Getting married is a once-in-a-lifetime event and after it comes the time-honored tradition of commemorating the union on anniversaries. On the big day, friends and family gather, and rings and vows are exchanged. The wedding officiant urges the couple to enjoy the moment, but stresses that what matters most is their future. Another key ingredient of weddings is the past and one way of honoring this is using heirloom diamonds in wedding rings.
An heirloom is an object of special value that has belonged to a family for several generations. In addition to the personal value an heirloom has for a bride, some choose a handed-down ring for its considerable cost savings. Heirloom gemstones have another role—they can be reconfigured and added to a new setting that puts a modern-day spin on the past. Refashioning heirloom jewelry isn’t restricted to couples and even single women and men choose to reimagine these keepsakes and make them their own.
Anniversaries are prime occasions for heirloom stones to be re-introduced into wedding bands or antique diamonds to be refashioned into new rings. “I’ve seen couples who had a solitaire diamond when they got married and now they want to add to it for an anniversary,” says Jewelry Consultant Kathryn Luco. She has helped clients repurpose rings and stack them into new settings with recut and added stones.
The first step is to select the heirloom stones you want to repurpose. If they are coming from an existing relative, be sure to secure that person’s blessing to alter them. After deciding on the heirloom stones you want to repurpose, ensure they’re clean and repair any damage they may have incurred over the years. Meet with a trusted consultant to explore various possibilities and personal touches you want to add to the new setting. Discuss ongoing maintenance of the ring to keep it in good condition and adding protection if the new ring style calls for it.
Carolyn Bozek’s original wedding ring combined a diamond with rubies, but after 30 years of wear and tear it was falling apart. “My husband had the setting altered with diamonds added from a necklace and gave it to me as a surprise gift for our 30th anniversary,” says Carolyn. A little imagination and ingenuity go a long way toward reinventing jewelry into something both stylish and distinguished. “After knowing what it was before, I really love what it was turned into,” she says.
When family members pass on, creating heirloom rings to honor their memory can add a profoundly personal touch. Recutting diamonds or other stones into something contemporary can be tricky when there are strong memories attached. There are certain pieces that you know a loved one who has passed on would want you to wear. You can also take an aspirational approach and ask yourself if the person had big dreams for a setting that were never realized.
Another occasion that honors the past is when couples renew their wedding vows with a ceremony. Some choose to incorporate heirloom rings into existing ones, while others select entirely new ones to underscore the sense of renewal. In addition to wedding and engagement rings, antique promise rings and stones from necklaces, earrings or bracelets can be reconfigured into new settings.
Occasionally, creating a setting using heirloom stones is inspired by more practical needs. “There are people who work with their hands who have an existing prong setting that can get banged up,” says Luco. “Adding a bezel to surround the entire stone protects it and although it doesn’t let as much light in, it’s more practical for their lifestyle.”
The choice to recut and reimagine heirloom stones and add them to updated settings or to leave them largely intact is yours. People with children can choose to rearrange gems to symbolize their family members. Others commemorate achievements like graduations and awards. The only limits on personalizing heirlooms are your own imagination. Your options fairly glitter.