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Reworking Inherited Jewellery

We believe that the primary context for understanding fine jewellery is the family. The Swiss watch company Patek Philippe has an excellent slogan.  It reads, ‘You never actually own a Patek Philippe.  You merely look after it for the next generation.’  This sentiment could equally apply to gemstones. It is only relatively recently, the last 150 years or so, that fine gemstones have been available to the mass market.  Asides from important heirlooms within aristocratic and wealthy families, most gemstones that exist have only passed through two or three generations. Regardless, each has its own story to tell. 

We sat down with a couple recently in their early thirties who were planning to get engaged.  They had with them a small chest of inherited jewellery from a grandmother who had passed away. It was a moving experience to go through the pouches and long-forgotten boxes discovering the items she had worn.  The time spent doing this was redolent with the spirit of the lady.  We found a dated engraving, perhaps it was from the 1950’s on the inside of a wedding ring, which prompted a revival of remembered family history. Well, Mum told me she came over from the States the year before that so this must have been their wedding date. And the date, barely visible with the naked eye and just about visible with a 10x magnification jeweller’s loupe was carved by hand, the deeper parts of each stroke carrying the greater part of history.

In doing this work, we like to think of the gemstone as representing continuity and the metalwork change.  Thought of in this way it gives the inheritor of family jewels freedom to wear them in the way that they would like to.  Casting our eyes momentarily in the direction of the royals, there is a great counterpoint example to be found. We thought it was something of a missed opportunity when Prince WiIliam passed on his Mother’s famous sapphire and diamond cluster ring, unchanged, to Katherine. Had he remounted the sapphire, say with a trefoil arrangement of the diamonds either side, it would have made a new, more modern design and the act of turning his hand to the re-mounting of it would have honoured their relationship in the process. 

An assimilation of the past into the future.  The extra diamonds would have made a fine pair of drop earrings with some added pearls. Had he but given us a call!  This attitude towards the metalwork is of course a rule of thumb.  If a piece has a high degree of craftsmanship in it, perhaps some intricate carving or piercing work it may well be a tragedy to destroy it for the sake of its weight in gold.  Each piece must be looked at on its own merits.

Couples getting engaged are also very often in the process of buying a house together.  It can be an expensive time of life.  Using inherited jewellery or an inherited gemstone for an engagement ring is an excellent way of connecting one generation with the next and one family with another, not to mention being a neat way of passing on wealth.  The money saved on the cost of an engagement gem can be put towards the deposit on a first property.  So finding out whether there are any stones hiding in the family tree can be worthwhile.  Increasingly, jewellery is being passed on by the elderly while they are still alive.  Witnessing gems being worn by the next generation while they are still around to see it is evidently fulfilling.

Very often old inherited jewellery is left cosseted away, too sentimental to be changed and too old-hat in style to be worn.  This is a shame. Jewels should be worn. We do a lot of this work. Often when re-imagining old pieces, the precious metal content can either be melted down and used or traded in against the cost of the re-mounting work.  Here is some recent work.  An Edwardian platinum bracelet set with diamonds and rubies.  We polished the rubies to bring them back to life and re-set the stones into two-eternity rings, one for each sister.  Funky and chunky and above all, wearable. 

If you have some old jewellery that needs attention, get in touch.  If there is an overwhelming amount of it, as there can be sometimes with costume jewellery all mixed up with the finer pieces, then we like to start by setting aside an hour, boiling the kettle and going through it piece by piece with a cup of tea.  The initial work is usually categorising items in terms of value.  From there, decisions can be made about what to discard, what to keep and what to rework.  Once that’s done the fun begins!