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



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Large Men's Antique 9ct Gold Signet Ring ~ Coat Of Arms Crest Carnelian IntaglioHeavy Vintage 18k Gold 17.9 X 7.5mm Jadeite Jade Solitaire Men's Ring Size 9.75Vintage Womens Solid 14k Yellow Gold Ring Wide Band Sz 6 1/2 (5.3gram) Not ScrapVintage 10k Black Hills Gold Mens Wide Band Ring Sz 10, 11.5 Grams Not ScrapVintage 1930s 10k Gold Ruby Purdue University Mens Class Ring 19 Garms Sz 9Gia Men's 9.85 Ct Flawless Natural Blue Zircon Diamond 18k White Gold Gents Ring14k Solid Gold Mens Heavy Vintage .42ct Tw 7 Diamond Ring Sz 7.25 Top Grade10k Solid Gold Mens Top Quality Vintage Diamond Eagle Ring Sz 11 StylishVintage Old Dead Pawn Navajo Mens Turquoise Ring Huge Sz 10.5 6789Antique Mens Womens Jade Ring 10k Solid Yellow Gold14k Solid Gold Mens Heavy Vintage Ruby & Diamond Ring Sz 10 Awesome$2600 14k White Gold .36ctw Princess Cut Diamond Mens Euro Comfort Fit Ring 7.1gVintage Mens Solid 14k Yellow Gold Ring Wide Band Sz11 Wedding 4.8gr Not ScrapHandsome Men's 10k Yellow Gold Ring With 0.57 Ctw Sapphire And Diamonds #v0514k Solid Gold Mens Heavy Top Quality Vintage .40ct Tw 5 Diamond Ring Sz 11 Best10k Solid Gold Mens Vintage Diamond & Black Onyx Ring Sz 10.75 Stylish10k Solid Gold Mens Vintage Blue Topaz & Diamond Ring Sz 11 AwesomeVintage 1969 10k Gold Trine Tri State College Class Ring Vintage 14k Solid Yellow Gold .35ctw Diamond Mens Wide Band Ring Sz10 8.3gramVintage Mens Tiffany & Co. Sterling Silver 925 Black Onxy Ring Size 10.5$3,500 Mens Victorian 7.31ctw Genuine Aa Tanzanite & Rose Cut Diamond Ring 10.9gVintage Estate -men's 10k Yellow Gold Masonic Ring, Red Stone 10k Yellow Gold Jostens Mens Class Ring. Scrap 14 Grams Total Ring Weight 14k Solid White Gold Mens Heavy Vintage .33ct Diamond Ring Sz 11 SpectacularYellow Gold Ring--14k Diamond--men's--vintage--nugget-jewelry----size 12-1314k Solid White Gold Mens Heavy Vintage 5 Diamond Ring Sz 9 Spectacular10k Solid Gold Mens Heavy Top Quality Designer Clear & Black 9 Diamond Ring Sz 9Vintage Celluloid Mourning Ring-man In Suit Vintage/antique Mens 9carat Gold Puzzle Ring 8.4gVintage Estate -men's 10k Yellow Gold Masonic Ring, Blue Stone Antique 9k Gold Elks Tooth Man's Ring - Size 14 Us - Sizable - Nice - Norsrv!!!!Authentic Vintage Gianni Versace Medusa Crystal Ring Size13 Wo/boxMens Old Vintage Art Deco Sterling Silver Moss Agate Stone Ring Sz 10Gent's Vintage Ob Otsby Barton Sterling Silver Medical Caduceus Ring-size 9 1/2Vintage Retro Man's 14k Gold Heavy Bloodstone Ring Size 10 Not Scrap 13.7 GramsMens 1992 10k Gold Red Pink Stone Grapevine Horse Class Ring Sz 10.5 (17.2gr)Antique Mens 10k Yellow Gold Onyx & Diamond Ring Size 10.5, 5.37 Grams M2281Vtg. 1944 Wwii Class Ring, Intaglio Sterling Silver & 10k Men's Rings Scrap 33g Antique Victorian Hardstone 10k Gold Mens Ring Signet (04191505)Mens Antique Ostby Barton 10k Gold Tiger's Eye Double Soldier Ring Titanic S9.5Antique Victorian Mens 1 Carat White Sapphire 14k Gold Ring~eagle Head Hallmark14kt Gold Men's Diamond Ring. 10 Grams- Damaged Diamond10k Solid Gold Mens Vintage Garnet & Diamond Nugget Ring Sz 10 AwesomeMen's 10k Yellow Gold Ring With Star Sapphire And Diamond! 4.3 Grams #z05$3,200 Mens Victorian 6.62ctw Genuine Aa Tanzanite & Rose Cut Diamond Ring 11.2g14kt Gold Initial ( B ) Men's Or Ladies Ring $1 Dollar & Go! Not Scrap GoldMens Womens Ring Antique Vintage Style Collectible Agate Sterling Silver 10.g Vintage Sterling Silver - Kabana Braided Dome 8.2g - Ring (8) Mens Tx2851Vintage 14k Solid Yellow Gold .35ctw Diamond Mens Wide Band Ring Sz11 6.7grArt Deco Men's 10k Yellow Gold Oval Cut Color Changing Sapphire Signet Ring Vintage Jac 14k Solid White Gold Blue Star Sapphire Women's Men's Ring Nr Exc!Men's 10k Yellow Gold Ring With 2.55 Ctw Onyx! 8.1 Grams! Excellent #v11$3,000 Mens Victorian 9.22ctw Genuine Gem Ruby & Rose Cut Diamond Ring 16.3gEarly Rare Mens Gothic Ostby Barton Ruby Rose & White 10k + 14k Gold Shell Ring Mens Vintage 14k Gold Ring, .35ct Diamond, Size 914k Solid Gold Mens Vintage 3 Diamond Band Ring Sz 8.75 Very Stylish1977 Marion, Illinois Men’s High School Class Ring- Size 10, 10kComfort Wed Lok Band 14k Gold Men's Wedding Ring 4.7 Grams Size 10 Scrap Wear Vintage 1948 Elks Bpoe Fraternal Ring With Inscription Gold ?10k White Gold Vintage Purple Emerald Cut Bezel Mens Ring Sz 8.5 Scrap Or Repair