Being given a piece of fine jewelry sounds so lovely, doesn’t it? Passed down an heirloom from a close relative, crafted from natural diamonds and precious metals, a keepsake for fond memories. You’ll cherish it forever.
…Or will you?
A few years ago, I inherited a piece of my mother’s jewelry: the initial J (I’m named after her) set with small natural diamonds in a blocky gold frame. It is not my taste. Not one bit. So I did what everyone does with a thing you don’t like, yet can’t give away. I put it in a drawer.
Then I found out, to my delight, that natural diamonds can—and really, should—be redesigned and reset. Coming up with creative solutions to diamonds that are sitting unworn in a drawer is a common practice for many designers who enjoy creative collaboration with their clients.
I have loved Lauren Harwell Godfrey’s jewelry designs since I first saw them at Hero Shop in Marin County. Her geometric shapes and beautiful stones are elegant, and the spiritual and mystical aspects seemed like a good fit as I tried to figure out how to integrate my mom’s taste and the heirloom with my life now. She spoke with me from her studio.
Janet Ozzard: I really love your work, in particular your pendants. So, if I brought you this J charm that I inherited but don’t particularly like and said ‘please, bring your style and your skill to help make this something I would be excited to wear,’ how would that process go?
Lauren Harwell Godfrey: First, we’d have a conversation. I know this piece is not your style but is there any meaning to it? Does it remind you of her? Or is it just something that was in her drawer that you’ve inherited, and you’re like, ‘Eh, whatever.’
JO: I hadn’t thought about that! I’m named after my mom, and this charm reminds me of her life as a professional woman. She wore suits and nice shoes, and wore this charm on a chunky chain. Her taste was never my taste, and when she bought this, I was like, ‘ugh.’ But when you ask if I have an attachment to it, I guess I do!
LHG: When I work with my clients on things like this, sometimes they have pieces they don’t love the appearance of, but it’s sentimental because they can picture their mom wearing it. They’ll want to do less to take the piece apart. Another person might say ‘it was just something that was in her drawer, but I think she’d be excited if I repurposed it and turned it into something that I would wear more. Let’s really change it up.’
So here, for example, we could preserve the J and do something completely new around it. Then you have this little piece that’s still intact. Or is it more, ‘these diamonds have value, this gold has value, so let’s make something new using those materials.’ Then when you show your family the piece, you can say, ‘Hey remember mom’s charm? Here’s what I did with it, and now I’m going to wear it every day, and that’s how it will remind me of her.’ So there are levels of manipulation if you know what I mean.
The other thing I like to tell people is, if we are just taking the raw materials and doing something brand new with them, typically we will recycle the gold and give you a credit. We won’t ever guarantee that we can use the exact gold from your piece again. All the gold we use is recycled, but you never know what might happen when a particular thing is melted. It can get bubbly and weird, and sometimes we must remake pieces because there are porosity issues. If you feel ‘there’s some energy from my family about this exact piece that I want to hold onto,’ we might suggest taking it differently, maybe keeping the piece intact, using your natural diamonds and working something new around it.
JO: What does it mean when you say, ‘working something new around it?’
LHG: I would ask my client, ‘Is there something you particularly like to wear? Are you going to wear a bracelet, a necklace or earrings? What do you think you would get the most use out of if we made something new for you?’
JO: I do love your necklaces. If I come to you and say, ‘I really like the blockiness of the J shape. Can you keep part of it intact?’ How might you then take that and make it a Harwell Godfrey piece?
LHG: We could make a cool pendant. Something as simple as giving the J more of a three dimensionality; raise it and have some intricate patterns on the sides. We could also put a sort of medallion around the J and then embellish around that with your diamonds.
At this point, I would say that I’d like to do a few sketches for you. And I would come back to you and say, ‘Here are a couple of different ways we could take it.’ But off the top of my head, those come to mind immediately.
If there’s something I’m already doing that you like, we could make something to complement that. You mentioned you like my mini moon pendants, so if you were to get one of those, we could make a round pendant with the J and its diamonds, and that could stack right inside that moon. That would be fun.
The hexagons can be done in different ways, and we can customize those. You could add some special stones. If you want to make it about your mom, you could do a little bit of a birthstone play, or it could have a family message on the back or something about your mom’s birthday. I come from a graphic design background, and I do all the engravings myself.
JO: Are you seeing more people coming to you with family pieces like this?
LHG: Yes, definitely. High-end fine jewelry is playing a different role in people’s lives now. It used to be special occasion wear, but now it’s everyday wear. People are getting bold about the fine jewelry that they wear on a regular basis; they’re layering and stacking and doing all this stuff. It doesn’t have to sit in a drawer and collect dust and be a once-a-year thing. It should be something that you enjoy and get happiness and value out of. The stones are kind of where it’s at, especially natural diamonds. I like to upcycle stones. It’s nice to give them a new life.
My conversation with Lauren left me revitalized and inspired, kind of like the bounce in your step after you get a really great haircut (Yes, I know, creating a new piece of jewelry and upcycling my natural diamonds is a little more involved than a haircut, but the shift in perspective was kind of a thrill!). Who knew there was so much potential in these diamonds? And that working on a redesign with the right partner could be so much fun!
The J is out of the drawer, and on its way to being something I’ll love.