Heirloom Engagement Ring Etiquette: Should You Accept The Ring?

What to do when the nostalgia hits.
Heirloom engagement ring
Photo: TorriPhoto | Shutterstock
Elle Cashin headshot
Elle Cashin
Elle Cashin headshot
Elle Cashin
The Knot Fashion Contributor
  • Elle writes for The Knot online with a focus on fashion, covering gown design trends and shoppable accessories.
  • Elle is a contributor to wedding publications across the country, including Brides, The New York Times Vows and Modern Luxury Weddings.
  • Prior to shifting to weddings, Elle covered lifestyle, culture and celebrity across Chicago as the editor of the Chicago Tribune’s SPLASH magazine, where she interviewed cele...
Updated Jan 29, 2024

For many brides, a shiny engagement ring is their "something new"—but sometimes, it can be a beautiful "something old" instead. If your family or your partner's family has passed down a cherished ring, the heirloom piece can mark the start of a new generation of love. There is some heirloom engagement ring etiquette to be aware of, though, especially when it comes to accepting the ring and deciding whether to wear it as is or reset it into a more modern style.

One jeweler known for resetting heirloom pieces is San Diego-based Marrow Fine. Founder Jillian Sassone recently walked us through the process of resetting an heirloom engagement ring, and we asked her to weigh in on the etiquette around the topic, as well. Keep reading to learn more about heirloom pieces and exactly how to accept them during a proposal—or not.

What is an Heirloom Engagement Ring?

By definition, an heirloom engagement ring has been passed down through a family for generations, whether it be on the proposer's or the proposee's side. Heirloom and vintage are oft-confused terms; the main difference is that an heirloom piece holds special meaning to its wearer. "Most heirlooms could be considered vintage or potentially antique depending on how old they are and the design era," Sassone explains, "but not all vintage pieces are heirlooms. Provenance is key! Where did the piece come from?"

And, while we typically associate heirlooms with the past, consider the future: One day, your ring will be an heirloom. "History has to start somewhere, and whether the piece is new or vintage, the history is starting with you—which is also pretty neat," Sassone says. "That's something we like to envision with almost every single piece we create for our clients. One day, these pieces will be heirlooms, and we want them to have that 'something special' allure, and be durable enough to withstand getting there, too."

Etiquette for Accepting an Heirloom Engagement Ring

Accepting an heirloom engagement ring can mark a beautiful milestone in your new life together. Especially if the piece comes from your partner's side, there is some etiquette for accepting an heirloom piece. First and foremost, show gratitude. The tradition of passing down wedding rings is an important one, and by offering you a piece of their family history, he or she is welcoming you into the family. Ask questions, find out the story and history behind the piece and who it belonged to, and be respectful of the deep meaning imbued in it. Regardless of whether the ring is to your taste, there is beauty and history within it.

So, what if it's not to your taste? You can consider resetting the heirloom ring—but there are right and wrong ways to approach that, too. "Before broaching the subject, I recommend completing a little bit of homework to help you effortlessly navigate the situation," Sassone says. "Ask some questions about the history of the piece—if it's been handed down generation after generation or is tied to some serendipitous story. Don't forget: You know your partner better than anyone, so go with your gut when broaching the subject. If there's some hesitation, you can explore changing the style and personalizing the heirloom before committing to a full rework."

All of the above said, if you are the one proposing with an heirloom, feel your partner out first—maybe even show him or her the ring in advance! That way, there will be much less awkwardness during the big moment if the ring is not what they would have chosen.

When Not to Accept an Heirloom Engagement Ring

There are circumstances in which you might not accept an heirloom ring—the primary one being if you don't like it. If you've had the dreaded thought, "I hate my heirloom engagement ring," you can explore other options, such as resetting. There's no shame in asking for what you want since you'll be wearing this piece forever. "For some brides, the opportunity to wear a family heirloom is something they've looked forward to all their lives, but for others, they are excited to showcase their style," Sassone says. "As sentimental as heirloom rings are, the bride-to-be should want to wear this ring every single day. If she envisioned something different for her engagement ring (and reworking won't give the desired result), this can present a new opportunity to [turn the piece into something else]: a 'something blue' or 'something old' piece to wear on your wedding day, for example." But it all comes back to gratitude. "The passing down of an heirloom is a very special act," Sassone says. "So, regardless of the outcome, expressing how grateful and touched you are by the gesture and their thoughtfulness is important."

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