As Jewelry Shopping Guide editors, we write about things that we love and we think you’ll like too. We often have affiliate partnerships, and may generate some revenue from these links at no cost to you.
Heirloom jewelry isn’t something you can just go out and buy. It’s jewelry that has passed down the generations in a family and is full of symbolism, history and culture. Whether you have heirloom jewelry or you’re thinking about creating one, keep reading as we cover everything you need to know about this.
Why Have Heirloom Jewelry?
Heirloom jewelry are usually crafted for special occasions, such as an engagement, wedding or a special birthday. They’re typically of high quality, which is why we say ‘heirloom quality’.
Heirloom jewelry allows families to share history and tradition. A meaningful piece of jewelry that is passed down generations, takes that meaning with it. Heirloom jewelry showcases family pride, bonds and history, tying each generation to the stories of the previous.
What Makes a Piece of Jewelry an Heirloom?
So what makes a piece of jewelry an heirloom? Here are some basic criteria:
- First of all, the piece of jewelry must be meaningful and hold some history. This comes from a look into why it was created. Ask someone who owns a heirloom what makes the piece so special and they might tell you, ‘It was my grandmother’s engagement ring or ‘My mother was given this when she had her first child’. This is the meaning of the piece and the most important aspect of any heirloom jewelry.
- Any heirloom jewelry must hold value. Not every piece of jewelry qualifies as an heirloom. Ideally, the piece would be made out of precious metals and jewels, like platinum, gold, diamonds or pearls. This gives the piece timeless value, and in fact, as it gets older, it increases in worth much like fine wine.
- Heirloom jewelry are typically very beautiful and unique in design. This isn’t always the case, but because these pieces are crafted with care and created to commemorate special occasions, they generally look stunning and are of very high quality.
Here’s an example of a famous heirloom piece that also happens to be the world’s most famous engagement ring. The blue Ceylon sapphire engagement ring given to Princess Diana by Prince Charles is now worn by their son’s wife Kate Middleton.
The ring passes all three criteria – meaning, value and beauty and it’s highly likely that down the line, someone else in the family will wear the ring.
Types of Heirloom Jewelry
Some ideal options for heirloom jewelry include diamond and pearl jewelry, platinum or gold pieces, valuable charms or even a high-quality watch.
Here are the most common types of heirloom jewelry:
- Heirloom Rings – As we’ve already discussed, heirloom rings are typically engagement or wedding rings. They can also be promise rings or purity rings that are passed on. Heirloom rings are made of diamonds and gemstones, likesapphire and ruby. A common issue with rings is that they may need to be resized and not every heirloom piece can be. For example, it’s very difficult to resize a diamond eternity ring.
- Heirloom Earrings – Earrings are excellent as heirloom jewelry as there is no issue with resizing. Whether dangles or diamond studs, earrings are ideal to be passed down the family and are often timeless.
- Heirloom Bracelets – Bracelets come in a variety of styles and designs and are perfect as heirloom jewelry. They’re easy to wear and rarely go out of style. Some common bracelet heirlooms are diamond tennis bracelets or gemstone bracelets.
- Heirloom Brooches – This is a popular one, and while we no longer wear brooches as in the past, they still pass down the families. Brooches typically feature gemstones and come in unique designs. Many modern individuals prefer to have the brooch transformed into something new, like a pendant.
- Heirloom Pendants/Necklaces – Pendants don’t easily go out of style and heirloom pieces are typically timeless.
Occasions for Heirloom Jewelry
It’s not every day that you pass on a special piece of jewelry. The piece must match an occasion. Some typical occasions are:
- Engagements and Weddings – Undoubtedly these are milestones in any person’s life and an excellent time to be presented with an heirloom piece, especially a ring.
- A Birth – The birth of a child is an emotional time for a family to see the next generation. The heirloom can be a gift to the mother or the child, depending on the piece and the giver’s intentions.
- Coming of Age Occasions – These include graduations, communions and special birthdays, especially the 18th and the 21st birthdays which are viewed around the world as the start of adulthood.
This is just a brief list, but there may be occasions for passing on heirloom jewelry that can be very individual to your situation.
Can I Create a Piece of Heirloom Jewelry?
We tend to think of heirlooms as pieces that have been passed down to us. But what if, like most people, you don’t have an heirloom in your family? You can always start the tradition yourself.
Great quality jewelry, like this ring, are perfect for heirloom jewelry.
Any piece of jewelry that you own, which is of high value, can be passed down as an heirloom. Of course, we rarely buy jewelry simply for the purpose of passing it down to the next generation and heirlooms aren’t created to be heirlooms. They are simply treasured pieces of jewelry that you own. But if you wanted to, you could always have a piece created with the very purpose of passing it down to a special person in the family.
Here are the main rules to go by when having heirloom jewelry crafted:
- Forever not fad – Choose pieces that are timeless and ones that you know will be loved and worn decades from now. Don’t opt for trendy jewelry or fads (like a mood ring) that will likely go out of style.
- Quality – Look for quality in construction and hard materials that will last. Your jeweler should be able to advise you on this.
- Durability – Pick gemstones that are hard, like sapphire, ruby, diamonds and morganite. Less hard gemstones are also fine but they’ll damage much easier.
- Personal Touch – Add a personal touch like an engraving or choosing a gemstone that has significance to your family. This will add to the story and value of the piece.
What if You Don’t Like an Heirloom Jewelry Gift?
Sometimes you might be given a piece of heirloom jewelry that you just don’t want to wear. Recently, a woman posted online that her boyfriend proposed to her with his grandmother’s pearl ring and she found it ugly and unimpressive. What would you do in this situation?
Apart from keeping it locked up in your drawer forever, one option is to modify the piece to make it more suitable to your style and taste. You can always try to turn your heirloom jewelry into a new design. This can be extreme or slight, but that depends on how much you want to change the piece.
Talk to a jeweler and ask them what your options are. A skilled jeweler should be able to transform your piece into something new. This can be done by adding new materials, changing some materials or changing the design altogether.
Here are some ideas:
- Turn a brooch into a pendant
- Transform a pendant into a modern ring
- A choker necklace can be shortened into a bracelet
- Pearl strands can be lengthened or shortened as required
- A gemstone with little dazzle can be surrounded by diamonds for a brilliant halo
- Change the metal color
- Take the gemstones from the piece and turn them into something new, like a pair of earrings from a brooch
If you decide to go this route with your heirloom jewelry, always think about the giver. This is especially important if the person who’s given you the piece is still alive, unlike receiving jewelry via an estate.
Will changing the piece create friction and issues between you and the giver? This is something to bear in mind.
Redesigning a piece of heirloom jewelry is to add a modern twist while still keeping the story alive. Ideally, it’s not done with the intent of squashing out the history of the piece.