Why do 20-somethings love signet rings now? ‘It’s not about being snobby.’

Signet rings can now be spotted on co-workers, not just counts, and are often sized for female fingers.
Signet rings can now be spotted on co-workers, not just counts, and are often sized for female fingers.

Summary

Once marked by a certain elitism, signet rings now come in both classic and more irreverent, even decidedly zany versions. ‘We are now empowered to choose the symbols that represent us for ourselves.’

THE SIGNET RING has enjoyed a flush few months. The hunk of heritage jewelry that dukes and Duke fraternity presidents traditionally wore to advertise social dominance has rolled onto self-made monarchs like Zendaya and Harry Styles.

On-screen, faux-preppy psychopaths like the titular character in Netflix’s “Ripley" and the actually aristocratic heartthrobs of “Saltburn" have flashed signets, too. After “Saltburn" star Jacob Elordi, 26, wore a Tiffany & Co. signet ring to the premiere, Google searches for the style shot up 350%.

Gen Z women like digital analyst Sarah Miller, 23, extol the style’s allure. “They feel classic," said the Charlotte, N.C., native, who wears her silver Tiffany version the same way Meghan Markle does her Missoma one: on the ring finger, not the traditional pinkie. But Miller and her cohort don’t view signets as the spoils of a spoiled upbringing. 

“It’s not about being snobby," she said. “It’s really more of a sign to myself. I know who I am and how hard I work. I’m proud of that." Miller’s ring is engraved with her initials; other modern signets swap heraldry for zodiac signs, dogs and even emojis.

With the latter, the signet ring might have come full circle. They were first recorded in ancient Egypt, where Pharaohs engraved them with the original emojis—hieroglyphics—then pressed them into hot wax to seal documents, says jewelry historian Marion Fasel, who noted that “signet rings can be traced down through the ages." 

Roman warriors adopted the style to announce their newly acquired lands. By the 15th century, they were standard among landowners and religious leaders.

Stamped with family crests and Latin mottos, signet rings were considered “as unique as one’s fingerprint," explained Beth Hutchens, co-founder of the jewelry label FoundRae. 

Psychologist and fashion scholar Shakaila Forbes-Bell added that in times of cultural anxiety, shoppers yearn for a rose-colored view of the past and “embrace nostalgia" through style. Hence Gen Z’s penchant for signet rings, a dusty symbol of stability.

For some, that nostalgia is rooted in pop culture. The signet rings that inspire art director Henoch Bellanton, 27, were featured in 1994’s “Pulp Fiction" and 1999’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley" (adapted from the same Patricia Highsmith novel as “Ripley"). “Growing up, the style I admired most was from characters in movies," said the New Jersey native, whose family has no crest. 

His older brother’s style also triggered his hankering for the ring. “I remember him coming home from college wearing a gold, square signet ring with a shearling leather jacket," Bellanton recalled. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever." Today, Bellanton wears yellow-gold signet rings from Tom Wood and Bernard James.

Signet rings were a staple in tech executive Buchi Okafor’s Nigerian-American household. “Growing up, all my uncles had signet rings," said the Chicago resident, 29, adding that his dad’s gold-and-ruby design “obsessed’ him. “We have a running joke about when he’s going to pass his ring down to me," he said. For now, Okafor wears his “go-to" silver tiger-eye signet solo on his index finger. It’s not elitist, he insists, because he bought it for himself. “Just cool."

If you want a more irreverent signet ring, Joy Haugaard, the Danish founder of the jewelry brand Lionheart, recommends styles that adhere to the traditional flat-top shape, but channel a fun cocktail ring with the “more visually striking" flashes of color that enamel or gemstones provide. In Celine’s Summer 2024 campaign, over-the-top, chunky stacks of gold and silver signet rings chicly weigh down model Tess Breeden’s hands. 

Ellis Mhairi Cameron offers more abstract styles, including one seemingly melted in the fires of Pompeii. And labels like David Yurman and Mejuri make their signets in larger sizes so rings can be worn on fingers other than the traditional pinkie.

Those who want to cheekily nod to family-crest iconography should check out Pandora’s fully customizable versions which, in lieu of crests, can brandish tiny dogs or personal mottos. Taylor Swift’s oft-photographed signet ring, by New York jeweler Alison Lou, flaunts a diamond-encrusted smiley face. 

Acne Studios makes a non-gem version. Hot Topic even sells signets engraved with the rebellion symbol from the “Star Wars" show “Andor" for $34.99.

Designer Hutchens likes how the signet ring’s evolution is transforming its elitism into something more democratic: “We are now empowered to choose the symbols that represent us for ourselves."

The Wall Street Journal is not compensated by retailers listed in its articles as outlets for products. Listed retailers frequently are not the sole retail outlets.

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