
Bibliographic references
  • Oman, Charles, Catalogue of rings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1930, reprinted Ipswich, 1993, cat. 511
  • Church, Rachel, Rings, London, V&A Publishing/ Thames and Hudson, 2017, fig. 28, p. 29
Collection
Accession number
805-1871

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Record createdFebruary 14, 2006
Record URL
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