As more couples seek to make their weddings more meaningful, repurposing family jewelry to create new pieces that can be worn as engagement or wedding jewels has become a popular way to infuse tradition into a modern celebration of love.
The trend of honoring a loved one’s legacy by incorporating family heirlooms into jewelry has also been popular among royal families. Megan Markle’s engagement ring from Prince Harry is a more recent example. The central diamond in Ms. Markle’s unique three-stone diamond ring is from Botswana, and the diamonds on either side are from Princess Diana’s collection.
“The best diamonds to use are the ones you already own,” said Anna Bario, 39, an owner of Bario Neal, a jewelry store with locations in Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Vermont. Since the launch of Bario Neal, it has helped its clients transform all kinds of things into wedding jewelry, including watches, earrings — and even teeth.
“When Anna and I first launched Bario Neal, my grandmother Mickey, who grew up in the Depression, gave me her old gold tooth crowns to melt down into our first-ever collection,” said Page Neal, 41, who is also an owner of Bario Neal.
“Whenever I tell that story, people always think it is so funny that my grandmother kept her crowns. But why wouldn’t you? Gold is inherently valuable.”
There are some limitations to keep in mind when choosing to repurpose old jewels, including the gems selected and costs involved, said Catherine Budd, of Catherine Budd Jewellery in Cheshire, England, which specializes in heirloom redesign.
Ms. Budd says couples should consider a few things when recycling their heirlooms.
“First of all, you need to understand what you’re doing. Are you trying to retain sentiment, and the original characteristics, or do you want to take it apart and completely refresh the piece with a new design? Because you can’t put it back together afterward,” said Ms. Budd, adding: “Just because you’re providing the metals and the stones, this doesn’t mean it’s going to be a cheap alternative. Melting down metal and creating something by hand is fairly costly.”
Ms. Bario said that the trend of remaking jewelry was one that is growing, especially among L.G.B.T.Q. and eco-conscious couples.
“They’re really blowing up the concept of the ring altogether for engagement or ceremony jewelry,” Ms. Bario said. “A ring is not the narrative anymore. We recently made a pair of engagement bracelets for a lesbian couple.”
When Jake Deyton, a 26-year-old TikTok creator based in Washington, D.C., shared a video of his nontraditional wedding last July, it went viral, with nearly three million views.
Mr. Deyton, who also works in undergraduate admissions at George Washington University, incorporated many unique details into his wedding day, including a pair of cuff links made for his husband from an heirloom ring that belonged to his grandmother. Mr. Deyton presented the cuff links to his then fiancé, Matt Glading, as a “proposal gift” after Mr. Glading proposed.
The aquamarine and diamond ring, which meant a lot to Mr. Deyton, was a gift to his grandmother from his grandfather in the 1980s. The ring was bought from a small local jeweler in North Carolina.
His grandmother always had the idea of giving it to him one day, as it is also Mr. Deyton’s birthstone.
“She would always show this ring to me, and I would try it on,” Mr. Deyton said. “I would put it on my finger all the time as a child.”
Mr. Deyton wasn’t quite sure what to do with the ring at first, but with the help of his mother, he settled on remaking the stone into two cuff links for his husband, paying $1,200 for an additional diamond from a jeweler in Washington, who is a friend of the groom’s family.
The 40-year-old ring was taken apart, with the four aquamarine stones and one diamond removed, and set into the cuff links. The addition of a new diamond finished the piece, with one diamond and two aquamarines on each cuff link.
“I was so excited when I got them, I had this whole plan to give them to Matt and surprise him with a proposal present, but when I saw them, I had to give it to him straight away,” Mr. Deyton said. “I got down on one knee with the box as soon as he got home.”
The couple will continue to use the cuff links, which Mr. Glading wore during the wedding, and intend to eventually pass them on to their future children.
The trend is also appealing to couples who value sustainability, and ethically sourced stones. That was the deciding factor for the future bride Paige Lombard, who used her family’s stones to create her engagement ring.
“It’s ethical and that’s the first thing that drew me in,” said Ms. Lombard, 29, who lives in Philadelphia and works as a partnerships manager for the Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania.
The ring was designed by Bario Neal — a cluster ring made from 18-karat recycled yellow gold. The engagement ring features eight stones: five diamonds, a sapphire, an emerald and an andalusite. The stones are all different cuts and carats, and were collected from rings from three generations of women in Ms. Lombard’s family, through her maternal line.
“There were a lot of surprises, I didn’t know what a lot of them were or if the gems were real,” Ms. Lombard said. “I went to my mom, who just gave me a bunch of jewelry. They were collected mostly by my granddad who was in the Army, and he got them abroad for my grandma. I think she’d be excited that they were being used.”
As well as the draw of sustainability, Ms. Lombard was interested in a more distinctive engagement ring than she could get on the market. She met her boyfriend, Brian Schoener, 28, a management consultant for AlixPartners, a financial advisory and global consulting firm, at the University of Pennsylvania, from which they both graduated. The couple have been together for seven years.
“I asked Paige what she was envisioning for an engagement ring, but Paige has really unique taste, and she didn’t like any of the typical solitaire, single diamond rings that our friends had,” Mr. Schoener said. “So I said, ‘Let’s just go to a jeweler.’”
To create the engagement ring, which cost $6,000, “We pulled the heirloom gemstones from the original jewelry and began designing the custom cluster ring with their gemstones, as well as new ethical gemstones that we sourced,” Ms. Neal said.
The ring is still being made, but the couple have been closely involved in the design process.
“They made a 3-D rendering of the ring, which was really useful, and we ended up moving the positioning of one of the stones after that,” Ms. Lombard said. “There were a lot of opportunities to make changes along the way, so I know I’ll love it.”
The process, which varies in length depending on the project, is designed to ensure that couples will be happy with the irreversible work that is about to be done to their sentimental family jewelry.
Mr. Schoener has yet to propose, but has so far asked permission from Ms. Lombard’s parents. He said that although the ring won’t be a surprise, there would be other elements of the proposal that Ms. Lombard does not know about.