Alan Titchmarsh, the well known gardener and television presenter, was recently appointed High Sheriff of the Isle of Wight and successfully petitioned for a Grant of Arms through the College of Arms in London. To commemorate this he commissioned signet rings for himself, his wife and two daughters from Ruffs, the bespoke signet ringmakers.
The College of Arms in Queen Victoria Street, London is the official body in England to grant Coats of arms. Any eminent subject of the crown is entitled to be granted a new Coat of Arms. Each applicant upon making contact is assigned a Herald who will see the project through from start to finish. In Alan Titchmarsh’s case, the particular Herald was Mr. Thomas Woodcock, Norroy & Ulster King of Arms. The College Heralds have carried out their work on the present site since 1555 and there are three Kings of Arms who sign off new arms and crests depending on their location in the UK.
The Heralds and Pursuivants are on duty on a rota for one week at a time and it is a matter of luck which Herald receives an individual’s call or application. When not looking after would-be armigers, Heralds’ other duties include leading the Queen into the State Opening of Parliament, or being in attendance at the Garter Service. Heralds also carry out much historical detective work investigating peerage claims, and coats of arms on silverware for example.
Arms can include any number of facets relating to the applicant’s life and these elements are then cleverly and graphically woven into a design. Such elements might include honours from the Crown, civil or military commissions, university degrees, professional qualifications, public charitable services and eminence or good standing in local life. Often applicants are asked to submit their curriculum vitae to help the Herald piece together the strands of a person’s life from which to construct the design.
The Arms will comprise a crest, a helmet, and a shield. This is all enveloped by mantling and there is the option of a motto and badge. The badge can duplicate the crest but is an opportunity for another device.
Alan Titchmarsh’s, crest is a Lion rampant leaning on a garden spade, as a light-hearted nod towards his most well-known occupation. The shield shows three robins – each singing and clasping a white rose of Yorkshire in its claw – a reference to gardening, music – another love – and Mr Titchmarsh’s birthplace. His motto is et stylo et rutro – by pen and spade.
Once approved the text is engrossed by a scrivener and artist, signed and sealed by the King of Arms and it is put into the official College registers. The Letters Patent, as the document is called, then becomes the property of the Grantee.
Alan Titchmarsh now had an official, ratified coat of arms from which he wanted to take the crest element alone and commemorate it on a signet ring as a lasting memento. Alan is a Country Life reader and, as he says, “Country Life read by the gentry and me” in his typically self-deprecating manner.
It was in Country Life that Alan spotted an advertisement for Ruffs, bespoke signet ringmakers. Based in Hampshire, Ruffs has a history dating back to 1904 and a reputation for creating bespoke jewellery especially signet rings.
The commission to Ruffs was for a set of four signet rings: one for Alan, his wife and two daughters. Each client is special to Ruffs and they are treated as such by first gaining an accurate finger-size and then choosing the shape of the ring taking due account of the engraving to go thereon. From the classic straight oval to the round, or the Oxford or even a more modern octagon, there are many different styles to suit all tastes.
Once the basic ring is decided upon and made, the engraver then translates the artwork into a three-dimensional carving in reverse. It is cut this way so that an impression can be taken from the ring by pushing it carefully into warm wax. Although this is of little practical use in the 21st Century, it is nonetheless the traditional way to engrave a signet ring. Each new ring comes with its own unique wax impression - the proof of the pudding, as it were.
Mark Ruff commented: “We make rings for people from all over the world - many using devices handed down through generations - and so it was especially pleasing to work on a brand new Grant of Arms, containing as it does that lovely heraldic joke of the rampant Lion leaning on a spade!!”