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Local jewellers on why repurposing family jewellery is growing in popularity

IMAGE VIA @CLEOPATRASBLING/INSTAGRAM

WORDS BY IZZY WIGHT

Giving family heirlooms a new lease on life.

Unlike clothing, people often buy investment jewellery pieces with the intention of an afterlife. “I’ll pass this on to my children” is a sentence I’ve heard on several different occasions, often uttered while delicately displaying a freshly-adorned hand, ear or neck.

Passing down jewellery is one of those fixed traditions with no definitive origin story, a ritual we – at some point – just felt compelled to begin. And when exactly does a piece gain ‘heirloom’ status? According to The Diamond Store Magazine, “the story behind [the pieces] is key. Heirloom jewellery is symbolic of love, tradition, accomplishment and family”.


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The symbolic nature of jewellery means there’s an intrinsic sentimentality buried within certain pieces, a nostalgic value that tells us to treasure a specific ring, necklace or set of earrings. But after generations of wear and the inevitable trend shift that occurs over the decades, often these heirloom pieces feel a little… outdated.

This phenomenon has given rise to a new market in the Australian jewellery industry: the repurposing of family jewellery. Independent designers have found a niche in transforming heirlooms into fresh, bespoke designs, repurposing the precious metals and vintage gems in contemporary ways. Below, three Australian jewellery designers tell us about their heirloom repurposing process.

Cushla Whiting, Cushla Whiting Jewellery

Tell us about your label.

I started Cushla Whiting in 2013 with my two siblings, Anna and Hamish. We wanted to create a more personal, unintimidating bespoke jewellery brand that offered expertise in both design and gemmology.

We believe that there is a particular gemstone and design for each individual, and nothing gives us more joy than guiding people on this instinctual journey. We believe that jewellery can help to strengthen and validate one’s unique identity. 

Have you found there’s a new interest in reworking old family jewellery pieces and vintage gemstones?

We’ve always had people contact us to enquire about remodelling a family heirloom ring or piece. This makes perfect sense as often a customer will inherit a ring from a mother or grandmother but it will be heavily worn, or not in the style they would necessarily want to wear. The piece is sentimental to them, and they want to make it their own. 

We’ve seen a lot of interest in antique diamonds. Our antique diamonds were all cut by hand hundreds of years ago, so they feel very rare and special. Our Gemologist Hamish is based at the Antwerp Diamond Bourse, where he’s able to cherry-pick out the most beautiful, rare, hand-cut antique diamonds for our collection.

How can you bring family jewellery into the contemporary world through repurposing? Can you give us an example? 

Family jewellery holds great sentimental value to the person who has inherited it but is often heavily worn and in desperate need of a refresh. When working with customers’ heirloom rings, we’ll carefully remove the gemstones from the ring and reuse the gold when possible. Then, we’ll work with the customer to bring their vision to life by incorporating sentimental gemstones.

We will only work with rings that have gemstones that we commonly work with and are confident that we can work with safely. This image (above) is of a bespoke ring we created for a customer that repurposed two of their family’s old mine cut diamonds. Our customer chose to have their sentimental heirloom diamonds incorporated into a new design, along with one of our teal Nigerian sapphires, to create a brand new piece.

@cushlawhitingjewellery

Olivia Cummings, Cleopatra’s Bling

Tell us about your label.

I got into jewellery making in Istanbul 10 years ago, after living in Paris for six years. I learned from the artisans in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. It was one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of my life. 

What does it mean to upcycle or repurpose old jewellery? 

[It means] to refine old metals and reuse them in casting new jewellery (all our metals are certified recycled and refined). It essentially means that rather than mining for more metals, the old metals are being repurposed. I like it for a lot of reasons: the sustainability of it, and it also gives new life to something that has sentimental value. It’s like alchemy, working with metal. 

How can you breathe new life into family jewellery through repurposing? 

Recently we had a woman who had lost her husband just last year (may his soul rest in peace). We have their wedding rings and we are creating one ring from the two rings to have his ring on her person. 

It’s quite a delicate job, as we want to make it as perfect as possible. We’ll be fusing the two rings and adding extra detail. It’s a very beautiful way to keep her original sentimental ring and give it new meaning for the next chapter in her life. 

@cleopatrasbling

Tess Blazey, Tessa Blazey Jewellery

 

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A post shared by Tessa Blazey (@tessa_blazey)

Tell us about your label.

I’m inspired by the geometric structures of natural minerals and crystals. My pieces are raw, but also simultaneously ancient and futuristic. Many of my designs are named after and reflect the personas of my favourite film heroines and villainesses.

Have you found there’s a new interest in reworking old family jewellery pieces and vintage gemstones?

Many of the custom pieces I make for clients utilise heirloom gemstones. It’s a lovely way to be able to wear inherited items that don’t suit you in their current form; to fondly remember a loved one and to get a beautiful piece made without paying as much for it.

How can you bring family jewellery into the contemporary world through repurposing?

 

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A post shared by Tessa Blazey (@tessa_blazey)

I just finished a piece this week for a friend, she inherited an amazing round white diamond from her grandmother. It was a ring design she would never wear as it didn’t suit her aesthetic.

We wanted the ring to look geological and monumental (as opposed to girly and like an engagement ring) so I buried the diamond in a little mound of gold and set one of the other diamonds hidden in a notch on the side. The ring is now a beautiful contemporary piece and something she’ll wear forever.

@tessa_blazey

For more on the growing popularity of repurposed jewellery, try this.

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