In the midst of 2020, I found myself sorting through my belongings, as many of us did. After all, the sudden need for more space to live and work at home was abrupt. The once Craigslist-coined “cozy” (i.e. teeny-tiny) Cobble Hill, Brooklyn apartment that my partner and I were living in at the time was not a place where could comfortably coexist 24/7. It was time to move.
As I began to prep for packing, I was horrified to reacquaint myself with the heaps of jewelry—most of it costume—that I had clung onto over the years. Donate!
But eventually, in one of several jewelry boxes, I came across a small ring that I had almost forgotten about it. It was straight out of the year 2000, when my grandmother gifted it to me on my 16th birthday. She gave each of her granddaughters a “very special” gift on their Sweet 16 which had a formula: a gold ring with the appropriate birthstone and a diamond nestled by its side.
As a June baby, I received a pear-shaped alexandrite and diamond ring; an alexandrite is a purple-y teal stone perfect for the “McGlitter” era of Juicy Couture and Von Dutch. Its gold metal setting with its thin, script-like lines hoisted up the stone, punctuated by a small round diamond at the top right corner like a perfectly askew cherry on top of a sundae. Remember those generic soda cups from the mall with the swooping teal and purple brush stroke lines? If that cup was a ring, it would be the ring I received on my 16th birthday. No disrespect to my grandmother’s taste level; this was sadly the most appropriate choice for the time (and my questionable 16-year-old self).
I thought about my grandmother upon discovering the ring. My Italian grandma who would flip through Tiger Beat with me, pretending to care about my latest Y2K celebrity crush. When we were little girls, she drew my sisters and me paper dolls with different outfits that we could color and cut out ourselves. I loved this lady so much. And here before me, through the pandemic chaos, was this ring she gifted me. All of the memories of her came flooding back. What the heck was I going to do with the ring?! It was not anything I would wear now, and I wasn’t going to donate a ring from my grandmother—especially one with a diamond. And so my hunt for a jeweler with a niche for upcycling heirloom diamond jewelry began.
At the very same time, I became obsessed with the Instagram pages of a handful of contemporary diamond jewelry designers and purveyors of antique/estate diamonds. Of course, it just so happened that the partner who I mentioned earlier (my now husband) and I had also been talking about getting engaged, plus I was interviewing for a PR role at the Natural Diamond Council. Diamonds soon were all over my social media accounts, and I couldn’t (still can’t!) get enough.
The Go-To Designers for Upcycling Heirloom Diamond Jewelry
I noticed the L.A.-based jeweler, Kinn, posted before-and-after images of a 90s diamond ring similar to my own transformed into a modern-day diamond signet. I shortly came across another gorgeous juicy diamond number from New York-based jewelry designer, Brent Neale, that was also cited in the caption as an heirloom reset project. Then Melissa Joy Manning. Then Retrouvai. They all were posting about upcycling heirloom diamonds into modern diamond jewelry. They say “three’s a trend” in fashion, but here we are with four—one right after the other. This is definitely a thing! It clicked. This could be the best solution for my generic soda cup ring from my grandmother—one that would allow me to wear it again… Chef’s-kiss!
Resetting heirloom diamonds is nothing new; the practice has been around for quite some time, mostly practiced by independent jewelers and smaller brands. But recently, there has been a curious uptick in requests for upcycled diamond jewelry.
Kirsty Stone, Founder and Designer of the L.A.-based jewelry brand, Retrouvai, whose aesthetic is gorgeously gold, whimsical and dripping with diamonds says, “I think people are embracing the idea of wearing what you have instead of letting diamonds sit in a jewelry box. Using family stones to create something new is a special way to honor heritage while getting a piece that feels modern and true to one’s personal style.”
N.Y.-based Jewelry Designer and Founder of her namesake brand, Brent Neale famously resets diamonds in her signature style—often bulbous, shiny gold orb-like shapes against beautiful white diamonds. “I was actually my first client for resetting! I wanted something chunky and comfortable for every day, so I decided to take apart my engagement ring and set it in a flush-set mounting,” she says.
All of the designers I spoke to say the progression to offer resetting and upcycling heirloom diamond jewelry as part of their business came initially from close friends and family. After posting their work on Instagram, requests naturally began pouring in from lurking clients.
With our current world moving at lightning speed with a constant flow of information and imagery to consume from all digitally connected devices and platforms, there seems to be a strong appeal for originality. Inherently unique, diamonds are an ideal vehicle for expressing oneself in a way that cuts through all the noise. The natural wonders of the earth are like little indestructible sparkly snowflakes we can wear. And an heirloom diamond amplifies personal meaning, sentiment and distinctness.
Brent Neale recalls, “Family stones always have amazing stories. I posted one [on Instagram] about a diamond that had been given to a client’s grandmother who survived the Holocaust. She was given the stone by a boy that she helped get to relatives in Canada. The relatives were stone dealers in Canada and this was a way they felt they could repay her for her kindness.”
Jennie Yoon is the CEO and Founder of her L.A.-based jewelry brand, Kinn, which offers upcycling of heirloom diamond jewelry. It’s not the core of her business, but it is an add-on that clients seem to gravitate towards with enthusiasm, eventually warranting a dedicated launch and button on the brand’s Instagram account called, “Repurpose.”
Yoon says her favorite projects when its comes to upcycling heirloom diamonds are ones involving the Old European cut stones.
“The Old European diamonds were only produced during a specific era and are no longer produced. Old Euro diamonds were cut by hand vs. a machine so they have a chunky aesthetic and fewer facets, lending more of an art deco look.”
Melissa Joy Manning is a N.Y.-based jeweler who has been in the business for over 25 years, and is the CEO and Founder of her namesake brand. She is a sustainability pioneer in the jewelry industry, and arguably the sustainability pioneer for the whole of the fashion industry. Manning co-founded the sustainability committee of the CFDA and has always utilized responsibly sourced diamonds from longtime vendors. She also uses reclaimed stones and recycled metals, not to mention a zero-waste production operation that is Green Certified.
When it comes to clients looking to upcycle heirloom diamonds, she notes, “Our customers are continuing to educate themselves on responsible and sustainable choices. They feel that a legacy stone is a responsible choice as they are reusing what they have. This idea of “reuse, recycle” is definitely a driving force in their decision to use a family stone. I hear a lot of amazing stories about stones. There is a sense of history and sentimentality that doesn’t exist in a new piece. I really enjoy working with heirloom stones. I often find myself wondering about the stone’s life; who wore it, where it went, and what it saw. The history of the object is fascinating.”
The growing popularity of upcycling heirloom diamonds has made the offering more readily available by jewelry designers. Now is a great time to dust off that old jewelry box tucked away in the closet and start treasure hunting. I will certainly be getting my Sweet 16 ring reset to bring it new life. Happy hunting!