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Signet ring

Italy

16th century

Silver ring, the oval bezel with Lombardic letters A and S beneath a cross, the shoulders of the hoop with a female bust in niello

21.18 mm internal ring diameter; 12.77 g weight

Bought in Rome, 1881; Alessandro Castellani

Presented by Dr C.D.E. Fortnum in honour of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, 1897; WA1897.CDEF.F773

Taylor & Scarisbrick, Finger Rings from Ancient Egypt to the present day, 1978, no. 325

Signet ring: The signet ring has been used to seal business and legal documents since Egyptian times. A variety of devices were employed to distinguish the owner of each seal. From the early 14th century, heraldic shields were in use in Italy, England and France for those entitled to them. In the 15th century a badge and motto was preferred. Merchants or craftsmen who did not bear a coat of arms would use a merchant’s mark (a symbol made up of lines based on the cross or the figure 4). These first appeared in the 14th century and were used in almost every country.Other personal devices included the rebus (a form of device made up of symbols that represent the owner’s name) and the owner’s initial, both very popular in the 15th and early 16th century.The signet ring fell out of use in the mid-seventeenth century when it became more fashionable to wear the seal mounted on a chain beside the watch.