When King Charles III reached out to grasp the flamboyant Coronation glove from Lord Indarjit Singh before an audience of millions on 6th May, the warm yellow gold of his famous signet pinky ring flashed seductively before the cameras.  Moments later, in his gloved hand would go the royal Sceptre, as an open and symbolic holding of power in his new role as Sovereign.  His left hand remained bare, signet twinkling, reflecting a quieter power and the only jewel he has worn consistently since the 1970’s. He wore it for his engagement to Diana in 1981 and to his wedding to Camilla in 2005.  Elegantly engraved with the official Prince of Wales crest, it may have looked shiny and new but at 175 years old, it’s a family heirloom worn previously by his uncle the Duke of Windsor who was also the Prince of Wales when he took the throne. The Signet pinky, it seems contains a world of deep social significance.

A traditional signet is engraved with a family crest, one’s initials or coat of arms while a standalone pinky can be more flamboyant and abstract such as Rachel Quinn’s Chubby Heart pinky or Harwell Godfrey’s Elements Stone Inlay pinky.   In modern times, the two often come together but the signet is older and more regal.  Coming from the latin Signum meaning ‘sign’, unique family insignia would be pressed into hot wax by the religious and royal elite as a signature on documents going all the way back to 3500 BC.  Egyptian dignitaries would flaunt their rings as a mark of social status and in England they became so important that King John used his to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. By the fourteenth century King Edward II declared that all official papers must be signed with the King’s signet ring.

On succumbing to an ancient plague back in the day, your ring was destroyed so that no one could forge noble papers and run off with your things. Even the pope has one called The Fisherman’s Ring with an official seal which is broken with a hammer on his departure.  Often worn on the pinky finger they were a political tool, but they also became a badge of honour that trickled down the ranks of society.  During the European Renaissance when the arts, travel and trade flourished, the idea of the signet expanded to include showier gemstones, new ideas of identity and, well… women. Modern designs such as Ming Jewellery’s Hex pinky, Brent Neale’s Knot pinky and Cece Jewellery’s enamelled signets, show us just how flamboyant they have become.

“A lot of women don’t want a traditional heavy gold signet.” Muses twinkly-eyed jeweller Cassandra Goad.  “I created a collection called Agricola (meaning latin for ‘farmer’ and also the name of the Roman Consul who was made Governor of Britain in 77AD) but if I were to make one for myself, I’d add an intense amethyst from the Siazofoo mine in Zambia.” She quotes Maya Angelou who once said that ‘History cannot be unlived” and sees the signet as a type of modern-day family remembrance.  Many women are given them on their 18 or 21st birthdays and when they marry, some combine both family crests within one ring.

At David Yurman, a cacophony of bees, scarabs, and horses scuttle across his signets.  Bentley & Skinner feature cameo style portraits.  Alice Cicolini has a Jacobean illusion signet in enamel and Castro Smith features snakes intertwined. Purists however still venture to the likes of Hancocks, Garrard, Asprey and Pragnell for that bespoke signet service where a family crest is pressed into gold to your exact specifications.  Gucci and Versace produce their own initialled signets, Tiffany’s are two-tone, minimalist and bare.  There is a style for everyone, you just have to find yours.  Posh Totty designs at Wolf & Badger have one with a big crack running through it in homage to Kintsugi, the Japanese art of seeing beauty in imperfection.  King Charles may well have his hands full as our newly crowned King, but a least he can rely on one thing.  His enduringly perfect signet pinky.


Written by Melanie Grant for Tatler in the Watches & Jewellery Guide in November 2023.



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