Custom designing with heirloom gemstones is a meaningful way to create an engagement ring that honors the past and stays true to the modern you. Bario Neal has worked with clients around the world to handcraft rings (not only for weddings!) using diamonds, sapphires, garnets, and more sourced from grandma's jewelry box and beyond. Not all jewelers use heirloom stones in custom designs, but the Bario Neal team loves the chance to create with storied gems. Heirloom stones mean affordability too, which makes a truly unique custom designed ring more accessible to more of our clients.
"I love looking at older pieces of jewelry and finding out the story behind them," says Ariel Yaroslawitz, Bario Neal sales director. "Who did it belong to? Why does our customer have it now? There's an emotional attachment to antique jewelry. I love it."
Besides continuing to write a family legend, when you create a new ring with old jewelry that has been passed down to you, you up the ethical/sustainable factor. No new mining is required.
If you're thinking about creating a personalized ring with generations-old gemstones, there are a few things you should know before starting. Thanks to creative (and sentimental) Bario Neal customers, there's also plenty of design inspiration below.
7 Tips for Using Heirloom Gemstones
1. Make Sure You're Ready for a New Jewelry Design
Rings from other eras can often be resized and worn as today's engagement rings. "A lot of people come in with heirloom jewelry that's really unique," Ariel says. "One of our first questions is: 'Are you sure you want to change this piece?' We never push people to make something new."
If you are certain about wanting a jewelry update, custom heirloom design can bring in the modern while still remaining timeless in a way that wouldn't make your forebears roll their eyes. And sometimes sequels are better than the original. This Custom Heirloom Diamond & Melee Cluster Ring is like your gran's favorite dessert recipe and the best old B&W family photo, all rolled up in one. The diamonds are from multiple heirloom jewelry pieces, so the ring combines two families as did the now-married customers. "They wanted to create a modern cluster combining all of their stones," Ariel says. "The older rings were dated, and we worked to modernize and combine all the stones into one artistic setting. It was so interesting to watch the progression from where it started to where it ended."
2. That Heirloom Jewelry Is Not Your Style. Now What?
You love the garnets in your great aunt's pair of earrings or your grandfather's ruby signet ring. You're not so enamored with the design. It's dated, stuffy, or - truth like only family can tell it - gaudy. No worries. Custom heirloom design is a way you can keep things ancestral and modern.
If you have jewelry with multiple stones, first decide which stones you want to use. This Custom Heirloom 8.26mm Cushion Cut Spessartite Bouquet Cluster Ring proves the more the merrier! Every stone in this cocktail ring is heirloom, including a cushion cut spessartite, several orange sapphires and peridots, and a princess cut garnet. We'd say that's the best kind of family reunion.
When working with the Bario Neal team on your new personalized ring design, it will help if you can describe what you don't like about the old piece. The prongs? The metals? Those details will help in creating a new piece that fits you.
3. Get Your Heirloom Jewelry Appraised.
An appraisal will give you a value for insurance - and help you decide whether to use the old stones. Some family jewelry has great sentimental worth but not high monetary value.
The Bario Neal team uses a Presidium Gemstone Tester, an electronic gadget that has a pen and a gauge. When you put the wire tip of the pen to a colored gemstone, the gauge gives a reading on whether something is a semiprecious (jade, for example) or precious stone - or plastic or glass.
"Sometimes people bring in heirloom jewelry that has glass or something that isn't identifiable or recognizable," Ariel says. "We'll do our best to test the stone on our end. Often the tester confirms what we suspect. Most of the time, customers are educated or have even obtained an appraisal and know what they have to work with."
With any diamond or precious gemstone over one-quarter carat, once stones are removed from settings, Bario Neal staff gets them appraised if a client hasn't already, for insurance purposes.
"You can also find out things about, say, a diamond during an appraisal process that you might not have known, like the strength of the stone," Ariel notes.
Diamond durability means Bario Neal has often worked with this stone in heirloom form to build new family homes. This Custom Heirloom Oval Diamond Cluster Ring with Champagne and White Diamonds Pavé Shank, says Ariel, "was a cool heirloom project where the client used some of their heirloom stones and then we added some stones." The citrine, tourmaline, and champagne diamonds add colorful presence to heirloom white diamonds in a setting that merges old and new effortlessly.
4. Different Old Gemstones Mean Different Design Possibilities.
Bario Neal h andles all heirloom jewelry with care. Occasionally, even hard diamonds might present a challenge. If the sales team isn't sure gemstones can be safely extracted and re-set into a new personalized ring for you, they'll get the opinion of the stone setter. Badly damaged gemstones might crack or chip when pulled out of old jewelry, but the Bario Neal team is up for most custom heirloom work.
"We can pretty much work with any stone," Ariel says. "There will be, depending on stone type, limitations on how we need to build the setting or how we can design with heirloom gemstones. For example, we can't do certain things with heirloom opals because opals are soft and more porous."
Bario Neal's openness to working with heirloom stones means the opportunity to see unique gems and create new pieces that are like a strong blended family. The Custom Star Sapphire Ray Ring is a customer-inspired takeoff from a Bario Neal collection ring (the Ray Emerald Ring). "The vintage oval star sapphire was a very unique stone," Ariel says. "We get requests for this ring all the time!"
Bario Neal works with gemstone setting specialists who can help if stone removal proves to be very tricky. Some jewelers may be more knowledgeable about a certain setting style and how to properly retrieve the stones without harm.
5. Don't Change That Heirloom Stone.
As a general rule, avoid trying to cut old stones. "You end up wasting a lot of the material, if you try to re-cut it," Ariel explains. "If the stone is badly abraded, if there's some scuffs from age, and the customer really wants to use it, we can polish it. But we prefer not to cut the stones, and if a stone is in poor shape, we prefer to not use it."
This advice doesn't have to limit your creativity or your ability to have a meaningful new piece of jewelry at all. The proof: This Custom Cut Granite Cluster Ring with Custom Heirloom Diamond Open Lash Ring. There are two awwww-inspiring touches in this highly personalized version of the Cluster Opal Ring from the Bario Neal collection. There's the beautiful heirloom diamond. Then that flash of history is topped by a piece of granite that the client found that had meaning to him and his partner.
6. You Can Design With Loose Gemstones.
While Bario Neal mostly custom designs rings with heirloom gemstones that arrive to the workshop set in old jewelry (some stones have even been re-set more than once through the generations), some customers have loose heirloom stones.
Ariel recalls a customer who had a loose diamond that his gr andfather purchased in the early 20th century. "It was something that his gr andfather had never set," Ariel says. "He had the original bill of sale and an appraisal for the diamond. We set it in a solitaire engagement ring."
7. You Don't Need to Live in Philly or NYC to Get a Bario Neal Heirloom Ring.
Bario Neal works with clients all over the world through email and phone to h andcraft personalized rings. Contact the team for details about the process. You'll start by having the heirloom stones that you want to use removed from old pieces by a trusted jeweler where you live. You'll also need to get an appraisal and insure the stones before shipping them to Bario Neal.
If you have heirloom jewelry you're curious about - or you have a piece with gemstones you love but a setting you don't, make an appointment at Bario Neal's Philadelphia or New York City showrooms today. Fill out the Custom Design Questionnaire and get started by phone or email too. Ariel and everyone else at Bario Neal can't wait to hear your heirloom jewelry story - and help you write the next page.