Creating an Heirloom

You may already possess a beautiful family heirloom… perhaps your great-grandmother's pearls, a great-aunt's brooch, or an antique ring that has been in your family for decades. If so, you undoubtedly cherish it. An heirloom can be a profound connection to your history. If it happens to be jewelry, it provides a tangible link to your female ancestors. If you are lucky enough to have something passed down to you, you may fantasize about one day passing it down to your own child.

However, what if there is no family heirloom? If this is the case, don't feel left out. Many families are no longer in possession of precious heirlooms for various reasons; they may have been broken, misplaced, or left behind. While you may not be able to wear a family heirloom on your wedding day, there is no reason why you shouldn't create one for your own children and grandchildren. The following are some guidelines on how to create an heirloom.

Choosing The Piece

An heirloom has been defined as anything of special value handed down from one generation to another. It isn't always a piece of jewelry; in fact, it can be anything from a silver tea set to a patchwork quilt -- whatever the family deems to have value and sentiment. The emotional connection family members have with the heirloom is what makes it valuable. However, as the bride (or perhaps mother-of-the-bride), you are in a position to create an heirloom for generations of brides to come. Why not choose something they will wear on their wedding day? Jewelry is the perfect choice, although there are alternatives, such as a sterling silver compact (possibly engraved) or an exquisite bag to have with you at the reception. If you choose wisely, your heirloom will be something the women in your family will be proud to pass down.

Quality And Style

When selecting jewelry to pass down to your children and grandchildren, look for classic style, solid structure, and fine quality that will stand the test of time. A funky piece of costume jewelry will probably be dated within a year, much less several decades. Even a glittering tiara, regardless of its beauty, will go in and out of style in bridal fashion throughout the coming years. Instead, choose something traditional that may be worn for years. A cultured pearl necklace is a perfect example of a timeless piece. Look at old photos of your mother and grandmother if you have any doubts -- some styles never change. The general rule: think timeless, not trendy.

If you choose a diamond, be it a pendant or a ring, go for traditional shapes and lines. While there is a multitude of diamond cuts available today, the round cut is probably the most traditional, according to both Tiffany's and Zales. Aside from rings and pendants, the tennis bracelet has been in vogue for years. As for earrings, classic diamond studs (round cut) are unwavering classics, and diamond studs with pearl drops also make a stunning, enduring choice.

When choosing a brooch, one jeweler noted that diamonds and pearls have remained popular through the decades, with floral, wreath, or bow designs being the most timeless. While heart shapes are popular, one jeweler warned that heart designs change considerably over time (think of Elsa Peretti's heart shapes); therefore, there is a slight risk that they may look dated in the future.

What To Ask Your Jeweler

When selecting a piece of jewelry, it's a good idea to tell the jeweler that you intend for it to become a family heirloom. If you have an ethnic background you would like to honor, ask if there is a particular stone or precious metal that is traditional in that culture. For example, in some Asian countries, jade is highly prized, and might make a beautiful, symbolic choice.

Another question to ask is what kind of warranty comes with the piece. If you buy a diamond bracelet that has a "lifetime guarantee," find out if the guarantee is good as long as the receipt is kept. If so, your daughter, or even granddaughter, may be able to have it repaired or replaced.

Finally, don't forget to ask the jeweler which styles have come and gone quickly, and what designs have sustained fashion's changes over time.

The following are some suggestions several jewelers concur will be around for years to come:

  • A Pearl Necklace
  • Pearl Earrings
  • A Diamond Ring
  • A Diamond Pendant
  • Diamond Stud Earrings
  • A Brooch (diamond, pearl, platinum/diamond)
  • A Diamond Tennis Bracelet
  • A Platinum or Gold Band

Unique Heirlooms, Personal Touches

As a bride, you may wish to create something with a personal touch to be worn on your wedding day. If so, consider purchasing a fine quality charm bracelet, and add a single charm that is meaningful to you. As the bracelet is passed down to other brides in your family, they can each add their own charms until the bracelet is full. The bracelet will not only be exceptionally unique, but each charm will link the heir to her ancestors (you included!).

A classic gold or platinum band also lends itself well to personal touch. Have your initials engraved on the inside of the ring. As you pass the ring down, each heiress will inscribe her own initials, until the band is completely encircled with letters. When the ring becomes full, another band can be added, and the engraving can begin again.

Creating an heirloom takes a great deal of thought, but what a timeless way to connect with your loved ones, and to link yourself forever to the women in your clan. If nothing else, the heirloom you create will allow a part of you to be present at your great, great, great-granddaughter's wedding. What's more, the deep emotion you felt when you wore it for the very first time will live on forever.

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