Among the tureens, candelabra and statuettes that established Garrard’s name as a master goldsmith, the House archive shows orders for a far smaller bespoke item: the signet ring. “When we look at our ledgers we see the House has quietly been crafting signet rings for centuries, right up to the present day,” says Sara Prentice, Creative Director. Family names reappear as each new generation commissioned the rings that would tie their wearers back to their heritage.
A personal mark
The signet or seal ring had long been used as a symbol of identity, with examples dating back to Egypt’s pharaohs. With the invention of sealing wax in medieval times, the motif of a coat of arms, initials or motto was more often engraved than embossed. Each ring was hand carved, giving it a uniqueness of finish that meant its mark could be considered authentic and binding. It was then worn on the smallest finger of the non-dominant hand, making it easy to roll over sealing wax and establish the legality of a document like a will, letter or deed.
“Many commissions come from parents wishing to mark their son or daughter’s coming of age, with an 18th or 21st birthday present,” Claire Scott Head of Design, House of Garrard
The House holds oval and cushion rings in stock, enabling the wearer to decide which suits their style best. White or yellow gold and platinum are possibilities, as are the stones most suitable for carving, such as tigers eye, lapis lazuli or bloodstone. Once designs are confirmed, the ring can be ready within six weeks.
“Many commissions come from parents wishing to mark their son or daughter’s coming of age, with an eighteenth or twenty-first birthday present,” says Claire. “It’s a wonderful way to celebrate their transition into adulthood and continue a great family tradition.”
Connection to heritage
Gradually the signet ring lost its practical purpose but gained a new one. By carrying the family crest, it began to be considered a sign of its wearer’s heritage and pedigree. As families grew in number in the nineteenth century, many sons and grandsons were brought to Garrard to design their own emblems and experiment with different stone inlays, like lapis lazuli and amethyst. In this way, the signet ring came to reflect an individual’s aesthetic as well as his position in society.
Today many of the formalities that surrounded the commissioning and wearing of a signet ring have fallen away. Now it can be worn on any finger and feature any chosen symbol. Each choice is bespoke to the wearer.