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Signet ring

England

17th century

Gold signet ring, the oval bezel with central panel turning on a pivot at each end, on the reverse a white enamel skull with a plain border and black inscription MEMENTO MORI, the face of the bezel bears a shield of the arms of Harman of Rundlesham and Milford, Suffolk.

17.53 mm internal ring diameter; 9.59 g weight

Presented by Dr C.D.E. Fortnum in honour of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, 1897; WA1897.CDEF.F643

Scarisbrick and Henig, Finger Rings, 2003, pl. 22.5

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.