So maybe you’ve inherited an emerald-embellished bar pin, meant to be paired with a scarf, or an exquisite diamond-encrusted brooch, perfect for accenting formal wear. While the value is priceless—it belonged to your late nana, after all—you don’t wear scarves. Or diamond brooches the size of pinecones. Is your sentimental but dated heirloom destined for decades in a dark drawer?
It doesn’t have to be, and more and more people are figuring that out, recrafting older pieces into newer settings and designs. “Some clients like to merge elements from numerous pieces into one design—like combining stones from a mother’s wedding band and a grandmother’s necklace into one piece, like a ring, or a father’s cufflinks into earrings,” says Christina Stith of Tenenbaum Jewelers, Houston’s largest estate-jewelry store. “The end result is something wearable, and—most importantly—treasured.”
Fifteen years ago, this process was time- and labor-intensive. To build, reset or repair, say, a ring, a designer would have to apply heat to the entire piece with a soldering torch, an especially difficult undertaking when it came to heat-sensitive materials like pearls and platinum. Enamel was nearly impossible.
The game changer: laser welding, which allows designers to work in closer proximity to heat-sensitive stones. “Laser changed everything,” says Houston custom jeweler Jason Farr, who’s been designing and resetting jewelry for more than 32 years. “The technology is much more precise; it works on more types of metals and stones and saves time. I think that’s part of the resurgence of heirloom jewelry’s popularity—we can do more.”
Also contributing to the new wave of interest in estate pieces is the popularity of antique and hand-made jewels, which took off with the Hollywood set in the early 2000s thanks to a then-little-known jeweler named Neil Lane. Today, his rings are regularly featured on The Bachelor, and he’s a household name.
All of which means more heirlooms are coming into the Tenenbaum showroom as one piece and leaving as another. Bar pins become pendant necklaces. Stones in brooches are turned into earnings or rings. But the sentiment stays the same. “Antique jewelry is both personal and emotional,” says Farr. “So why not reset it for the next generation to wear?”