Re-Appropriating The Signet Ring: The High-Fashion Edit

Never had a personal coat of arms? Now you can wear a designer one

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Fashion houses of late have been liberally drawing on trends from bygone times and putting their personal stamp on them, from Valentino's take on Shakespearean collars for AW16 to Burberry's nod to Virginia Woolf's 1928 historical fantasy, Orlando.

Valentino's ruffs for AW16
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Now, in the world of bling, it seems that some designers have quite literally put their stamp on one past trend: the signet ring.

J.W.Anderson has come out with a gold-plated, silver-tone ring, engraved with the brand's logo in lieu of where a family crest would be, while Louis Vuitton's version of a crest is an advertising motif from the house's archives emblazoned on leather.

Unlike with other purely aesthetic fashion fads, the signet ring is traditionally loaded with historic significance. Originally worn as an identification mark, rather than a decorative fashion item, it bore a reverse or 'seal-engraved' image of one's family crest, which would be pressed into hot wax or soft clay and used as a personal seal on all correspondence.

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The signet ring grew in popularity with the rise of the bourgeoisie, and became a status symbol for those with a lineage to be proud of, as the middle and working classes did not have a personal coat of arms to boast of.

During the reign of King Edward II in the fourteenth century, the seal took on an additional civic role, as the King established that all official government documents had to bear the seal of the King's signet ring, to prevent forgeries and tampering with official documents.

With the seal's use now very much defunct, why is it that the signet ring seems to be in vogue again, and not just left to collect dust in a family jewellery box?

For many the signet ring still smacks of elitism and is a flagrant symbol of the enduring class segregations that we should be trying harder to smooth out.

There is something even a tad subversive about the designer 'crest' being accessible to all

And yet it seems that now, the signet ring is being democratised thanks to fashion's imitations. There is something even a tad subversive about the designer 'crest' being accessible to all (purse strings allowing).

As Beatrice Behlen, senior curator of fashion and decorative arts at the Museum of London says: 'Today, signet rings are not necessarily the prerogative of the aristocracy or men. Anyone can wear them, and if someone wants to make up their own crest, why not?'

Yes, why not have a J.W.Anderson emblem on your pinkie, if you so wish?

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