If you've been here before, then it should come as no surprise that I gravitate toward classic, well-made pieces that I can wear for years to come. I extend this philosophy to everything from my blazers and sweaters to my footwear and jewelry, and I would rather wait patiently for the perfect piece than settle for something less just to fill spot in my closet or jewelry box.
With this ethos in mind, I have been slowly building a collection of classic, beautifully made, jewelry that I can wear and love for years to come. These pieces include delicate diamond studs, a simple gold bangle and dainty diamond necklace.
As I've built this small but meaningful collection there's always been one piece that I've wanted - a signet ring. This timeless treasure is one that I have coveted for years for it's classic sensibility, rich history and customization, but I have waited to make it my own until I found one that met all my requirements for craftsman, style and design.
After years of searching I've finally found the perfect piece and couldn't be more excited to add it to my collection for my 31st birthday this year. Beginning with this post, I'm going to share the entire process with you from start to finish. This series will include why I've decided to add a signet to my jewelry box, who I've decided to work with and why, along with the entire design process including my decisions for size, composition and engraving.
WHAT IS A SIGNET RING & WHY DO I WANT ONE?
Simply speaking, a signet ring (from Latin 'signum' meaning sign) is an engraved ring typically adorned with one's initials, or a design. The wearing of these simple silhouettes dates back to ancient Egypt where they were used by queens, pharaohs and the like to sign documents before distinctive personal signatures became common practice. As you can imagine, the individuals who relied on these signets for formal documentation kept them under lock and key and only brought them out when needed. As time passed, these rings were worn more regularly, engraved with family crests and coats of arms and were often destroyed upon the owner's death. Today, these rings are passed down from generation to generation and commissioned for important milestones including graduations, major birthdays, weddings and births.
"Above all else though, I love the customization element of a signet, and the endless possibilities when it comes to making one your own by engraving it with something meaningful to you."
Now, why do I want one of these timeless pieces? As a lover of history I am completely smitten with the rich historical significance of these pieces and how their use helped shape the world we live in. On another level, I also love the idea of owning and wearing a piece traditionally reserved for men. The act of wearing typically "masculine" items such as crisp oxfords, tailored blazers and beautiful brogues is one that I've been practicing since my earliest memory and I love the way these pieces offset more feminine touches for a customized, personal style. Above all else though, I love the customization element of a signet and the endless possibilities when it comes to making one your own by engraving it with something meaningful.
A NOTE ON CRAFTSMANSHIP
When I first became aware of signet rings I was in middle school. I was instantly taken by their simple shape, rich gold hue and the way they delicately adorned the fingers of everyone from historical figures to fictional members of my favorite books and films. I loved how these personal pieces spoke volumes of the wearer and silently contributed to their personal style while offering a glimpse into their unique story. Needless to say, I hoped to have a customized piece of my own one day and have spent the last 20+ years studying various styles and iterations of signets in books, films, museums and mot recently blogs and Pinterest. Throughout this amateur study, I have established a few requirements for my own signet and the jeweler that will help make it a reality. I've outlined these points below along with why they're important to me.
- OVAL OR ROUND SHAPE: While many silhouettes are available, I personally prefer the more traditional oval or round design. I love how classic this is and I think it will compliment both my wardrobe and other jewelry beautifully.
- SEAL ENGRAVING: To my knowledge, two prominent types of engraving exist - seal and surface. Just as the name suggests, a surface engraving is one that only grazes the surface of the ring while a seal engraving is deeper and results in a more prominent engraving that I think catches the light beautifully. Today, countless jewelers and online retails offer engraved signets but in my research, very few of them do it by hand and made to order. In the name of efficiency and cost, many signets available today are machine made and while there's certainly nothing wrong with that, I prefer a handmade option.
- SOLID BACK: A solid face back is another feature that I am looking for in my signet. Even though this detail won't be visible while wearing the ring, I think it speaks to the overall quality and craftsmanship of a handmade signet and it's a feature I would rather no compromise.
- SOLID GOLD, NOT PLATED: Along those same lines, I would like a solid gold signet rather than one that is plated. When making thoughtful purchases that I hope to have forever, I always opt for the highest quality to include the longevity of the materials. In the case of my jewelry, that means solid gold in either 14 or 18 carat.
- EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE: Last but certainly not least, personable, helpful and friendly customer service is of the utmost importance to me. There are few things I value more than pride in oneself and one's work and I think excellent customer service is an extension of this pride. I want to remember the creation of such a treasured piece with fondness and finding a friendly, trust-worthy jeweler is a key part of this.
RUFFS SIGNET RINGS & A WORD FROM THEIR TEAM
While researching jewelers and signet ring artisans, I took note of countless options and after delving deeper into each one, Ruffs was consistently recommended for their incredible craftsmanship, unsurpassed heritage and impeccable, friendly customer service. After reading every customer testimonial I could find, studying their styles, materials, process and final products for weeks, I ultimately made the confident decision to work with Ruffs on this very special gift. To begin the process, I sent a quick note to the Ruffs team outlining my desire to purchase a signet for my 31st birthday and share the journey from start to finish both here and on my YouTube channel. Almost immediately, I received a reply from Ali Ruff who not only answered every question I had, but has very graciously offered to gift me one of their incredible pieces in exchange for this series. Needless to say, I am completely blown away by this incredible gift and I couldn't be happier to share the process with you. To start things off, I've outlined a short Q&A with Ali that speaks to their impeccable craftsmanship, knowledge of signets and detailed customer service.
Q: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Ali! To start things off, can you give us a little background on your family's business and why you've chosen to make signets?
A: You’re most welcome Audrey! Our family business was founded in 1904 by my Great Great Grandfather Mark Henry Ruff and it is now in it’s fifth generation. Since my father, also Mark, took the reigns in the late 1980’s we’ve very much concentrated on signet rings and cufflinks. At the time the price of gold was very high and signet rings were being stamped out of very thin metal. My father spotted a gap in the market for a more substantial, cast ring and set about finding the perfect crafts people to make this happen. My father is now researching for his PHD whilst I take care of the day to day running of the business.
Q: One of the things that drew me to your company was your commitment to superior craftsmanship and that you carefully craft each ring by hand. Can you share a brief overview of what goes into creating your signets, and why you choose to craft them by hand?
A: Creating a signet ring typically takes four weeks. We allow a week for the making of the wax model of the basic ring and the casting thereof; one week for the statutory hallmarking - this involves sending the ring to the Sheffield Assay Office; a week for engraving + a contingency week. We use various outworkers for these tasks. All highly skilled, small family businesses, all of whom we’ve worked with for many years. Some even worked with my Grandfather! We cast each piece which allows us to have complete control over the size, shape and weight of a given ring. This contrasts with a stamped out ring which is beholden to the individual dies a manufacturer holds.
Q: In a world where too many retailers skimp on materials and craftsman, what sets you and your products apart? More specifically, how do your signets differ from many others on the market
A: Our ultimate UPS is that we do not sell rings from stock. Each ring is cast as a one off and tailor made for each client. You’ll notice I mention ‘cast’. This is how we create our rings, as a whole piece either from new gold or utilizing a customer's old sentimental gold, rather than stamping the ring from a sheet of metal and joining it at the band. We feel this gives the best possible result - a ring of equal substance and elegance. Some of our competitors (those who stamp their rings) are critical of casting but we have evolved and indeed perfected this method over a quarter of a century and it is perfect.
Q: There are five marks inside each of your signets. Can you describe each of them and their significance?
A: The marks you refer are the hallmarks. These are a legal requirement and also a great way of learning the story of the ring. Inside our gold rings you’ll find the following; our maker’s mark - CNAR (Cyril Norman Aubrey Ruff my Great Grandfather). A stylised Rose which is the represents The Sheffield Assay Office where all our products are sent for hallmarking. Next is an Imperial Crown and a number, either 375, 585, 750 or 916 indicating the parts of pure gold in 9ct, 14ct, 18ct and 22ct respectively. And finally a letter, for 2018 you’ll see a lowercase t.
As you can see, Ruffs offers a level of craftsmanship and quality that is often difficult to find today and I couldn't be happier about working with them on such a special piece. Thanks so much for reading and I'm looking forward to sharing the next step in this process soon.