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”)

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]

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]

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 JewelHistory blog have been treated to her weekly (sometim… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Unisex 18k 750 Yellow Gold & Diamond Ring Band Size 7.5 No Reserve10k Solid Gold Mens Antique Art Deco Ruby Ring Sz 9.75 SpectacularAntique Victorian 1870s $7000 3ct Natural Blue Sapphire 14k Gold Mens Ring BandAntique Natural Garnet Mens Womens Ring 10k Solid Yellow Gold Mens Womens Ring Antique Vintage Collectible Estate Deco Sapphire 10k Gold 6.8gMens Womens Ring Antique Vintage Collectible Estate Ruby 10k Gold 6.6grVintage Estate Men's Heavy Vvs G .42 Carat Diamond 14k Wedding Statement RingVintage 1950s Solid 9ct Gold Mens Large Heavy Signet Ring Hallmarked London 1955Mens Womens Ring Antique Vintage Collectible Deco Estate Ruby 10k Gold 9.0grHeavy Massive Vintage Mens 14k Yellow Gold Alexandrite-like Purple Sapphire RingAntique Ostby Barton Ob Men’s 10k Gold Tiger Eye Cameo Ring Repair Or ScrapEstate Vintage 14k Yellow Gold Diamond Designer Band Ring Men's Or LadiesVintage 18k Satin Finish Yellow Gold Retro Modern Design Diamond Cluster RingBig Heavy Vintage Mens Modernist Heavy Sterling Silver Malachite Ring 10 1/2Huge 10.6 Gr Mans 14k Gypsy Vintage Apple Jade Ring Gold 11 1/4 Bold Heavy MensVintage 10k Soid Gold .07 Tcw Diamond Mens Ring One Cent Sale! Fs! Nr!Antique Natural Garnet Mens Ring Sterling And 10k Gold Antique 10k Solid Gold Masonic Ring W/ Amethyst Inlay One Cent Sale! Fs! Rare Antique Mens 3/4 Carat Diamond 14k White Gold RingAntique Solid 10k Gold Knights Of Templar Masonic Men's Wedding Ring (size: 9)Mens Womens Ring Antique Vintage Collectible Estate Ruby 10k Gold 8.1grAntique Mens Womens Sapphire Ring 10k Solid Yellow Gold Antique Vintage Mens Womens Sapphire Ring 10k Solid Yellow GoldVintage Signed Begay Navajo Indian Silver Men's Ring Turquoise Coral Sz 133 Row Channel Set Genuine Diamond Solid 10k Gold Vintage Mens Ring Size 7.5Antique Mens Womens Amethyst Ring 10k Sold Yellow Gold Sterling Silver Vintage Mens' Black Hills Gold Onyx Eagle Ring * Size 10Antique Art Deco Mens .35 Ct. Old European Cut Diamond Solitaire 14k Gold Ring925 Sterling Silver Mens .66ct Si3 H Diamond Cluster Ring 15.3g Vintage EstateVintage Navajo Indian Silver Men's Ring Turquoise Coral Size 12 1/214k White Gold Diamond .40ct Vs1 H Mens 3 Stone Diamond Ring 5.3g Vintage EstateVintage Sterling Spider Blue Turqouse Etched Mens Navajo Wide Ring Signed Mg Vintage Men's Jkc 14k Gold .25ct Diamond Solitaire Band Ring Size 10Vintage Sterling & 10k Gold & Montana Moss Agate Mens Ring W/egypt Sphinx-11 1/2Rare Antique Art Deco Mens Diamond 14k 2-tone Gold RingAntique Vintage Mens Ruby Ring 10k Sold Yellow GoldSterling Silver 925 Vintage Estate Mens 8mm Rope Spinner Ring Size 11Rare Vintage Cabochon Jade Emerald ? Sterling Silver Mens Womens Ring Sz10-9.2grAntique 1940s .20ct Genuine Pink Diamond 14k Yellow Gold Mens Ring Band14kt Diamond And Ruby Lions Head Ring Vintage Estate Scrap ? 14 Karat Gold 14kVintage Wwii 1944 Anzio Trench Art Mens RingBig Vintage Navajo Sterling Green Quartz Ring Size 7.75 Signed 14 GramsVintage 10 K Yellow Gold Size 9.5 Men's Ring With Centaur 7.2 GramsHigh Bid Wins 9 Kt K Gold Tiger's Eye Mens Ring Size 10.5 Signet Vintage 7.3 GVintage Mens Rp 10k Gold Oval Tiger's Eye & Diamond Ring Size 9Vintage Men's Sterling Silver United States Marines Ring Size 10Old Pawn Vtg Fred Harvey Era Navajo Turquoise Sterling Mens Eagle RingVintage Men's Sterling 12k Black Hills Gold Black Onyx Glass Deer Buck Ring 10.5Vintage Men's 10k Gold Oval Onyx & Diamond Band Ring Size 10Vintage Sterling Silver - Clark & Coombs Hematite 5g - Ring (11) MensVintage Masonic Mens Ring Casting 4 Models Signet Tagged Gold Weight 1940-1970'sMens Vintage 10 Kt Blue Star Sapphire & Diamond Ring Estate10k Gold U.s. Law Enforcement Police Aomp Fraternal Ring Size 10 Vintage Mens Vintage Chunky Heavy Mens Onyx, 14k Gold & Sterling Eagle Ring Size 9Vtg 10k Gold Sterling Silver Carved Tiger Eye 2 Face Cameo Silhouette Men's RingAntique Masonic Lodge Ring, 12k Gold, Size 10, No Stone Repair Or ScrapRare Vintage Huge Sterling Navajo Ahasteen Turquoise Nugget Ring Size 12 MensLovely Vintage 14k Gold Fiery Opal Openwork Ring ~ Ladies ~ Mens Size 7 ~ 5.3 GrVintage 14 K Solid Yellow Gold Men's Size 8 Ring 6.0 GramsAntique Men's 10 K White Gold Ring Centurion Design Tigers Eye Stone Size 8 1/2