The fourth season of The Crown, which was released on Netflix earlier last month, has caused quite the royal stir.
In addition to the ongoing antics between Queen Elizabeth II (played by Olivia Colman) and Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson), the bulk of the newest season follows the tumultuous marriage of Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin).
The Prince of Wales is portrayed in such a negative light that many in the U.K. fear that viewers may inaccurately think less of the heir to the throne. This weekend, U.K. culture secretary Oliver Dowden told the Mail on Sunday his plans to formally request that Netflix issue a “health warning” before The Crown to note that it’s a work of fiction.
“It’s a beautifully produced work of fiction, as with other TV productions, Netflix should be very clear at the beginning it is just that,” Dowden reportedly said. “Without this, I fear a generation of viewers who did not live through these events may mistake fiction for fact.”
One thing that cannot be mistaken for fiction is one of the show’s best supporting stars: Prince Charles’ pinky ring. It has been a permanent fixture on both the fictional and real Prince Charles’ left hand for decades.
The gold signet ring is featured heavily in the series, but its most notable moment comes early in the fourth season on the eve of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding. After several weeks apart and the newly acquired knowledge that the prince still had some sort of relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles (Emerald Fennell), Diana is ready to call off the wedding.
In a peace offering, Prince Charles hands Diana a ring box.
“A signet ring, the Prince of Wales insignia,” he says, clasping her hand. “For the Princess of Wales.”
Diana snaps the ring box closed and walks away, but it seems to have done the trick, as she goes through with the rehearsal wedding shortly after.
The scene is reportedly based on a real gesture made between the Prince and future Princess before their wedding. According to royal biographer Penny Junor, who wrote a biography of Duchess Camilla, the Prince of Wales sent Diana the ring, along with a note that said, “I’m so proud of you and when you come up I’ll be there at the altar for you tomorrow. Just look ‘em in the eye and knock ‘em dead.”
The gold ring features feathers perched on a crown atop the phrase “ich dien,” which translates to “I serve.” It was last worn by King Edward VIII, Queen Elizabeth II’s uncle, while he was still the Prince of Wales, prior to his abdication in 1936.
The signet ring has been a staple of the Royal Family for centuries and an iconic part of Prince Charles’ since his youth. He can be seen sporting it, often with his Toric Chronograph, and continues to wear it to this day.
Like most male members of the Royal Family, Prince Charles initially refrained from wearing a wedding ring, but he has rarely been seen without the signet on his left pinky finger. However, since getting remarried in 2005 to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, the Prince of Wales has taken to stacking his wedding band on top of the signet ring. The Duchess of Cornwall does the same.
Although it has been called “the gentleman’s ring,” Princess Diana was often seen wearing the insignia on her pinky finger.
Kate Middleton’s family received an official crest from the College of Arms prior to her marriage to Prince William and her younger sister, Pippa Middleton, is frequently seen wearing a signet with coat while out and about in London.
Kim Dunham, a New York-based jewelry designer who began creating custom signet rings in 2016, took time to explain the universal appeal to InsideHook.
“It’s all genders, it’s super unisex,” Dunham says. “I work with people for 18th birthday gifts [and] all the way to 80-year-old men that want to pass something down and remember their story.”
It’s not just for royalty, either.
Harry Styles, Chris Pine, Stephan James, Zac Efron and Lil Nas X have all been seen sporting the style. The signet has also become a staple in Guy Ritchie films, with Matthew McConaughey and Henry Cavill’s characters wearing them in almost every scene in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Gentlemen.
Interest in the “signet ring” has been on the rise over the past five years, according to Google Trends. Searches have been on the rise since the first season of The Crown and the ascendance of the next generation of British royals.
“It’s interesting, the trend, and I think it has to do with classic style and people wanting something that feels substantial and personal,” Dunham says. “There’s something really beautiful about just holding onto things that feel really classic and meaningful.”
While Dunham is available to press family crests on the faces of her signet rings, a lot of her work revolves around creating personalized designs for each individual client.
“I think that’s such the beauty of the signet ring. A heavy weighted gold or sterling ring never goes out of style and it will always look good,” she says. “I always say to my clients that you can always put it on. You can have a really beautiful watch and your wedding ring on, and it’s never overkill to put a classic oval signet ring on.”
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