Making a Mark: Seal Engraving

Making a Mark: Seal Engraving

Written by on 8 June 2015

Engraving is becoming more and more popular choice, whether it is engraving a special date or a name on the inside of a band or a delicate and intricate pattern to the outside. With signet rings really growing in popularity over the past few months, seal engraving is becoming another type of engraving that is being explored and this article is going to look at seal engraving in a little more detail.

Seal carving can be traced back all the way to Ancient China and Asia, where the seals were made from all different materials including stone, metal, bamboo and even ivory. It is in the Shang Dynasty, that the seals started to be used by government officials and they represented power and authority. The main materials that were used in the period for creating a seal were animal bones, copper and pottery! This specialist skill took many years to learn and only very well thought of engravers where allowed to undertake the work.  Artisans and craftsmen would need to specialise in this skill as many of the seals were very formal and beautiful, representing the power of the person it was created for. With a history of more than 3,000 years, seal engraving has played a very important role in Chinese culture.

The use of wax seals however was not introduced to the Western world until the Middle Ages. Monarchs, Bishops and Royal courts used them in issuing official documents and papers, not only as a form of authorisation but also as a form of security.  By the 13th century more people were using seals, including tradesmen, and as at this time not many people were able to read and write they were used as a way of confirming agreements and contracts, with the butchers seal being an image of a pig, and the fisherman’s an image of a fish!

The idea of a secret seal has been romanticised in the film industry, with heroes having a hidden seal within their ring enabling them to send messages undetected, a great example of this is the Scarlet Pimpernel, with Anthony Andrews, twisting his ring to reveal a little image of the flower use to give orders and messages about rescue missions to his men!

A seal is always engraved in reverse and is much deeper and finer than traditional two dimensional hand engraving with a third or fourth dimension added. This is a very time consuming activity and a skilled hand is required, seal engraving have been known to take many weeks to create!

Setting a personal seal on an object was traditionally to establish ones ownership, and although today we do need to stamp our mark onto letters or important documents still the majority of seal designs are still Coats of Arms, shields and family crests.