How to transform your unworn jewellery into something you love

·6-min read
Photo credit: Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images
Photo credit: Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images

We are all guilty of holding on to clothes and accessories that we don’t wear or use enough, and nowhere is this more apparent than with our jewellery boxes. Whether it’s a ring that was passed down to you or a pair of earrings that you feel no longer suit your style, it’s very common to hold on to jewellery that you don’t actually wear but refuse to give away, often because it holds sentimental value. But, just as with our wardrobes, it is great to make more of what you already own and invest in that, turning something that is gathering dust into a piece that you cherish daily, and this is particularly easy to do when it comes to jewels.

“There is no point owning jewellery that sits in a drawer never to be worn, simply because the style isn’t quite right for you,” says Emma Clarkson Webb, a London designer who specialises in diamonds and semi-precious stones, and who often helps clients turn old heirlooms into something more fitting for them. “We find that a lot of people are nervous about redesigning vintage pieces because they feel that they are parting with the history attached to the piece, as well as its sentimentality, but this is wrong. We can still create something new and beautiful while respecting the original.”

In fact, with so many different options available for repurposing jewellery, you can change as much or as little as you like, holding on to certain sentimental aspects, while still making the piece more appropriate for you.

“When it comes to reworking heirlooms into new jewellery, sometimes, we just update the piece, creating a more modern and wearable version of the existing design,” says jeweller Rachel Boston. “With other projects, we’ll do a complete transformation where we reuse the gemstones and metal, and can also supplement with newly sourced gemstones, depending on our client’s chosen design direction.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Minka Jewels
Photo credit: Courtesy of Minka Jewels

And of course, even if you are completely reworking the piece, you can still pay tribute to the original, copying the stone settings or engravings, or even adding new elements that gently nod to its history, which is a great option if you are worried about losing that sentimental nature of the design. Either way though, creating something that you will cherish rather than leaving it as is to sit in a drawer for years, is a great way to honour the jewellery and whoever or whatever it reminds you of.

“I hate the idea of these precious pieces sitting unloved and unworn in a safe, when it can become anything you want it to be – it is treasure to be cherished, and enjoyed as often as possible,” says Olivia Young, founder of luxury jewellery label Ouroboros.

And, there are so many other benefits to repurposing an old piece of jewellery rather than buying something brand new, the primary one being how cost effective it is, particularly if you are going to use all elements of the original piece. Eliminating the need for many, if any, other materials means you are only paying for the design fees and production costs, which of course hugely knocks the price down of your bespoke piece of jewellery, and perhaps makes this option affordable to you for the first time.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Ouroboros
Photo credit: Courtesy of Ouroboros

The other clear advantage of reusing materials is regarding the environmental impact of your new piece of jewellery. Making the most of stones and metal which have already been manufactured is a much more sustainable option than starting from scratch. There are far fewer environmental costs when you’re not sourcing stones from mines, while you are also eliminating many of the environmental transport costs, which you would have with something brand new.

The process of resetting stones can also be a fun, creative one, giving you the opportunity to create something totally unique to you.

“These type of projects are some of our favourite jobs,” says Boston. “It’s a great creative challenge to breathe a new lease of life into an old piece, and working with such sentimental objects is such a pleasure.”

There are also advantages to creating something bespoke with a vintage stone, rather than something brand new, Boston explains. “Vintage gemstones have real character – and having a contrast between older and newer cuts can be really subtle and elegant.”

“Antique stones were usually hand cut so they will be irregular in shape but with deep backs and interesting characteristics,” adds designer Jessie Thomas. “They aren’t perfect but that’s why they are interesting and worth reusing.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Rachel Boston
Photo credit: Courtesy of Rachel Boston

So, if you have a piece of jewellery that you want repurposed, you may be wondering what kinds of things can be done – and, the possibilities may surprise you.

“Your options are pretty much limitless in terms of what you can create,” explains jewellery designer Sophie Keegan, who remembers creating a set of rings from a client’s brooch, which had been passed down from her grandmother. “Once the stones are removed and the gold has been melted down, you have a completely fresh start to create your dream piece of jewellery.”

If you have a ring that you want turned into earrings or a necklace, this is easy too, explains Young: “Depending on the number of gems, it can nearly always be turned into something else – sometimes this requires sourcing matching gemstones or creating clever designs to make it work, but it is always possible.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Emma Clarkson Webb
Photo credit: Courtesy of Emma Clarkson Webb

Meanwhile, if you are not actually a fan of the shape of the gemstone, this too can be completely altered (which is also a great option if it is damaged or chipped).

“If you have an old stone that could be polished up or maybe even reshaped, this is always really interesting,” says Minka Jewels founder, Lucy Crowther. “I work with a brilliant stone cutter so it’s always fun thinking about how we can change it slightly.”

While any gemstone can be used, the easiest pieces to repurpose are large stones, explains Thomas: “They are quick to remove, and the value is often held in the large stone over multiple small ones.”

“It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to repurpose all the stones in one go,” she says. “I think people get stuck on that a lot; you can pick and choose what you take out to use in a new design, sometimes it will just be one stone, and then you can keep all the others for another piece in the future.”

Ultimately, whether you want to do a little or a lot of change, it’s important to do some serious research before setting out. Figure out what you want to create and hunt out a great jeweller whose style you admire.

“Spend some time sitting with the original piece of jewellery, really understanding the gemstones and why it is sentimental to you,” explains Young. “Do your research – look at lots of jewellery that you love, wander through your local jewellery district to get your eye in and put some images together. Look online and on Instagram, too.”

“Once you have an idea of what you want, approach the jeweller – they will guide you through your ideas and complement with some of their own.”

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