Jewelry reno: Old bands, new music

Few items of jewelry reach obsolescence as noticeably as wedding jewelry, especially the matchy engagement/wedding ring set, which is what many women wore when their first dance was to The Carpenters:

Yet, women are reluctant to update, even if the rings clash with the jewelry they wear today. "But it's the one we made vows with", they say, as if an update would cancel the commitment. I see restyling as a renewal, not an erasure. And if you never tied the knot, read on; you might inherit someone else's rings.

My friend Nancy, a noted food stylist (click and you'll be drooling over more than her jewelry!) showed me her truly personal reno: four rings made from cherished vintage material, restyled with new silver and new and recycled gold. 

She kept her original wedding band, and created a casually elegant selection of new rings by repurposing her engagement ring (a classic claw-set diamond that was once her husband Marvin's mother's), several rubies and an emerald Marv brought back from a trip to Thailand, and gold and a diamond from her mother's wedding jewelry. 

Here, with her generous permission, is a peek at her lavish collection. (Yeah, Nance, you're stacked!)

From left to right: Nance's original wedding ring, now over 35 years old; the two rubies (originally set as earrings that she never really wore), and her ER diamond.

Here's the emerald, mixed in:

And the newest addition, below: her mother's diamond, shown between the rubies. Nance says, "I love that both mothers are with me."

She mixes and moves the rings at whim, the jewelry equivalent of the perfect wardrobe, where everything works together. 

Her rings were made over several years by Toronto jeweler Willa Drummond.  She chose silver for the band section of the ruby and diamond rings, and gold for the bezels, where strength and durability are essential. The result: a playful, modern mix that echoes Nance's vibrant style.

About commissioning work, Nance says: "Sometimes people feel obliged to like what the artist created, but there is no amount of consulting, drafting or illustrating that can guarantee complete happiness once the object becomes tangible. Our minds work differently and communication is the only way to get what you want."

The most recent, the square-bezel diamond, was begun last June and was on her finger in December. Ms. Drummond worked through several adjustments, noting that "the best results are found with patience and honest communication."

When "I do" becomes "I don't"

Since at least a third of the unions from the '80s did not endure, some women have ex-rings. If that's your situation, you could re-use the material, assuming you took a different route than my friend Lorri's sister, Janet, who hurled her Chaumet band into Venice's Grand Canal, shouting "Arrivederci, Jimmy!"

While stacking rings also suit the single life—just swap the wedding ring out—another option is to make one beautiful new ring. A design like Mallary Marks' French Horn ring provides a home for a diamond that originally perched in a classic Tiffany style. (You would add the small second diamond):

Nance is reno-ready for more than rings: "My next project is to redesign a pair of garnet earrings my mum gave me for my 19th birthday.  We will be incorporating a tiny diamond as well as converting a stud to a hook that will hang, but not dangle, just below my lobe."

I'll ask if we can see those, too!


materfamilias said…
So good of your friend to let us have a peek -- this might be the most inspiring jewelry reno I've seen here! Such a simple, striking, and versatile arrangement, and each ring on its own is gorgeous as well.
Susan B said…
Love those stacking rings, one of the best and most wearable repurposing I've seen. Thanks to her (and you) for sharing. I've never been sorry I re-designed my engagement ring to something more unique and updated.
LauraH said…
Those rings are stunning! I'm not a ring-wearing person but if anything could convert me, it would be a design like this, simple yet rich. Very inspirational. Thanks to your friend for sharing.
SewingLibrarian said…
Thank you for this post. I've been wondering what to do with my mother's engagement ring.
Duchesse said…
Sewing: You knew this comment would make me intensely interested, didn't you, impish librarian? There are many things you can do, and as Nancy notes, the sentiment is still present- even more so, since the rings are worn every day. If you do reno the ring, I am begging for a photo.
Sarah said…
This is very inspiring. I haven't been able to wear my engagement and wedding band in years due to a metal allergy. I would love to have the stones put into an updated ring! Do you have any advice on how to find a good jewelry artist? I live in the Dallas, TX area, so there must be someone nearby, but how do you figure out if they are good?
Duchesse said…
paisleyapron: Great! The way you do that is to look for jewelers in Dallas (web sites, art or craft shows, business directories) and then visit to check out their work in person. The term "jeweler" can be used by anyone, and a quick search of your area turned up a lot of branded uh, stuff, so I suggest you call the Craft Guild of Dallas, who have a Metalsmithing and Jewelry Studio, to inquire how to find an artisan for your project.

Visit the jeweler's studio or shop to see if his or her aesthetic sense appeals to you. Once you have found such a jeweler, meet to discuss your requirements and budget. He or she will usually present you with a general idea, and then to go further requires spending some money... sometimes the quote includes materials and design fee, and sometimes the design fee is folded in.

A good way to express what you like is to start a Pinterest board or notebook of designs you like.

But also, if you see a designer's website (such as Willa Drummond) in another locale, you can also work via Skype, very successfully. I'm doing that now with a jeweler.

I assume you will discuss your metal allergy from the start. Here is a good article, but in short, platinum, which is also the most durable, will be a contender.

And of course we would love to see the redesign!
Duchesse said…
paisleyapron: Just realized I wrote two posts about this very question:
Restyling Jewelry Part One: Where Your Money Goes

Restyling Jewelry Part Two: Design Ideas

Hope that's helpful!
Sarah said…
That is super helpful. Thank you for your reply. Last night I piled up all the jewelry I inherited or was given as gifts and never have worn and got super excited at the possibilities. I will be sure to send pictures when my reno is complete!
Jane in London said…
Oh, what lovely rings! A terrific reno with a truly stylish result.

I also did something in the stacking vein - though without any reno. One day when in West Wales, I was struck by lovely one-of-a-kind silver stacking rings displayed in a case at a jewellery atelier. I bought three of them; a deep red cabochon garnet, a soft blue cabochon opal and a zingy green gem-cut peridot. All have rub-over settings. They are good quality both in terms of materials and workmanship, but weren't costly.

My engagement ring is a square-cut diamond solitaire with a high pavilion setting, and both bands are simple platinum with a slightly squared-off profile. When admiring my new purchases that night, I realised that they would play very nicely indeed with my wedding and engagement rings (all of the bands are the same width and profile, and my diamond sits neatly above any adjoining ring).

On those days when I want something a bit different, I have fun playing with combos!

SewingLibrarian said…
Duchesse, I certainly will show you my renovated ring when I finally get something accomplished with it. Having looked at websites of local jewelers, I think it's time to explore local craftspeople and out-of-town options as you suggest. So I'll be studying your suggested blog posts for ideas. By the way, my mother did have her diamond reset in the seventies after the ring's bottom wore through from 30+ years of daily wear. But I think she used a ready made setting that the jeweler brought in from a wholesaler. Although I've worn the ring on my right hand occasionally, I've never warmed to it. My mom would tell me to redo it, I'm sure. It took me a long time to realize my dad was the sentimentalist in their marriage!
Mardel said…
Wonderful post and it has reminded me that I am still wondering what to do with my rings. My original engagement ring was restyled into a contemporary setting that I still adore, but which I don't really like on my right hand. But my 20th anniversary emerald is bezel set, and could play nicely as part of a set of stacking rings, if I went that route. Certainly worth a thought, and it may be getting to be time that those rings came out of a box and became something new.
Verna Ford said…
I think you're right. The ring is a symbol of the commitment one person makes to another so to renew the ring is to renew to commitment. It's not like you update the ring and suddenly the emotional bond is gone! I love your new rings. I think they are brilliant and they reflect the life you've lived.

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