Men’s rings are more than mere pieces of jewelry or finger-bling. Since ancient times, they have been used to signify status. Signet rings, engraved with an official mark or family crest, developed from the cylindrical seals of early Middle Eastern cultures to authenticate documents. These utilitarian rings used the intaglio method to sculpt a recessed image, in which symbols or text were engraved backwards. This reversal allowed the correct impression to be left when the ring was pressed into wax or ink to mark official correspondence.

Egyptians were the first to mount their signets on rings; they were generally engraved with hieroglyphics indicating the wearer’s name and profession. Romans adopted the signet ring and added gemstones to the design. In medieval Europe, signet rings often indicated military rank, and became highly popular because of widespread illiteracy, even among the men who wore them.

From the 17th century on, powerful European men adopted signet rings carved with their family or regional seal as a symbol of their status. Religious orders like the Jesuits and fraternal organizations such as the Masons created coded signet rings to identify members of their societies. But by the 18th century, the signet ring was widely used simply to seal letters of a personal nature.

Equally practical was the archery ring, designed to protect the finger pad of the bow thumb, resulting in a more precise string release. The style of archer’s ring developed extensively in China, in materials from horn and ivory to jade and gold. Some designs featured an asymmetrical opening to allow for a tight fit.

Though archery was a part of the standardized test for civil service in China through the 1600s, archer’s rings continued to be worn long after because they represented an ideal of masculine skill among the wealthy and ruling class. The most valuable archer’s rings are those with dynastic heritage, which garner millions at auction because of their connection to former Chinese emperors.

Cameo rings, which are essentially the physical opposite of itaglio signet rings, feature a central relief carved from a gemstone, coral, or other natural material, which are then set into a metal band. Most cameos are made from seashells, a tradition established in Italy during the 15th century and popularized during the Victorian Era. Increased tourism to historic sites like Pompeii created a souvenir market for affordable shell cameos, which often featured imagery inspired by Greek, Roman, or Egyptian iconography. Pope John Paul II collected cameo rings, and supposedly caught the chill that killed him in 1471 because his rings kept his hands so cold.

Commemorative or mourning rings, which typically feature the portrait or name of a deceased person, were first worn during the 14th century in Europe. Jacobites made these rings particularly fashionable in Great Britain during the 1600s when they wore cameo rings engraved with images of various Stuart kings, whose line they were trying to restore...

Personal mourning rings exploded during the sentimental Victorian Era, and are often identifiable by their onyx or jet stones and detailed inscriptions. Some of these rings even enclosed a small locket, which could be filled with a braid of hair or a miniature photograph of a loved one.

The most common type of ring worn by men in the 20th century is the wedding band, which is generally an unadorned ring of white, yellow, or rose gold. A more complex example of the style is Cartier’s “Trinity” wedding band, which is actually three interlocking rings, each a different color of gold, to symbolize friendship, faithfulness, and love.

The American jewelry industry began advertising wedding rings as a set during the 1940s and 1950s; prior to this period, only a bride’s ring was used during most wedding ceremonies. Because many couples were separated for undetermined lengths of time during World War II, the wedding ring’s symbol of commitment to a spouse overseas gained importance, and men wore them proudly.

More exclusive are Super Bowl rings, which debuted along with the first Super Bowl game held in 1967 between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. These bulky rings generally feature the winning football team’s name, logo, and the Super Bowl number in Roman numerals. Each year, jewelry designers for companies like Jostens, Balfour, and Tiffany’s bid for the right to create these limited-edition rings. The small production runs and specific history for each ring design makes them very desirable for collectors.

But the flashiest examples of men’s rings are those created for performers in the hip-hop and rap music scenes of the late 1990s. For these artists, the gratuitous display of wealth exemplified by bling was an obvious way to prove a musician’s success and power in the industry, and nothing made their case more forcefully than huge gold rings crowned with outsize diamonds.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

All About Jewels Dictionary

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from Enchantedlearning.com, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

The Black Tie Guide

The Black Tie Guide

Peter Marshall became an authority on formalwear out of necessity — he needed a tux to wear on the maiden transat… [read review or visit site]

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Jewelry collectors, feast your eyes on this internet gem! It's a goldmine of jewelry information featuring all styl… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

With its vast galleries featuring clear images of jewelry and style, this site really covers it all! Divided up by … [read review or visit site]

Jewel History

Jewel History

Since March of 2007, readers of Lori Ettlinger Gross’s Jewel History blog have been treated to her weekly (someti… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Heavy 14k Gold Freeform 0.55ct Diamond 1970s Mens Ring Size 1010k Solid Gold Mens Heavy Top Quality Antique Ruby & Diamond Ring Sz 8.75 Best!Estate 5.20 Ct Men’s Fancy Black And White Diamond Ring Gentlemen's Estate RingAntique Victorian 1880s $4000 3ct Natural Ruby 14k Yellow Gold Mens RingVintage Art Deco 10k Yellow Gold And Amethyst Sz. 9 Men's Ring 8.7gr. No ScrapVintage Heavy 14k Gold 1ctw White Diamond Cluster 1960s Mens Large Ring Size 12Vintage Navajo Old Pawn Spiderweb Turquoise Sterling Mens Ring Sz 12.5Vintage Sterling Silver - Zuni Signed Turquoise Onyx 10g - Ring (8.25) MensVintage 1960s Freeform Bark 14k Gold Lapis Lazuli Mens Ring Size 10Vintage Heavy Gentlemans Solid 14k Gold & Onyx Intaglio Masonic Ring, 14g, U.k LHeavy 13gram 14k Gold 7 Diamond 1970s Vintage Wide Band Mens Ring Size 11.25Men's Signed Tiffany & Co. 14k Gold 4.5mm Wedding Engagement Band Ring Size 10.5Vintage Blue Sapphire 10k Yellow Gold Gentlemans Masonic Freemasonry Ring Nr YqzEstate 9.44ctw Natural Mens Tanzanite And Diamond Ring 14k Solid White Gold Mens Natural Blue Star Sapphire & Diamond 14k White Gold Ring~heavy 11.5 GramsVintage Fine 10k Solid Gold Official U.s.navy Emblem Signet Ring Sz 11.25Hammerman Bros 14k White Gold 1.57ct Diamond Vs2-si1/g Diamond Vintage Mens Ring14k Solid W. Gold Mens Top Quality Vintage .56ct Tw 7 Diamond Ring Sz 11.5 Vs-1Old Pawn Navajo Vintage Sterling Az Morenci Turquoise Men's Ring Bold Sz 10.5Antique Vintage Art Deco Men's 10k Yellow Gold Solitaire Topaz Ring Size 10 3.2gVintage Sterling Silver - Zuni Coral Turquoise Inlay 38g - Ring (11) Mens Br5713Vtg Us Naval Academy Annapolis Md Rare 1956 Class Men's Ring 14k Gold, Sapphire Vintage Heavy 14k White Yellow Gold Fine Quality Diamond Two Tone Mens Ring 9.5Fine Rare 18ct Gold Carved Gem Stone "man On The Moon" And Diamond Ring 18k 750Vintage Sterling Silver - Navajo Signed Black Onyx 9.2g - Ring (8) Mens Br5723Mens Estate $4200 14k Yellow Gold 2.00 Ct Natural Black Sapphire Diamond RingMens Estate $2800 14k Yellow Gold Signet Ring With Etched Letter HMen's Unisex Art Deco 14k White Gold F Vs 1ct Diamond Sapphire Ring Size 6.7510k Gold Ring - 6 Grams Mens Fine Jewelry - Vintage Antique Soldier - Size 10.25Vintage Navajo Old Pawn Boulder Turquoise Sterling Mens Ring Sz 1333g Giant Vintage Zuni Cast Sterling Mudhead Kachina Multi-inlay Mens Ring Sz 11Estate 14k Gold Men's Wedding Band Ring 5.8 Grams NrMens Gorgeous .75 Ct. Diamond Cluster 14k Yellow Gold Ring~very Heavy 11.9 GramsVintage Horse Shoe Sterling Silver Man's Turquoise Ring Signed Rb Running BearRare & Heavy 18ct Gold Garnet & Eagle Motif Shoulders Mens Ring Circa 1958Art Deco, Solid White Gold, Black Onyx & Old European Cut Diamond, Men's RingMens 1930s Vintage 10k White Gold Hand Carved Tiger's Eye Lady Cameo RingMens Estate 10k Yellow Gold 0.60 Ct Natural Oval Blue Sapphire Solitaire RingEstate 2.20ct Diamond 14k Gold Large Men's Statement Ring 36.4 Grams NrEstate 1.08ct Baguette Diamond 18k Gold Men's Band Ring NrHeavy Vintage Sterling Silver Harley Davidson Mens Ring Size 13.5. Mexico 925Mens Vintage Deco .85ctw Amethyst 925 Silver 14k Rose Gold Wedding RingVintage Sterling Silver & 14k Gold - Kabana Carved Tribal 7g - Ring (11) MensVintage High-end 14k Yellow Gold Cougar/puma Design Ring - Size 9 Genuine James Avery 14k Gold Christian Cross Wide Cigar Band Mens Ring Sz 10.25Antique 1930s Very Art Deco Black Onyx White Diamond 10k Gold Sz 11.75 Mens RingStunning Antique 10k Solid Yellow Gold Art Deco Onxy & Diamond Mens RingVintage Sterling Silver - Zuni Turquoise Onyx Inlay 9.4g - Ring (9) Mens Br5443Vintage Sterling Silver - Zuni Turquoise Coral Inlay Inlay 6.6g - Ring (10) MensAntique Diamond 0.98ct Sapphire Filigree 18k Gold Men's Ring 9.7 Grams NrVintage Navajo Kingman Old Pawn Turquoise Sterling Silver Mens Ring Sz 11Vintage 14k Gold 0.50ctw Fine Diamond Cluster Heavy Nugget Mens Ring Size 10.25Estate 14k Yellow Gold 1.00ctw Diamond Mens RingVintage Diagonal Set 0.50ctw Diamond Two Tone Solid Gold Mens Ring Size 9.75Heavy 13.7gram 14k Gold Bark Huge Lab Blue Spinel Vintage Mens Ring Size 10.25Vintage 10k Yellow Gold Purple Stone Men’s Ring Size 10 Wear Or Scrap 4.9 GramsVtg Art Deco 10k Yellow Gold Tiger Eye Cameo Men's Ring 10.7gr No Scrap Sz 10Estate Indian Head Sterling Silver Coin Men Ring 23.3 Grams NrVintage Sterling Silver - Biker Devil Face 4.2g - Ring (8) Mens Bu2573Estate 0.77ct Diamond 14k Yellow Gold Mens Ring 13.8 Grams Nr