Must-Know Expert Tips for Sourcing and Passing Down Heirloom Jewelry

Jewelry & Fashion | PUBLISHED 08.11.21 | Jennifer Ventresca
Heirloom Jewelry | BRG

Every August 8, National Wear Your Mother's Jewelry Day occurs without much fanfare and without much notice. But this year, we got to thinking .... what might be so special about your mother's jewelry that it needs a day dedicated to it? That question led us to consider all jewelry from our forbears -- grandmothers, grandfathers, great grand parents, grand aunts and uncles. In other words ... which has been passed down from one generation to the next ... also known as heirloom jewelry. Thus this blog.

These days, finding heirloom and heirloom quality jewelry outside of your immediate family is relatively easy. Through fine auction houses, jewelry stores, jewelry resellers, estate liquidators, and even in select quality secondhand thrift stores, newbie collectors and veteran connoisseurs alike can source some truly remarkable heirloom jewelry.

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In addition to BRG’s own jewelry team lead by managing partner, Christie Spooner, we collaborated with other jewelry industry professionals on a handful of key questions to help you discover the specialness of heirloom jewelry and teach you how heirloom pieces make for excellent accessories to your personal collection.

Our jewelry collaborators include Stephen Sutton, manager of U.K. based Cry for the Moon; Nicole Corsini, marketing manager of Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry, based in San Francisco; and Erin LaCkore, owner and proprietor of LaCkore Couture.

What constitutes "heirloom" and "heirloom quality" jewelry pieces?

BRG: We consider pieces of true heirloom jewelry are those beautifully-crafted, sentimental and valuable antique and early vintage pieces which are passed down from one generation to the next -- typically going back two or more generations. They are timeless, multi-generational pieces that might be inherited when a loved one passes away or a keepsake piece of jewelry which is gifted from a personal collection to a beloved family member in order to mark a special occasion (wedding, baptism, birthday, engagement, etc.).

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Heirloom pieces may include necklaces, earrings, rings, bracelets, timepieces. In a broader sense, we also include headpieces (tiaras, hair combs, hairpins) and men’s fine accessories such as cufflinks, tie clips, money clips, etc. in the heirloom jewelry bucket. Furthermore, the jewelry piece itself must be able to hold its value — made of precious metal (gold, fine sterling silver, etc.) and it may contain precious gems such as diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, or “old-world” pearls.

Similarly, we also have what we consider "heirloom quality" jewelry. These are pieces that pretty much resemble true heirloom items, but perhaps do not have a history nor long-term provenance. In other words, they have not been passed through multiple generations .... yet!

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Stephen: Heirloom jewelry in our opinion is any item that has been passed down from one generation to the next along the family line. However, we try to consider items over 70 years, so pre-1950 as the more desirable items, with those dating even further back rarer and more valuable.

Nicole: When Lang Antiques thinks of heirloom jewelry pieces, we think of rings, bracelets, necklaces, charms, brooches, etc. that have been enjoyed for many years by their original owner and can now be passed down to the next generation who in turn can pass it down to the next generation. Heirloom jewelry is typically well-crafted using precious metals like platinum and gold. It often features diamonds and other gemstones like emeralds, rubies and sapphires and its overall quality sustains over time.

Erin: In general, every heirloom piece has four characteristics: it is precious (of high value), it tells a real story, it is historical (it goes back over two generations) and is resilient--time does not erode its value over time. Typically, they're of high quality, which is why they're called "heirloom quality."

What are some tips for buying heirloom jewelry?

BRG BlogBRG: First and foremost, buy what you love! Sometimes our customers love the jewelry because it is a stunning piece. Other times it’s because it reminds them of something or someone special. Occasionally it’s the story or provenance behind the piece that intrigues the buyer. Whatever it is, if the item speaks to you, if you love it, buy it.

As far as what characteristics a buyer should be looking for when considering a piece of heirloom (or heirloom quality) jewelry, buyers should consider quality of the item. How has it held-up to the test of time thus far and is it likely going to continue to hold-up for the foreseeable future? Check the stability and integrity of the piece (prongs on the setting, are any stones loose or missing, etc.). Are the gemstones old or mine cut or are they modern cut?

Stephen: Buying an Heirloom piece is such an individual decision. Are you buying for yourself to wear, or to invest? We always hope to wear, as these fine works of art which have lovingly stood the test of time and need to be worn and enjoyed now more than ever.

Quality and condition are the two key factors which are most important, which is why earrings & brooches last longer than rings and necklaces - as they get loose damage and wear.

A good test of age is the cut of gemstones. Old cut and mine cut diamonds, or native cut gem stones are very different than modern cut diamonds and gemstones each with their own beautiful character and charm.

Condition needs to be good as restoring an heirloom can be very costly, look for the setting on the stone - are they worn and low? Any signs of repair, blemishes in the metal, on pendants and earrings - look for wear on the rings or suspended items. If the article has lasted 50 years plus, the chances are that it has some age and wearing, but many items will have been worn very little and stored in cased boxes.

Nicole: Lang Antiques believes it is important to start with a reputable jeweler who specializes in vintage jewelry for they will have looked at a variety of pieces over the years so they will be able to speak knowledgeably about the various eras, hallmarking, provenance and value. We’ve been in business since 1969 and our staff is fluent in the language of heirloom jewelry so that our customers trust us and appreciate the experience we create.

Our tips are to look for hallmarks, maker’s marks, engravings, personalization markings and metal purity stamps. And be sure that the piece is in good condition for its age and can be supported with documentation like a gem report.

Erin: Heirlooms aren't created to be heirlooms, but if you wanted to, you could always have one made specifically to be passed down. When having heirloom quality jewelry made, follow these rules:

  • • Choose timeless pieces.

  • • Look for durable and quality materials.

  • • Select gemstones that are hard, such as sapphire, ruby, diamond, and morganite.

  • • Add a personal touch to a ring with a family gemstone or engraving. This will enhance the story and value of the piece.

​Do you have any insights on current heirloom jewelry "hot items" or trends?

BRG: Diamond jewelry is always on trend, but we are seeing an uptick in demand for gentlemen’s signet rings, which are rings with some sort of insignia emblazoned on its flat face (initials, family crest, words, or symbols). They were once used as a stamp or seal of approval. Here are some recent examples of signet rings we've handled...

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Additionally, we are seeing a rise in the popularity of “alternative” gemstone rings being used for engagement rings. For decades, diamonds have reigned supreme and have been the traditional "go-to" stone used in engagement rings. We are seeing an increase in heirloom rings comprised chiefly of sapphires, rubies, or emeralds taking the lead for engagement rings-of-choice by prospective couples over the diamond solitaire. It’s really nice to see. Take a look at any of the rings shown below and imagine how amazing it would be to have any one of these be your engagement ring!

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Stephen: Art Deco in rings still is the most sought after article we are asked for, and has been over the last 30 years.

The strong white metal of platinum and symmetrical design diamond set is reproduced in many modern rings still today, and pendant brooches / Victorian brooches of stars and circles continue to be popular, despite brooches being largely out of fashion. Branded jewelry by Cartier, Tiffany, Georg Jensen & Boucheron also have a large following, but with so many copies we always need to have accompanying documents or provenance.

Nicole: The classics, like wedding sets, lockets, charms, and medallions, are always in demand. We are seeing an increased interest in signet rings and charm bracelet these days. And we see customers repurposing charms as statement necklaces. Perhaps this is to look great on a Zoom call.

What is the most fun/unique/memorable piece of heirloom jewelry you've come across in your career?

BRG: Last year, we acquired an amazing diamond encrusted "en tremblant” brooch whose owners purportedly had ties to a very prominent European royal family (we are not at liberty to disclose the family). It was one of those pieces that you had to see firsthand — in person — to understand its true beauty. Our photos, although excellent, simply didn't capture the impressive sparklie refractions from each diamond on the piece. We even shot photos outside, which helped quite a bit, but it was simply one of those items best seen live. We still talk about this amazing piece of jewelry!

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Stephen: We have very recently bought and sold an amazing parcel of estate jewelry from a private family, of which the enclosed chandelier pearl and diamond earrings were sold. These large earrings in a cased original box have stood the test of time and prove quality shines through.

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Nicole: Nicole Corsini, Marketing Director for Lang Antiques, picked up the phone one day a few years ago to find a customer seeking to purchase a unique piece that was being showcased on the website. That pin was an Art Deco diamond turkey ring featuring a ruby for it swaddle and black onyx for the eyes. When Nicole found out that the gentleman headed the National Turkey Federation, the organization that provides the turkeys for 'pardon' by the President of the United States each Thanksgiving at the White House, she knew this piece had found its rightful home!

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A Georgian ring with the oldest inscription date I've seen so far at Lang:

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We always sell beautiful antique lockets at Lang, and this one is fun because it still has the original photos and an inscription (in German) on the back.

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Do you have any other sage advice/anecdotes about heirloom jewelry?

BRG BlogBRG: If you’re looking to buy an heirloom jewelry item, we’ll revisit and expand a little on what we mentioned earlier … buy what you love. We will also add, that you should look for a trusted jewelry reseller who has the right team in place to properly investigate the jewelry they are selling and who present those pieces with integrity. Do a little research (ask friends for referrals, look online, etc.).

If you are considering a new family tradition of passing down a special piece to someone you love as a future family heirloom, choose something that is not only meaningful to you but something which will also stand that test of time.

If you have inherited a piece of heirloom jewelry which you no longer wish to keep, have not plans of passing on to someone else, or simply want to sell, contact a trusted estate jewelry professional to handle the sale.

Lastly, be sure to take proper care of your heirloom jewelry. Clean it carefully without using harsh chemicals and store it in a safe place.

Stephen: When buying heirloom jewelry, buy from someone you trust and that has a strong and experienced team in the jewelry they sell. No one can tell the whole story, but a passion and enthusiasm for the period and heirloom market is as important as the quality of the items purchased.

Condition and quality must be the number one thought. It's lasted perhaps 50-200 years. You can make it last just as long again, but be kind to the jewelry don’t wear it to the gym or gardening. Remove when baking or playing sports ... the amount of bent rings we see from golfers is crazy!

Nicole: Heirloom jewelry should always speak to you and reflect your personal taste for if enjoyed by future generations, it will show what you loved, appreciated and your personal style.

About our collaborators

The Jewelry Team at BRG

Black Rock Galleries' jewelry department is spearheaded by Christie Spooner, managing partner of BRG. Christie's team of gemologists include a GIA graduate gemologist, expert on watches and timepieces, and a geologist-mineralogist who also specializes in gemology. Christie, a soon-to-be certified gemologist in her own right has had a lifelong passion for jewelry, gemstones, and jewelry appraisal. Since first embarking on the creation of BRG as a preeminent estate liquidation company, she has built and grown BRG's current team into one of the finest secondhand jewelry teams in the region.

Stephen Sutton, Cry for the Moon

BRG BlogStephen has managed Cry for the Moon since 2011, and in his own words has ‘one of the best jobs going’. With over 30 years’ experience in the industry, having started at H Samuel and later Goldsmith Group, AE Halfhides in Wimbledon and GC Collins & Sons – Stephen had managed four different jewelry shops before Cry for the Moon. Stephen has multiple industry-qualifications including a Retail Jewelers’ Diploma and a Certificate of Gemology from the Gemmological Society of Great Britain.

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Nicole Corsini, Lang Antique & Estate Jewelry

Nicole joined Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry in 2013 and serves as their Marketing Manager, which allows her to combine her lifetime interest in vintage jewelry with her background in corporate retail. She loves being able to spread the word about the largest collection of antique and estate jewelry in the United States and is active in the San Francisco chapter of the GIA Alumni group, the Women's Jewelry Association, and GemX.

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Erin LaCkore, LaCkore Couture

BRG BlogErin LaCkore is the founder and proprietor of LaCkore Couture. She began making jewelry as a child and perfected her craft into her college years. Throughout her career as a therapist, high school counselor, and mom, Erin used her jewelry-making as a creative outlet and hobby. Although she loved counseling, she decided to pursue her true passion — jewelry — and created LaCkore Couture in 2014.

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Keywords: estate jewelry, heirloom, heirloom jewelry

Must-Know Expert Tips for Sourcing and Passing Down Heirloom Jewelry. Black Rock Galleries provides high end estate liquidation services through online estate auctions and a 50,000 sq ft designer showroom. estate liquidator, estate sale, online auction, antiques, fine art, liquidation, clean outs, auction, consignment, interior design, fine jewelry, collectibles, appraisals, estate appraisals, estate services, decor, furniture, furniture consignment, antique center, consignment shop. We offer appraisal services and specialize in fine art, jewelry, antiques and decorative arts. Sell with us. Black Rock Galleries is the tri-state's largest estate liquidator serving New England and the greater New York City area. We are the trusted source for expert appraisals, auction services, estate sales, and consignments. Black Rock Galleries is the east coast's largest and most trusted estate liquidator, with locations in Connecticut, greater Boston, MA and Raleigh, NC, Fairfield, Southport, Apex, TX. We are the best source for expert appraisals, auction services, estate sales and consignments. We have served thousands of families and estates with compassion, professionalism and expertise. BRG works with attorneys, executors, realtors and families to bring the greatest return on personal and estate property in the current market. Our unique combination of services make us the easy choice to get the job done in a timely and stress-free manner. We are with you from the initial consultation to the final clean out. Our house-built online auction software platform offers clients a dynamic approach to liquidating their personal property. This venue is most successful in bringing the best return with the least amount of disruption for our clients. See our services page for a complete description of this offering. Must-Know Expert Tips for Sourcing and Passing Down Heirloom Jewelry
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