Buying Heirloom Jewelry? Read Our Guide First…
Precious jewels are often passed down through generations. Here, CHARLIE BOYD discovers the storytelling power of bequeathed pieces, and shares tips on how to invest in inheritance-worthy designs
Heirlooms are front and center this week, as the coronation of King Charles III illustrates the remarkable potential for diamonds, gems and precious metals to be passed down through generations, for decades (and even centuries) to come. While most of us won’t be inheriting a Jewel House filled with royal commissions and historic stones, the innate preciousness and longevity of these materials remains relevant at every level of a fine-jewelry purchase.
Speaking to friends, colleagues and family members, it’s remarkable how often pieces of jewelry carry spectacular stories. From a grandmother turning her husband’s turquoise and diamond dress-shirt buttons into rings for each of their grandchildren, to a diamond-set tie pin turned into a charm necklace, these anecdotes prove that bequeathals don’t always run predictably through the female line, either.
From those in the jewelry business, there are some extraordinary tales. Livia Primo Lack, a London-based jewelry journalist, tells of the diamonds that trickle down her ancestry. “My great-grandfather, Max Lack, was one of the founders of the London Diamond Bourse and he sourced a diamond for each of his grandchildren when they were born,” she explains. “My father’s diamond is the central stone of my mother’s engagement ring, and on my wedding day I will be wearing a pair of art deco earrings featuring ‘Max Lack diamonds’ that my grandmother left to me. Wearing them on my wedding day enables me to keep that generation close by, even though they won’t physically be there; jewels hold the memories and legacies of the ones we love.”
“Jewelry takes on a life of its own by way of the wearer and its previous owners,” agrees Danielle Gadi, a fine-jewelry publicist based in New York. “There’s always a story behind every jewel – and I love that, by passing it down, you’re adding to its story,” she says. Gadi inherited a pair of first-edition Cartier ‘Love’ bracelets, designed by Aldo Cipullo, from her husband’s grandmother, just before her wedding. “My husband’s grandfather bought them in Paris in 1969; his wife wore one and his daughter wore the other, and I now wear them both on my left wrist without ever taking them off. There’s so much history, love and patina in these bracelets – and I especially love that they’re completely different from the new versions being made today,” she adds.
It’s important to choose something that will remain timeless and wearable… Diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires will always be the most popular gemstones that stand the test of time, but I love the idea of pearls, opals and other colored gems being passed down”Edwina Hilton, fine-jewelry buyer at NET-A-PORTER
Maria Dueñas Jacobs, a fine-jewelry tastemaker and the founder of Super Smalls, explains how we can think ahead with our own fine-jewelry purchases. “I attach sentiment and meaning to every piece of jewelry I own, and all with the intention of passing my collection on to my three daughters some day,” she explains. “They have already ‘claimed’ a few things that they love and want when they are older. I plan to give them some pieces for important milestones, like their 18th birthdays, graduations and other big life moments,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s not necessarily the style of piece that makes the heirloom, but the meaning and memories attached to it.”
Jesse Lazowski, founder of New York-based brand Marlo Laz, designs each of her creations to be future-proof. “Every piece of jewelry I make, I consider as an heirloom – and I design with that intention in mind,” she explains. Lazowski was also lucky to inherit some pieces from her great-grandparents, who were world travelers and spent a lot of time in Mexico in the late 1940s and early 1950s. “I inherited a turquoise and silver cuff from my great-grandma Ann, which fits me like a glove – we have the exact same wrist size. I was lucky enough to get to spend the first 10 years of my life with her; we played lots of Gin Rummy so, every time I wear it, I am reminded of her. I love that this piece from the 1940s/50s is still relevant today, and that it pairs so well with my Marlo Laz gold bangles to create the perfect stack.”
How, then, do we select jewels that will enjoy another life long after we are gone? “It’s important to choose something that will remain timeless and wearable,” says Edwina Hilton, fine-jewelry buyer at NET-A-PORTER. “Yellow gold will always endure; it is our most popular gold tone – although for a single-stone diamond design, I would suggest white gold or platinum,” she adds. “Diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires will always be the most popular gemstones that stand the test of time, but I love the idea of pearls, opals and other colored gems being passed down. It’s fascinating to understand why these might have been part of a person’s collection – and their significance.”
“I love pieces that have special engravings on the back – or customized elements, such as a birthstone, zodiac sign or initial – because they speak directly to the story of the person who passed them down,” agrees Lazowski. “Whenever I am at a dinner party, at some point the conversation inevitably turns to someone telling an anecdote about an heirloom they’re wearing – often paired with modern pieces,” she explains. “I love hearing those stories – and am a firm believer that the more scandalous the family member, the better.”