Legacy Jewels - Things To Consider

January 18, 2017

Legacy Jewels - Things To Consider

Every picture tells a story and so should every ring.  In my many years as a jeweler I have come to realize that the stories are often more valuable and enduring than the jewelry itself.  This is especially so when a family heirloom is passed to the next generation.

Sometimes a prospective bride/groom is fortunate to receive a family diamond or a ring to use when proposing. I’d like to point out a few things to consider when getting ready to start your new life together with an antique ring.

How To Refurbish & Reuse Antique Jewelry

First, have it carefully cleaned and inspected by a skilled jeweler to ensure it doesn’t have any maintenance issues. Rings that have been loved and worn for many years may need updating or jewelry repairs to prepare them for a new owner. Prongs might be bent, diamonds missing or chipped, shanks worn thin through daily wear. 

using old jewelry to make a new piece of jewelry

Second, have a skilled jeweler repair any damages to your antique ring. In most cases they can breathe new life into it. Once any damage to the metal is resolved, a good buff up and new rhodium plating (for white gold) will make it sparkle.  He or she will check and tighten any diamonds or gemstones to ensure they don’t fall out and possibly replace stones that have become worn or damaged over the years. 

Third, have the ring sized and possibly shored up. When sizing the ring to fit the new owner it might be advisable to replace the ring shank with something heavier. People don’t think about the metal being worn away through daily activities but that’s likely what happened if Great Grandma’s ring has a razor thin ring shank. She certainly didn’t start out with it that way.  At the same time, a two ring set can rub away at each other, gradually wearing away the crucial structure below the center stone.  The jeweler will evaluate the settings and determine if it needs shoring up or replacing.

What To Do When Your Antique Ring Cannot Be Repaired

Occasionally we see vintage family rings that are just at the end of their natural life and no amount of repairs will make them wearable again.  Especially if the ring has been repaired multiple times to the point where anything the current jeweler attempts is likely to cause it to disintegrate.  All is not lost if the main diamond is still in reasonable condition.  The jeweler can remove any useful diamonds and gemstones and create a new mounting for them permitting the legacy to continue with a new chapter.

Are Diamonds Indestructible?

Diamonds are not indestructible, despite what you have been led to believe. They can be chipped or broken.  This can happen when two diamonds are worn together or were improperly set so their girdles rub or knock against each other. But if the damage isn’t too extensive, diamonds can be repaired.

Re-cutting a diamond can dramatically alter the overall size, since it must be re-faceted all around to ensure good symmetry.  In most cases only a good quality diamond of a carat or greater in size warrants the expense of re-cutting and the loss of value when it becomes smaller. The good news is that sometimes re-cutting can improve the value of a diamond. This is the case when the diamond cutter is able to remove certain inclusions and cause the resulting diamond to be a higher clarity grade.

jeweler who can re-cut diamonds and gemstonesgetting a thicker band on an old ring

Can You Tell How Old a Diamond is by the Cut?

Not all diamonds are alike either.  Some cuts can reveal just how old the diamond is.  Old European cuts were popular from the 1890’s to the 1930's.  Old mine cuts may date back to the 1830's.  If your family ring has these it may indicate the diamond is actually much older than the setting.  Many of the small accent diamonds in older rings might be single cuts, having only 17-18 facets. This is primarily important if you are replacing a missing stone.  You'll want the replacement to be a similar cut so it matches the existing ring. 

Sometimes a family will pass down an heirloom ring for the express purpose of providing raw materials for a brand new ring.  In this case you would work with the jeweler to determine the perfect mounting for both your bride’s style and the heirloom diamond.   They may even offer a credit for the precious metal in the old mounting or unused diamonds or gems from the original jewelry. 

If you are going to completely restyle the old jewelry, consider bringing more items than you’ll think you need.  Trading in the scrap value of these items could come in handy when adding up the cost of the new mounting.  Don’t be afraid to ask about trading up to another diamond of better quality, a different shape or a larger size.

It is wise to plan for the wedding ring at this point.  Most brides like to have a ring that fits well with their engagement ring, not just in style but also for comfort and security while wearing the set.  The best time to work out the perfect wedding band is when the jeweler has the engagement ring on hand to design around and ensure a perfect fit. 

Can You Ensure Custom Jewelry?

Once you have your restored, repaired or restyled engagement ring you should plan to get a new appraisal and insurance.  Your jeweler should be able to help you with getting proper documentation of the ring so you can get up to date quotes on insuring it for proper replacement value.

As I said earlier, many times the story is more important than the jewelry itself.  Be sure to document any important details about the history of the ring.  Where did it originally come from?   Who wore it?  Was there anything particularly unique about the person or the provenance?  Then it is your turn to add your own chapter to the history.  Document your special engagement story.  Who know which of your descendants might have the ring next? 


Catch our Feature Story in the Winter Issue of Carolina Wedding Guide!

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