09 Dec The signet ring as a personal, family jewel
‘As a jeweller we are proud of such a long history in creating signet rings’
Founded in Amsterdam in 1792, Bonebakker is the oldest jeweller in the Netherlands, with an impressive reputation that extends far beyond the Dutch borders. Creating signet rings is an age-old art Bonebakker jeweller has mastered and continues to practice to this day. Jannie Iwema, director of Bonebakker Jewellers talks about why it is a good idea to have your crest ring made in Amsterdam.
In addition to classic signet rings with a family crest, there is a growing interest, particularly among the younger generation, in jewellery with a personal symbol or monogram. ‘Bonebakker has amassed an impressive archive over the years, including wax seals of the family crests of notable families for whom our studio has made signet rings,’ explains Jannie Iwema. ‘Traditionally, signet rings were exclusively worn by those with a family crest in the so-called Blue Book, but we’re also seeing growing interest from people looking to start a new family tradition. Younger people, for example, are using the family crest from the maternal side of the family because they feel a stronger connection to that side or because their father’s side doesn’t have a crest.’
Classic signet ring with a modern twist
Bonebakker offers a modern interpretation of the classic signet ring. ‘Signet rings with a traditional family crest have always been in high demand and always will be,’ says Iwema. ‘The classic signet ring is oval with a layered blue stone. When a family crest is engraved at different depths, the darker gemstone layer underneath is revealed, creating a beautiful contrast. The lighter the top layer, the bigger the contrast. Our collection of classic and modern signet rings is appealing to a new audience. In the past, people tended to marry within their social strata and the family crest played an important role. Of course, this is no longer the case. We also design rings with custom monograms and symbols to add a unique touch. In almost all cases, our jewellery is intended to be passed down to future generations.’
More men are embracing jewellery
‘More men are starting to wear jewellery, including those with quite masculine personas,’ continues Iwema. ‘They wear their signet rings and statement pieces with pride. Our most popular men’s rings are platinum with an octagonal shape and a unique detail, such as a greenish-black falcon’s eye as the signet stone. These men value centuries-old family traditions or are looking to start their own family tradition. During times of war or economic crisis, people tend to lean heavily on tradition. The previous generation didn’t hold signet rings in very high regard, but this generation appreciates their value. Like a tattoo, a signet ring is deeply personal and can make a real statement. The growing trend is to wear the signet ring on the little finger, a practice originally reserved for noble families.’
History of the signet ring
In French, a signet ring is called a chevalière from the word chevalier, meaning ‘knight’. The knight’s shield and helmet are therefore important attributes in signet engravings. Wearing a signet ring is a longstanding tradition among prominent European families and in certain other cultures as well. A ring with a family crest must be worn in accordance with heraldic customs. In France, Germany and the Netherlands, the ring is typically worn on the ring finger of the left hand, with the crest facing away from the wearer. In other countries, the signet ring can also be worn on the little finger of the left or right hand. In England, it is customary to wear a solid gold ring on the little finger of the left hand, engraved with only a helm and torse, with the helm facing the wearer. ‘Many of our clients learned about the tradition of pinky signet rings from the Netflix show The Crown, which may have significantly boosted demand for these rings,’ explains Iwema.
Signet rings are meticulously crafted from gold and are considered heirlooms that get passed down for generations. Men typically have their entire family crest engraved on the ring. Unmarried women traditionally wore diamond-shaped rings and married women wore oval-shaped ones. For all women, signet rings tended to include only the coat of arms, as women did not wear helmets. However, the number of women asking us to engrave their full family crest on a signet ring is on the rise.’
In addition to classic signet rings, Bonebakker also creates special pieces. ‘These range from unique signet rings with special stones to jewellery with engraved gemstones. Some men prefer to wear a signet ring as their wedding ring. We recently created a signet wedding ring for a bride-to-be, with her family crest instead of the traditional engraving of the bride herself. This is just one of the ways we personalise jewellery and transform it into statement pieces that represent a specific belief or a cherished value.’ ”
Around the world
‘The descendants of the original wearers of signet rings now live all over the world,’ Iwema continues. ‘We regularly receive requests from abroad from clients who have a grandfather or another relative with Dutch roots. In many cases, we still have the seal impression of the ring in our archives. For some families, we have dozens of impressions. The idea of passing down a family heirloom appeals to people. The rings and jewels we create stand the test of time. It’s always a pleasure to look at these impressions with the family and learn more about the original wearers. Some people know the symbolic meaning of every detail of their family crest; sometimes the details change slightly due to family disputes or significant events. New elements might be added, such as a pheasant to symbolise a member of the royal family having hunted on the family’s land.’
A crest ring from the heart of Amsterdam
‘Signet rings, Amsterdam and Bonebakker are inextricably linked. We are currently developing a special signet ring to commemorate Amsterdam’s 750th anniversary. As a jeweller, we are proud of our long history of crafting signet rings. Even today, families from all corners of the world entrust us with creating an exceptional piece of jewellery for themselves or a loved one.
(This article was published in Sotheby’s Magazine – BvdL)