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Turning An Heirloom Into A New Design

If you’ve received an heirloom jewelry inheritance that’s just not “you,” consider an extreme makeover to create something you'll wear every day.

Heirlooms, by definition, are family possessions passed down from generation to generation. Heirloom jewelry exists in two forms — there's heirloom jewelry made of high-quality metals and precious gemstones whose design exhibits exquisite craftsmanship, and there's the heirloom that may be lacking in quality elements but has deep sentimental value.

Sadly, that heirloom, no matter what its form, may not be right for you. It may be an ornate brooch, and you just don’t do brooches — or anything ornate for that matter. It may be a pair of earrings in a gorgeous white gold setting with pieces of pretty glass instead of precious gems.

It could be a ring with an old mine-cut diamond, which looks duller and less dazzling than more contemporary cuts. Or it might be a bracelet with a collection of lovely amethysts in a perfectly ugly setting. What to do?

Talk to a jeweler

Instead of leaving heirloom jewelry to hide in a “junk” jewelry box, you can take your pieces to a trusted jeweler to have them made over. There are so many ways to bring new life to old jewelry, and a reputable jeweler can help make it happen. You can modernize an old setting or create a new one. You can take an element or two of the old piece and freshen it up in a new piece. You can mix elements of different pieces and come up with a whole new design. Achieving this transformation from old to new is a joy for someone who specializes in the art and science of jewelry design.

The possibilities are many:

  • Turn a pendant into a ring.
  • Repurpose a ring into a pendant.
  • Take the diamonds from the bracelet of a diamond watch and turn them into a pair of earrings.
  • Pearls can be restrung to a shorter length or combined with other pearls to create a whole new look.
  • A quiet gemstone can be given a sparkly halo and get a dash of glamour.
  • Is the setting gold when you want platinum? Keep the gemstone or gemstones and change out the metal.

An unworn engagement ring (and we’re not asking why) can be turned into a fashionable ring for your right hand or a pendant. A collection of gold hoop earrings no longer worn can become a unique pendant — or be redesigned into two pendants that can be passed down to two daughters. A gold necklace can be shortened and turned into a bracelet, accompanied by jewels that came from another piece. 

What this means is, if you don’t like necklaces, you can own a couple of bracelets with a past! If you don’t wear rings, you can create a pendant with a future. Your options are only limited by your imagination and your designer’s skill.

Be thoughtful

Jewelry often holds deep, personal meaning to the owner, so you may want to keep the giver’s thoughts in mind if you’re thinking about redesigning a piece. If you’ve received your heirloom jewelry through an estate, this is not an issue (although some family members might be aghast at the thought of you “defiling” the past). But heirloom jewelry can be passed along while the owner is still living. Some givers bestow with no regrets, only joy at passing along their beloved past. Others may expect a gift (especially one they received as a gift) to stay intact. Only you can determine what’s right for your personal situation — it’s just a point to keep in mind if you might need to keep the peace.

Heirloom jewelry usually has a story behind it that makes it even more special or sentimental. Redesigning a piece that doesn’t work for you in its current style is a way to let you carry that story from one generation to the next. In this day and age, we recycle everything. Home designers use recycled barn wood to create ageless mantles for fireplaces. Recycled plastic takeout containers become decking for patios. Some of us compost at home or reduce our carbon footprints by diligently turning out lights and using more efficient types of bulbs. Instead of wasting a piece of heirloom jewelry that just isn’t right for you, consider recycling the past for a new and brilliant future.

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