Heirloom jewellery is any piece of jewellery that has an emotional, historical or financial significance to a person or family. Pieces of heirloom jewellery start out as new and become heirloom over a period of time, usually when they are passed down through generations. The continued significance of the piece is what makes it an heirloom. Any piece of jewellery can become an heirloom, from an engagement ring, to an everyday necklace, as long as it’s been cherished and loved by a family member or many members across different generations.
Heirloom jewellery remains an important tradition in many families and pieces of heirloom jewellery are often given to new family members at significant life milestones, like a special birthday, anniversary or a big life achievement. Heirloom pieces are often celebrated during engagements, weddings, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries and deaths. They are usually valuable pieces which can sometimes be one of a kind, or bespoke commissions and often, but not always, feature precious gemstones and metals. Heirlooms are also more ethical as it's a way of reusing the items, rather than discarding them. Check out our Ethical Handmade Jewellery which is all made of recycled precious metals.
When is heirloom jewellery given?
Heirloom jewellery is often given at special occasions. This could include
- Birthdays (usually a significant age like an 18th, 21st or a decade birthday like a 30th)
- Big life achievements, like a big promotion
- Buying a first home
- Moving country
- The birth of a new child
- Deaths and bereavements
Types of heirloom jewellery
Heirloom jewellery can come in many different shapes and sizes. From rings to necklaces, bracelets and watches; each piece has its own unique story, individual qualities, and sentimental value. Though it can be any piece that has been passed down, some common types of heirloom jewellery include:
Engagement and wedding bands
Engagement rings and wedding bands may be the most popular type of heirloom jewellery because they already have so much significance within families. They are often valuable and are formally mentioned in wills. These types of rings aren't often sold, but are passed down through generations and become the rings used in new marriages within a family, often being given to the eldest of a group of siblings.
A bespoke wedding band, by Duxford Studios.
Necklaces or lockets
Lockets are another popular heirloom keepsake, as they can contain portraits of loved ones or other small objects of significance, such as locks of hair, ashes or baby teeth. Many people commission necklace lockets at the death of a loved one or pet and these pieces then become heirlooms over time, to help keep the memory of the person or pet close to the wearer of the jewellery.
Many families have heirloom bracelets which have been passed through generations. Often these can be charm bracelets, which tell the story of a family through the charms which have been collected over many years. Each charm has a story of it's own and the bracelet forms a personal tapestry of memories and stories which can be told to the younger members of the family.
Watches are a great item to become an heirloom as they're a reminder of the passage of time and the enduring love and strength of family ties. They're often given at special birthdays and life milestones, and these gifts then become significant to an individual and are passed down to sons and daughters as they hit milestones of their own. Watches are particularly popular heirlooms with men in a family as they're a perfect accompaniment to a suit.
No matter the type of jewellery or accessory, heirloom pieces carry great emotional and historical significance to those who own them. They often symbolise family history and tradition, and can keep the memory of specific family members alive when worn and gifted to new members of a family. They're a powerful reminder of the love shared throughout the generations and the importance of family.
How to rework heirloom jewellery
Heirloom jewellery can be updated and reworked to suit your personal style, to fix it if it's broken and for many other reasons. Many jewellers offer Handmade Bespoke Jewellery Services and there are lots of different opinions when it comes to reworking jewellery. For this reason, it's important you consider all options and speak to all significant family members before making any big decisions.
Read on for more info on why reworking could be a good idea for you.
Our founder Esme, reworking a piece of heirloom jewellery.
Why would you want to rework your heirloom jewellery?
Some heirloom pieces are very old, and may have been worn for years and years. This can lead to pieces of heirloom jewellery being damaged or broken which can impact the way they look, or can stop them from being worn. If this is the can, you may want to rework or repair the jewellery to its original glory so that it can continue being worn and loved.
It doesn't fit you
This is especially relevant to rings, but can also be an issue with bracelets and other types of heirloom jewellery. If you've been given a beautiful piece which doesn't fit, you may want to rework it so that you can then enjoy wearing it. This could mean making minor adjustments that aren't noticeable, or by making bigger changes, like completely replacing the ring band on an engagement ring with a different style band so that it perfectly fits you and is comfortable for you.
It doesn't fit your lifestyle
This is where we start getting more adventurous. If you're given a statement necklace but you're more of a ring person, or you've inherited an elegant brooch, but you know you'll never wear it - this could be the perfect option for you. Jewellers are often able to change elements of a piece of jewellery and turn it into an entirely new piece, while still keeping the overall look of the original design the same. That show stopper necklace could become a cocktail ring, and the brooch you'd never wear can be transformed into a bracelet you'll cherish for the rest of your life.
It's not your style
Sometimes, the fashions of a bygone era just don't gel with modern tastes. If you're given a piece of heirloom jewellery that just doesn't suit your sense of style, why not rework it into something beautiful and personal to you? This is a step too far for the heirloom purests, but many people these days explore this route and we support it 100% here at Duxford Studios. Why leave a beautiful piece in a drawer gathering dust, when you can use the beautiful materials to create a new and unique heirloom which will be worn for years to come? For us, these pieces remain significant as the materials were all worn by previous family members. The reworking process simply adds to the thick tapestry of stories embedded in the item.
You'd like to share it
We also absolutely love this option for siblings in a family. The main issues that can arise when gifting heirlooms, is that it can leave other family members (often siblings) feeling left out of the tradition. It's something that happens often, and we think it's unnecessary. Why not divide the materials into more than one reworked piece of heirloom jewellery so that the joy and memories can be shared equally? This option works best if you have a larger piece of heirloom jewellery with a decent amount of precious metal and several gemstones, or when you have more than one piece of heirloom jewellery.
How the process works
Plan your brief
Figure out exactly what you want. Start by thinking about what type of jewellery you want and the styles that you're drawn to. There's a helpful range of questions you can find on our Handmade Bespoke Jewellery Services page, which will help you to plan. We love creating Pinterest boards so that we can keep all our ideas in one place!
Find a reputable jeweller
It's important to find a reputable jeweller who you trust to carefully rework your beautiful heirloom jewellery. Look at other handmade and bespoke jewellery commissions they've done, and their collections to get a clear idea of their design style so that you can be sure it aligns with your style. Looking at their reviews and testimonials can be a great way of seeing how happy their customers have been, and reading their about page can give you more information about their making process, their approach to design and their general ethos which can help you to identify a jeweller that's right for your project.
Book a custom jewellery consultation
Next you'll want to reach out to your jeweller and book a consultation. You can read our blog post on How to Prepare for a Custom Jewellery Consultation to make sure you feel ready. Most jewellers will have their contact info on a Contact Us page.
Duxford Studios creates contemporary heirloom jewellery inspired by the human form, modern culture, and the sensation of touch. All of our pieces are cast from hand carved wax in recycled sustainable sterling silver, gold vermeil, and other precious metals. Shop our full collection on our website or get in contact about a custom jewellery design commission. Need help choosing a piece?