"Signet" derives from the Latin word "signum" translating to "sign" (as in signature). The oldest signet rings were carved with a distinctive emblem that was used as a signature on documents and letters. Until the invention of the mail system and the stamp, signet rings were still used to form wax seals on correspondence. This 1950s 14k gold signet ring with bold alternating diagonals of lapis and diamonds is more typical of the kind of signet rings worn in the present day, meaning it is meant to be worn as a fashion statement (and is it ever!) or a signifier of status.
RETRO (1935 - 1945)
World War II marked the shift from Art Deco to retro, as yet another war (and the subsequent materials rations) dictated what was available on the jewelry market. Platinum was reserved for military use, so jewelers began relying heavily on gold and experimenting with colored alloys and different finishes. Retro jewelry designs are marked by asymmetry, motifs borrowed from industrial design, and exaggerated scale.
Thanks to a hugely successful advertising campaign begun in the 1940s and funded by De Beers, the phrase “a diamond is forever” was coined and diamond rings were touted as the ONLY acceptable type of engagement ring. Carefully worded ads instructed men on how to choose a stone, and what to spend (“two months salary!”). The Gemological Institute of America developed the so-called “4Cs” of diamond grading, which was a scientific system for measuring the color, clarity, cut and carat weight of every single diamond.
The costume jewelry industry, having only been established a few decades before, began to flourish. Centered in Providence, Rhode Island, and surrounding New England towns, companies like Trifari, Monet, Hobe, and Vendome prospered as consumers gobbled up inexpensive machine-made jewels.