The traditions of a wedding and the bonding of two families are some of the most sacred elements of becoming engaged, and heirloom rings embody that familial connection. Procuring heirlooms can be difficult, however, and couples should approach the topic carefully.
Types of Heirloom Rings
While antique rings are common heirlooms, family rings can come from many sources, including:
- Relatives other than direct familial lines, such as an aunt, cousin or step family.
- Rings other than wedding or engagement rings, such as an anniversary ring or just a favorite sentimental ring.
- Rings crafted from unused jewelry such as a brooch, hair pins or bracelet that may have lost gems or become damaged over the years.
- Split rings where one heirloom is divided to create multiple new rings.
The designs for heirloom rings are as unlimited as contemporary motifs. Older rings tend to be heavier than modern pieces, and art deco patterns typically use more metal, and colored gems instead of diamonds. On the other hand, there is no age requirement for an heirloom ring; it is simply passed from one family member to another with love and encouragement, and it may only be a few years old depending on where it originates from.
Choosing an Heirloom Ring
Finding an heirloom may be easy; many people know for years how special their parents' marriage is and have dreamed of presenting their beloved the same ring to bring good fortune to their own union. But when trying to unite two families, it can be difficult to overcome emotional issues and choose a single ring to represent both sides.
Choosing the Family
Deciding which family should have the honor of passing on the ring is often the hardest part of choosing heirloom ring. If only one individual has a sentimental attachment to their family's ring, the choice is easy, but if both individuals have dreamed of a family ring becoming the symbol of their impending union, there can be several factors that can help the couple choose which ring to request.
- The ring that has a longer family history - from a great-grandmother as opposed to an aunt, for example - may be the more sentimental choice.
- The ring that symbolizes a deceased family member may be the more heartfelt option.
- The ring with a closer personal connection, such as a ring that a son always saw his mother wearing as opposed to the ring a daughter only saw in her mother's jewelry box, may be a better choice.
- The ring with a more suitable shape, size and design for the bride-to-be may be the best fit.
- The ring from a more interconnected family - one that stays in touch and heartily welcomes the new couple - may be a more fitting endearment.
Ultimately, the decision of which ring to choose should fall to the bride-to-be. After all, it will be the ring she wears. If she doesn't like it or it doesn't suit to her style, it can breed discontentment and family alienation. At the same time, if both families were eager to pass along an heirloom, be sure to explain the decision and include the other family in a different way - perhaps by choosing other symbolic jewelry from them, such as the "something borrowed" or "something old" for the wedding ceremony itself. That forethought will help dispel feelings of ill-will and let the couple's engagement proceed with warm wishes and support.
Care must always be taken when asking permission to use heirloom engagement rings - never assume you will be allowed to use a family member's ring.
- First, the couple should meet and spend time with the ring's current owner.
- When the time for the proposal nears, the groom-to-be (or bride-to-be if she plans to propose) should meet with the ring's owner in a comfortable location. During that meeting, it is customary to describe your feelings for your beloved and how honored you would be if you could use the ring to ask that most important question.
- If the owner needs time to consider your request, do not pressure them to hand over what may indeed be a very special piece of jewelry in their lives. Giving up an heirloom can be just as emotional as presenting it to someone else on bended knee.
- If they agree, thank them and express how much this means to you and your soon-to-be spouse.
- If necessary, arrange to have the ring cleaned, repaired or resized if needed.
Caring for Heirloom Rings
Heirloom rings should be cared for as meticulously as any engagement ring. Pay particular attention to antique or vintage rings that may need gentler treatment, and be sure to appraise and insure the ring promptly to safeguard against loss or damage.
- Clean the ring as soon as you get it and inspect it for any damage, flaws or imperfections.
- Get any problems taken care of right away so they aren't exacerbated over time.
- If your jeweler offers a program with regular inspections, be sure to continue this service.
- Arrange for proper storage if you aren't planning on presenting or wearing the ring right away.
Many couples hesitate to use heirloom rings because they are concerned the recipient won't like it. The ring, however, is not the most important factor - the sentiment behind it is. Not only does an heirloom represent the couple's love and commitment, but it also represents the love and acceptance of a family.
If the ring's design is truly inappropriate, it can be returned without hard feelings. The heirloom can be used only for the proposal and then returned to its owner (with thanks and appreciation) while the couple chooses a more appropriate style. It may also be possible to reset the stones into a more suitable design, thereby blending the old with the new to create a new heirloom.
Unfortunately, not every engagement works out. If you choose to break off the relationship, remember that the ring's original owner may want it back. In many cases, couples are happy to return the ring without argument. If the ring is exceedingly valuable, however, it may be wise to draw up a legal prenuptial agreement that stipulates its return if the engagement is broken or the marriage eventually dissolves. This precaution is particularly valuable if the ring comes from the groom's family, as it will be given to his beloved and could potentially pass out of the family if the relationship does not work out.
Continue the Tradition
Heirloom engagement rings symbolize far more than just one relationship, they embody generations of love, support and commitment, and help continue those traditions on through many happy anniversaries. Consider giving or wearing an heirloom ring if one is available to capture and continue those traditions.