The personal story of the Friesian signets and watch key set. By Bridget Veldhuis

The personal story of the Friesian signets and watch key set.  By Bridget Veldhuis

Holland has a rich variety in traditional styles of dress in province from north to south, east to west. Friesland is a province in the north of the Netherlands. This is the story told by my mother. She learned this from her silversmith grandfather many years ago:

Men, as in many cultures, were adorning their wives as much as they could afford to as security. But they had a specific method to say something personal about them selves. The watch, but specifically the watch key and signets were an opportunity to let others know who they were dealing with.

The signets and watch key of the men were adorned in symbolic ways as chosen by the wearer to be. They used symbols we are familiar with via card games; the heart, the diamond, the spade, and presumably the clubs although I have personally never seen this used. These symbols explained the outlook on life of the wearer. This could be a spiritual outlook, or maybe less so.

The choice of a heart would indicate the wearer’s view that love and care are most important to the wearer, perhaps the choice of a vicar or a doctor, whereas a diamond could signify the wearer’s intention to be successful in business or trade, as could be the choice of a banker or a trader. The spade would be choice of someone who believed that hard graft would lead to material or even spiritual success, possibly the choice of a farmer or a craftsman.

The accepted meaning attached to the symbols in playing cards is reportedly spades for nobility, hearts for the clergy, diamonds for commerce and clubs for peasants. While this information does not entirely match the above there is similarity and perhaps it explains why clubs are never seen. Financially out of reach for peasants perhaps.

But there is more. A closer look at the signets shows filigree work of twisted threads of silver. Again the wearer could tell the world something about himself. The threads would tell you how being pious, how spirituality featured in the individual’s life. Ten threads was not achievable as that was perfection, and only God could achieve perfection. Nine would be choice of someone who aspired to be as near to God as possible, probably the choice of a vicar or priest. Eight would make you someone who placed great importance in his belief and this would guide his behaviour visibly. Seven would indicate a person who would have what is best described as a moderate belief, a church goer like the majority of people. Six or five would allude to the fact the wearer thought there are more important things than religion to ponder over, or maybe even were non-believers.


The symbolism would be visible to the observer as the signets and key would be proudly displayed outside the waist-coat of the wearer while the watch was usually safely kept in a pocket.