Rebus Bespoke Rings: Making Custom Signets Democratic

Photo courtesy of Rebus

Bespoke jewelry by Rebus promotes the freedom that accompanies owning a custom-made, hand-engraved signet ring, a tradition typically associated with family heritage crests from landed gentry. The company was born from R.H. Wilkins, world-renowned London-based goldsmith and founder, Emmett Smith, who believes that what makes Rebus so special is its personal relationship with each and every customer. 

The brand’s focus is on customer experience. While Rebus has a store in London, it’s less of a storefront for merchandise and more of a reverse design studio; reverse in the way that the customers sketch their own designs, or partner alongside a Rebus designer, wherein designs are presented to Rebus artisans for a bespoke, made-to-order piece that is tailored from start to finish.

“I don’t see myself as a designer,” said Smith. “I’m a hand-engraver. The customer is more of a designer than I am.”

Smith’s experience stems from R.H. Wilkins, where he worked as an apprentice for almost six years before his naturally curious mind had him packing his bags to travel around the world. When he returned to London in 2000, he bought and owned R.H. Wilkins, and from there, Rebus was born. The brand stemmed from Smith’s disillusionment with the mindset that dominated London business-to-business hand engravers. 

“We were everyone’s best kept secret,” Smith said. “I felt that the staff in the stores around London weren’t selling hand engraving as a value service. They almost treated it as an inconvenience.”

Around that time, R.H. Wilkins mainly worked with other businesses, providing engraving for church wear, sporting trophies, etc. “Some of the products we got to engrave were horrible and I thought, ‘I’d love to have a business directed to the consumer who will celebrate what we do here,’ so I made a decision to branch off.” 

From there, Rebus outgrew R.H. Wilkins and returned hand-engraving to consumers rather than businesses. With Rebus’ bespoke design service, the consumer also has more autonomy on the final outcome of the product. 

“My inspiration comes from communicating to customers. Signet rings are democratic; they’re not just for privileged, landed gentry entitled to family crests. Anyone can wear them. There are no rules.”

An intricate process narrows down each piece to craft a ring by the customer, for the customer. “The process is called dye-stamping,” Smith said. “It’s like a coin, and the rings are stamped out flat. This is a far superior way of manufacturing than wax casting. The ring is harder, denser and is more enjoyable for the craftsman to carve.”

First, the customer selects the ring’s shape and metal, with options ranging from Platinum, 9K, 14K and 18K gold in yellow, white or rose gold. The Metals Buying Guide gives the customer a deep dive into the shade, weight and longevity of each precious metal before they make their selection.

Next, comes the artwork and engraving. Customers can choose artwork from the Rebus crest/monogram service, or simply walk into the store with a sketch scribbled onto a piece of paper. From there, each and every design is carved using basic, traditional tools. 

“We don’t use any special technology,” explained Smith. “Everything is traditional, from pencil and paper to handheld chisels. By the end of the process, the ring is a miniature sculpture.”

Precious metals are carved using two main methods: deep seal engraving and surface engraving. Deep seal engraving is used for deep-cut, simpler monograms and seals such as 3D wax impressions for personalized seals used to authenticate important documents. Engravers who utilize surface engraving push through the metal so that the artwork can truly breathe no matter how intricate, since the metal does not get a deep carve. Surface engraving, the same technique used by traditional banknote engravers, is also used on Rebus cufflinks and precious metal pendants. 

Once the materials and artwork are tailored, the customer’s finger sizes are measured with the finger size gauge that accompanies the Welcome Pack. Second fittings for stone set signet rings further perfect the piece for size and style. For international customers ordering overseas, replica resin samples get shipped to their home in order to duplicate the fitting via a resin kit. 

Quality of straightforward, traditional craftsmanship starts with the apprentices who Smith molds with hands-on training so that they learn the art behind Rebus. In addition to quality workmanship, service and materials, Smith also values sustainability. Rebus uses Single-Mined Origin gold (SMO), which is the industry standard for gold that guarantees traceable, ethically-sourced gold to a single mine in West Africa (the Yanfolila mine in Mali). Where Smith values the people’s side of custom jewelry, he also values the people’s side of manufacturing. SMO gold ensures that mines work in fair conditions with ethical wages and secure employment. 

Communities that surround SMO gold mines also benefit from sustainability initiatives that include education programs, healthcare, access to clean water and agricultural prosperity to reduce poverty, poor hygiene and health in Africa. Rebus jewelry owners can trace where every single part of their piece came from, thanks to a QR code that tells them the full story of where and when the gold was mined, information about the mine itself and the community initiatives that the mine provides to the surrounding area. 

For the future, Smith is striving to grow Rebus’ trunk show presence in the U.S. So far, Rebus has been to Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York and hopes to expand to Philadelphia and cities across Texas. Rebus also aims to have 80% of their jewelry produced with SMO gold within twelve months. 

“If something is worth making, it is worth making it well,” added Smith. “We never get anything back for repairs. The things we make are bomb proof.”

With the level of materials and craftsmanship that goes into every product, it isn’t hard to imagine that in a few centuries, instead of Greek and Roman artifacts dug up by archaeologists, it will be Rebus signets and pendants. Lead time varies depending on materials and design complexity. Typically, pendants and cufflinks are finished within one week, while seal-engraved, stone set jewelry can take up to 12 weeks. Prices vary depending on engraving, design complexity and the type of precious metal used. 

For more information, visit rebussignetrings.com.