Most heirloom diamond jewellery typically gets relegated to safety lockers, and later handed over to the next generation. However, even when outdated designs may prevent you from wearing heirlooms, it’s never easy to part with such ornaments. The nostalgic value invested in them is replete with the love of family and the pride of ancestry. Also, jewellery of such vintage always consists of rare, one-of-a-kind natural diamonds, and not mass-produced lab-made diamonds.
In recent years, as sustainability and mindful consumption gained more traction, repurposing of heirloom diamond jewellery has turned into a trending practice that is yielding some fabulous outcomes. Ornate pieces are finding their way into exciting stories of reincarnation. Chunky necklaces turned into delicate statement bracelets and chains; earrings reshaped into pendants; and pendants turned into rings and studs.
We speak to two designers who let us into their studio to understand the process, the passion, and the diversity of emotions that guide their explorations in repurposing heirloom natural diamond jewellery.
The Art of Repurposing Heirloom Diamond Jewellery
Crafting Stories in Diamonds with Rashmee Pai
Rashmee Pai Seth of Kanackam Studio in Mumbai chose the laborious way to learn the intricacies of jewellery design—interning with jewellers in the congested Zaveri Bazaar and working with artisans on shop floors. Seth, a pro at upcycling, admits to being excited not just by the lateral thinking required in such assignments but also the personal stories that are inextricably linked to them. “Hemal, a dear client, had handed me an assortment of vintage valuables that included necklaces, rings, bangles and earrings,” she reminisces. “She simply asked me to turn them into something entirely different. One of the pieces that I eventually crafted was an intricate diamond bracelet.” The design was conceptualised in a moment of serendipity. “I noticed a coffee table in Hemal’s house, a signature Jaipur inlay on marble. I asked her if I could follow a similar design for the bracelet, and she immediately gave me the go-ahead!”
Seth started by detaching all the diamonds from the old pieces—there were approximately 120 diamonds, a total of 42 carats—the smallest being 19 cents and the biggest around 32 cents. “I was blown by the purity of the stones—D color and VVVS!,” says Seth. “I started by placing the bigger diamonds in the middle and the smaller ones on the sides, alternating a line of marquise with a line of rounds” The resultant bracelet wraps around the wrist like a supple encasement of glittering stones. “It took me three months to complete the design.”
“My mother started collecting diamond jewellery for me when I turned eight. Years later, these became an eclectic bunch. The diamond bracelet that Rashmee made represents my mother’s unconditional love. Now, I wear it whenever I want, irrespective of occasions. It holds memories that I want to keep close.”
Seth points out that diamond sets given as gifts during weddings are often part of her repurposing projects. For instance, one of her clients, Jankee, a young baker, had brought over a heavy pearl and diamond set consisting of a necklace, bracelet, and earrings. “I pulled out approximately 800 tiny diamonds from that set, and reworked them into a necklace of graduated diamond triangles.”
“It was a wedding set that I had not worn on more than three occasions. Thankfully, my mother-in-law was perceptive enough, and told me to convert them into something more attuned to my aesthetic. The delicate necklace that Rashmee made is light and breezy. I even wear it with a tank top and jeans!”
Transforming Heirloom Diamonds with Cherry Sahni
For Cherry Sahni of Diamondtree in Delhi, repurposing heirloom diamond jewellery started out as a family affair right at the onset of her career. “I started my career by reinventing my mother’s and mother-in-law’s diamond jewellery, the ones that they had received as gifts at their weddings,” says Sahni “Those pieces contained a mix of old-cut and new-cut diamonds, some of them made in Pakistan in the pre-Partition era.”
Twenty five years later, Sahni has become a pro at repurposing. One of her recent projects involved a 10-Carat diamond ring set on a plain gold band. “Being a minimalist, I advised my client to have it set on a filigree-patterned white gold band and dress it up with some eternity bands that could provide her with the flexibility to enjoy multiple design options with the same ring.” Her client, though, rejected the idea. Her brief was absolutely clear—she wanted a flamboyant design that would unapologetically draw attention. “So, I gave it a halo, dressed it up with pear-shaped diamonds and elevated its setting a notch up, so it could be as delightfully ‘loud’ as she wanted it to be,” says Sahni.
“My mother-in-law gave me the 10-carat diamond when my son was born. I found the design to be rather unexciting, and I wanted something that I could flaunt at parties and even wear for lunches. I love the shiny white gold band that Cherry has set it on.”
Sahni also points out that not all clients are looking for a complete makeover. “In the aftermath of Covid, many approach life differently,” says Sahni. “Women who had preserved heirlooms that they had intended to give to their daughters are now choosing to have it redesigned and wear it themselves. They do not wish to deny themselves that pleasure.”
Sometimes, the brief involved in repurposing heirloom diamond jewellery is blissfully uncomplicated—retain the design and add a subtle twist to it. “My client, Swati, wanted a pair of classic navratan-design earrings redone in a larger size with a new gold base,” says Sahni. “I added a detachable flower panel so the studs could become minimal or dressy, depending on the occasion.”
“The studs my mother-in-law gave me during my wedding have been in the locker for the past 20 years. As my daughters are not keen to have them, I decided to get them re-styled and wear them once again. I like the way Cherry has added that playful touch with the gold floral panels, and yet retained the sanctity of the original traditional design.”
In the hands of a skilled, sensitive designer, there are endless possibilities to repurposing. The inherent brilliance of natural diamonds is hard to match, and set in an heirloom piece it becomes a more amazing story waiting to be retold.