Signet ring


The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum

A seal or signet ring was used to apply the wearer's personal mark to the sealing wax on a document. The seal then denoted the legality of the document and the identification of the issuing authority or individual. The ring could be engraved with a coat of arms, if the owner was entitled to use one, or with a personal initial, a merchant's mark. The design on this ring shows the letters WR set in a hollowed out heart. Although at first glance, this does not look like a signet, the way in which the letters are reversed shows that it was intended as one and the heart has been used as a heraldic emblem since the early middle ages.

This ring forms part of a collection of 760 rings and engraved gems from the collection of Edmund Waterton (1830-81). Waterton was one of the foremost ring collectors of the nineteenth century and was the author of several articles on rings, a book on English devotion to the Virgin Mary and an unfinished catalogue of his collection (the manuscript is now the National Art Library). Waterton was noted for his extravagance and financial troubles caused him to place his collection in pawn with the London jeweller Robert Phillips. When he was unable to repay the loan, Phillips offered to sell the collection to the Museum and it was acquired in 1871. A small group of rings which Waterton had held back were acquired in 1899.

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  • Title: Signet ring
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: 1600/1700
  • Location: England
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 2.2 cm, Width: 2.2 cm, Depth: 1.5 cm
  • Medium: Chased and engraved gold

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