One of the more interesting and fun parts of my business are the heirloom redesigns. The beauty of this part of work are the amazing stories that come with these pieces, the beautiful materials filled with sentimental memories and, of course, the clients who I get to work one-on-one with, as I create their unique design. The experience is quite an amazing one, not only for my clients, but for myself as well!
With heirloom redesigns, however, there are always lots of common misconceptions about the process. Using the “jewelry terminology” it is extremely difficult to explain what truly happens behind the scenes. I had to think about it long and hard and have finally come up with a GREAT analogy for it. (Side Note: I’m very proud of myself for this clever comparison. Even Marina, our Studio Assistant, was quite impressed with this analogy. It’s not every day that you can impress Marina, but this analogy made her raise an eyebrow!)
So here’s how it really works...
When someone brings a bag of their heirloom jewelry, it’s like a party! We look through it, talk about the memories, prioritize which pieces and/or stones are most favorite and typically right there and then, I start getting a sense of what my client is looking for in the final piece. It’s like a discovery meeting where I gather the tiniest of details to weave into a crystal clear picture (in my head) of where the design needs to go, how the construction needs to happen and what the result will be. It’s so exciting to watch the project unfold and the design come to life!
The next step is typically to go over the budget. This part is a little tricky and sometimes it goes well….and sometimes, well, not so much. While most people more or less understand the costs associated with such projects, yet there is always that one question about why it costs more to design something custom and even more so, to design something custom using existing materials.
“But I’ve brought all the materials to work with, so it should be cheaper, right?”
And there we have it, folks - the most common misconception of redesigning jewelry using “ready” materials!
So here comes the analogy - designing a heirloom redesign is a lot like preserving a historical structure. Sounds silly, but let me explain. Living here, in Savannah, we are known for our amazing architecture with the distinguishable “Grey Brick”. It’s a significant thing for us and it’s super cool! When renovations are in order, there are often very heated debates on whether to preserve historical buildings and save original Savannah bricks or just knock them down and build new.
Saving the bricks alone requires that each be removed carefully, that all the remaining mortar be chipped off, the bricks stacked and stored, and then re-laid all over again when the structure is ready. And let me tell you, folks, that is one time-consuming and labor-intensive process!
Of course, the more economical choice would be to knock buildings down and build new ones. Although pretty, the new building won’t have the same sense of history, memories, or original character, but the structures would be strong and sturdy, so not taking anything away from that. At the same time, preserving the structure is laborious, takes extreme patience, costs a ton more money, but in the end, the original materials are preserved maintaining its history and the memories and sentiments are kept alive. Ah, if those walls could talk...
So think about it this way...bringing lots of materials is great for a project, but just like those historic Savannah Grey Bricks, using materials from existing rings does take time - lots and lots of extra time! To be 100% honest, it’s much easier for me to purchase new accent diamonds from my suppliers as I can order them to exact specifications, in exact quantities, and ideal cuts.
However, removing 40 accent diamonds that were cut in the 1940s (and aren’t as precise as today’s methods) from a piece to reuse them….does not only take time, but patience and very careful attention to detail! BUT, even though those 40 diamonds might be a little more wonky than those cut at today’s standards, those diamonds have character. They have life, history...they are perfectly imperfect in their own little way. They were worn by grandmas, sisters, aunts or gifted by grandfathers, brothers, cousins. They are special. They exist in photos and memories and we hold them dear to our hearts. So what do you do?
My answer is simple. Heirloom redesigns are magical, but when done right, that magic has to consist of time, labor and lots of preservation. Yes, it does cost more! But is it worth it? Absolutely!