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How to Turn an Heirloom Diamond Into Your Dream Engagement Ring

by Staff

Inheriting a family engagement ring instead of buying new is a sentimental (and generous) gift—until you don’t like the stone, setting, or style. But whether you’re trying to change the shape, add a little more sparkle, or trade a yellow gold setting for platinum, experienced jewelers can help you customize a pre-loved diamond into a piece you’ll be happy wearing for the rest of your life. 

Meet the Expert

  • Jennie Kwon is jewelry designer based in Los Angeles and the founder of Jennie Kwon Designs. She regularly works with clients to repurpose their heirloom jewelry.
  • Ari Madilian is the co-founder of Single Stone, a collection of jewelry that combines heirloom diamonds with modern design.

Here’s everything you need to know about the benefits of heirloom stones and how you should (and shouldn’t) change them when you make them your own, according to two diamond experts.

The Benefits of Using an Heirloom Diamond

A diamond is forever—which means the same stone your great-grandmother donned a century ago can live a second life as the centerpiece of your own engagement ring (or your fiancé’s). 

Handed down means more sustainable.

Though the diamond industry has made plenty of progress with its sourcing and sustainability initiatives, heirloom diamonds—like anything else you reuse, from thrifted sweaters to antique furniture—have a lower carbon footprint than newly-mined or even lab-grown alternatives. Plus, vintage stones aren’t meant to live in a box. “Diamonds are meant to last forever if taken care of properly, so to be able to wear it daily instead of it sitting somewhere in a jewelry box or safe is a great option,” says jewelry designer Jennie Kwon. 

There are financial perks to a family stone.

Though it’s a myth that an engagement ring should cost as much as three months’ salary, diamonds still aren’t cheap. Using a vintage stone—especially one that’s higher clarity, has better color, or is bigger than the new stones that fall within your budget—lets you focus your spending on the setting, other wedding costs, or future expenses. “Nobody is going to argue with the fact that diamonds are pricey!” says Kwon. “For a client who has an heirloom stone available to them, the option of repurposing that stone and saving yourself from having to invest in another makes perfect sense!”

You’ll honor a family’s legacy.

Incorporating a stone with sentimental ties to your family (or your partner’s) adds an even deeper layer of meaning to your engagement piece. “Some of the diamonds we work with have been in the family for a few generations, and to think of the history attached to that one stone, what it’s seen in its lifetime, is pretty amazing,” says Kwon. “There’s a lot of meaning behind continuing to add onto that story through giving that diamond yet another life.”

Jewelry designer Ari Madilian of Single Stone often works with couples who choose to highlight heirloom stones. “How beautiful is it knowing that you are wearing a piece that was in your family for many years and belonged to someone you loved,” he says. “The sustainability and cost savings are just the icing on the cake.”

Photo by Sasithon Photography

How to Make an Heirloom Diamond Your Own

Some antique settings never go out of style—but others look more than a little outdated by the time they gain heirloom status. “Not that there’s anything wrong with the ‘80s and ‘90s, but a lot of our clients will bring dated designs to us from this era, or designs that really don’t resonate with them personally,” says Kwon. “Sometimes the pieces they bring in are too chunky for their taste, or too fussy.”

Whether the diamond you’ve been given is in a setting that’s not to your taste, is cut into a shape that doesn’t suit your aesthetic, or just needs some professional TLC, the experts offer these dos and don’ts for giving it a custom makeover.

Do: Upgrade the condition.

Some rings need little more than what Madilian refers to as a spa day: a deep clean and minor repairs. “This is when we remove the center stone and repair and polish any damages it may have sustained with years of wear,” he says. “The results will bring back luster to a colored gem or brilliance back to a diamond.  If it is a passed-down piece, this can also symbolize the fresh start for the person that will be the new wearer.”

Don’t: Cut down the diamond.

If the women in your family liked their diamonds big and bold while you prefer your jewelry understated and minimalist, it can be tempting to have a large diamond trimmed down—but both experts warn against this. “As careful as a diamond- or stonecutter may be, there is no guarantee that a stone, and even more so an older one, will not be damaged in the process,” says Kwon. Even if your stone survives, you’ll still end up wasting a large amount of the original (and increasingly rare) gem material. Instead, consider your heirloom diamond a valuable asset you can sell or pass down in the future—or trade it in to purchase something less flashy.

Do: Change the setting.

A custom setting offers nearly infinite options for personalizing a vintage stone: Opt for your favorite metal, add side stones in a different shape or color, or set the stone higher or lower. “Something as subtle as setting a stone lower or higher in the setting or modifying the shape of the prongs could alter how the piece is perceived,” says Madilian. “This is when the experience and the communication of the jeweler you work with becomes very important.”

Kwon agrees: “If you want to give your heirloom stone new life, this is the way to go!” she says. “A simple facelift or update in design can make you fall in love with a piece that’s been sitting unworn for years.”

Don’t: Change the shape.

Cutting a diamond into a new shape poses the same challenges as cutting it for size, including damaging the integrity of the stone and slashing the value. “There are limited circumstances where this would be feasible,” says Madilian. “For example, in some cases, you could recut a princess cut into a square-step cut, or a marquis into an oval. Oftentimes, changing the shape of the stone results in significant weight loss and is not a financially wise option.”

The exception: “We can and do often rearrange the faceting on a stone to give it a completely different brilliance aesthetic without changing its overall shape,” says Madilian. “A large, warm-colored, older cut stone could look less flashy due to its faceting pattern than a much smaller modern stone.”

Do: Change the silhouette.

If you truly can’t live with a diamond in the shape you’ve inherited, a custom setting can alter the silhouette, says Kwon. Her Era setting, in which a round solitaire is set into a square frame, is one example; a diamond halo can also soften the corners of square-cut diamond or add definition to a round cut. “Clients are surprised at how simply changing the setting can make a certain cut—that they weren’t super into before—appeal to them,” says Kwon.

Don’t: Destroy a one-of-a-kind piece.

In some cases, your jeweler may recommend against redesigning an heirloom ring altogether—especially when it’s a truly unique work that can’t be recreated. “For instance, we love the Art Deco era, and when clients have an authentic Art Deco era ring, we tell them to keep it the way it is, as it’s like a piece of art,” says Kwon.

Do: Choose a new wedding band.

A complementary wedding band can play a surprisingly large part in the overall look of your wedding set, while making an old-fashioned engagement ring look more contemporary. “Some clients who are on the fence about redesigning an heirloom piece find the freshness and change they’re looking for by simply adding a modern band that they love to pair with the piece,” says Kwon. “The pairing of old and new can create a really cool, eclectic, curated vibe that’s not as easy to recreate with two new pieces.”

Madilian also uses this technique when resetting a stone isn’t an option. “We will often advise on how to style the ring differently by adding various bands, which can drastically change the overall look of a ring on the hand,” says Madilian.

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