It is true; we love symbolism and personalizing our jewelry. There are many ways to do so, and signet rings have always played their part. The world has a newfound love for them as trends develop and our fondness for dedicated or personalized jewelry grows. Rebus is a company specializing in signet rings and cufflinks. I sat down with Emmet Smith talking about his lovely company.
I have been working in the jewelry trade since 1986. My first foray into the trade was at the Sir John Cass School of Art in Whitechapel, where I spent a year studying jewelry design and making, stone setting, silversmithing, and hand engraving.
Emmeth Smith, REBUS
I immediately fell in love with hand engraving; I would completely lose myself in a miniature world I could create. I then started a 5-year apprenticeship with a company in Hatton Garden called R.H. Wilkins. Little did I know then I would go on to buy that company twelve years later.
''I started Rebus in 2005, mainly due to the frustration of being sent poor-quality signet rings to work on''
Also, RH Wilkins was a B2B business. Having a workshop of extremely talented engravers, I wanted to promote the art of hand engraving directly to the customer who wears our jewelry.
Rebus, a B2C jewelry brand, allowed me to do just that. All my team loves working closely with our customers to create really imaginative artworks that we then seal and engrave into the piece of Rebus jewelry we have created for them. Each customer in the store is invited to our workshop, where they meet the craftspeople making their jewelry. They are always very interested in the engraving process and are amazed at the detail that can be achieved with just small handheld chisels (gravers).
This direct contact with the customer gives me (especially as I spent two decades in an out-of-sight workshop) and my team a lot of pleasure.
We have quite a large team for an independent jewelry company. The workshop is underneath the store. Here we make and seal engrave the signet rings and other jewelry pieces. We have eight engravers, one of which is still serving her apprenticeship. The apprenticeship lasts 4-5 years, depending on age and previous experience. Our livery company, The Goldsmiths Hall, indentures our apprentices and gives them and us lots of support. The jewelry trade is a small, wonderfully supportive industry full of skilled craftsmen and artists.
We also have an in-house production department and a sales and design team that works with our customers to flush out their ideas and provide sketches.
Rachel, one of the sales team, and one of the engravers take what we do on the road to the US, where we set up trunk shows in hotels. They were off to LA and West Hollywood in June and took appointments at The London Hotel.
I currently spend a lot of time living in Crete and have acquired two dogs, a border collie (Kenny) and a mixed-breed shepherd dog (Dolly). Both dogs were abandoned; Dolly must have been 2-3 months old when I found her in an olive grove. Kenny was approximately a year old when I found him running around a mountain road. I suspect he escaped from his previous owner. Unfortunately, in rural areas, the dogs are left tied up in olive groves or fields; unwanted puppies are often discarded.
This story is from Matthew Hart, one of our master engravers who is accompanying Rachel on the US trunk show, who had his dog engraved on his own signet ring:
My mother had a fox terrier as a child and always wanted another. So one day, we found some fox terrier puppies for sale. Straight away, we saw Ted and had to have him. We named him 'Ted' because (other than looking like a teddy bear), I was watching lots of Father Ted at the time, and it was between Ted or Doogle. Ted is now 6.
Signet Rings are very personal; I made a signet ring in memory of my father.
This is my personal version of a mourning ring in the spirit of Momento Mori (I already have another signet ring that has the motto Momento Vivere ‘remember to live’ engraved into it). My father, Philip Smith (aka Dickie, Detsy, the Captain), died in 2019, and I decided to design a signet ring in his memory that I could wear daily and remember him.
The shape is a larger version of the Rebus Marquise, it is made from 18K yellow gold, and I have used vitreous white and green/grey enamel.
On one shoulder, I carved an ear. I took this idea after visiting a museum in Berlin, where there is a permanent ancient Egyptian exhibition. I learned the Egyptians' use of the ear as an icon was widespread in their art, wall carvings, and worn as amulets. These hearing or ‘Sacred Ears’ were carved into walls of temples so that people would have the ear of their deity, to share a message with the gods and goddess.
The symbolism of ear amulets is not always well understood, but I like the version that it represents a person and is thus connected to that person. I occasionally hum a tune or say a few words into ‘his ear’; it is a comfort for me. Not to mention it would appeal to my Dad’s sense of humor and makes me chuckle sometimes.
I chose white enamel on the top surface, as used in traditional Victorian memento mori jewelry. Within the white enamel are raised gold letters that say ‘Not by Words.’ I was a bit of a tearaway, but he would always give me a hug in times of trouble. He didn’t need to say a word; they were unnecessary. The phase also is part of the Latin motto where I took the name Rebus from ‘Non verbis, sed Rebus,’ not by words but by ideas or images.
In the center of the ring is a dark green colored enamel, which references Ireland; Dad was a very proud Irishman. The use of white enamel around green gives the signet ring an appearance of an eye, a quality that was not planned, but I’ve always loved beautiful mistakes.
Under the green enamel is an engraved image of a door. After Dad died, I discovered one of his notebooks. His first and only entry was a sonnet he copied, which he may have read from one of his books. At the end of the sonnet, he wrote it was one of the most beautiful poems he had read. It is called:
When I am dead and laid at last to rest by Gamel Woolsey
There is a line: ‘As air that quickens at the opened door,’ which struck a chord with me, and of course, the image of a door is a powerful symbol and metaphor.
Our two hearts engraved into the door need no explanation.
I wear this ring every day. I’m not finished yet. I have another shoulder I could carve one day, and I plan to put a message inside the shank. He loved Neil Young, so maybe a line from one of his favorite songs.
This signet ring is a reminder, a communication, and a tribute to our love. Father and son.
Gail and Sophie gifted each other a ring with their dogs on it. Designed and made by Rebus
Absolutely yes, our stone setter fosters rescue dogs and regularly brings them in. Also, Kate from the sales team occasionally walks her dogs to work. So, we have two upstairs on occasion and one downstairs. The Rebus store is located on a market road (Leather Lane, in central London) that is well known for its gorgeous food stalls. I bet the dogs love coming to work!