Jewelry & Watches

The Subtle Art of Redesigning Heirloom Gems

Manila’s top jewelers talk to us about what it takes to repurpose cherished heirlooms.
IMAGE COURTESY OF NICOLE WHISENHUNT
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In French, the bijoux de remploi is the ingenious art of finding ‘diamonds in the rough’ among one’s vintage treasures and making them completely new. The metamorphosis is often quite striking when heirloom baubles get primped and preened into contemporary classics that become truly covetable to modern eyes. 

It’s an age-old practice that’s likewise favored by royalty, as when Prince Harry proposed to Meghan Markle with a ring made of an ethically sourced center stone from Botswana, flanked by diamonds from Princess Diana’s personal collection. Kate Middleton has also worn jewelry from the Princess of Wales, with the latter’s sapphire earrings refashioned into more modest drops by the Duchess. It’s a gesture filled with sentimentality and weaves family history and motherly love in with these most beloved modern romances. 

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On a much grander scale, tiaras are at times, also made from royal family jewels. Take for example the beautiful art deco style Lotus Flower Tiara, which was originally a Garrard necklace gifted to the Queen Mum by her husband, the future King George VI, for their wedding. Princess Sofia of Sweden’s Emerald Palmette Tiara enjoys a similar story, having been fashioned from a necklace owned by her mother-in-law, Queen Silvia. It was first seen on the former model when she wed Prince Carl Philip, and she has worn it many times since sometimes replacing the emeralds with pearl or diamond toppers.

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Aside from honoring heritage and emotional connections, repurposing old jewelry is also quite practical. Jeweler Janina Dizon shares “If you have diamonds and existing gold, it’s so easy to work with it and add onto them rather than having to buy new [materials]. Not to mention, the price is [usually cheaper].” Kristine Dee adds, “Another benefit to redesigning heirloom jewelry is that you are able to update the look of the pieces, and be able to wear them every day. Sometimes they look really old, and you don’t want to wear them anymore. But jewelry must be worn and not kept in cabinets and vaults. We need to enjoy them!” 

A creative jeweler would have no trouble transforming large jewelry into many smaller pieces that many members of the family can enjoy, or alternatively incorporating various found objects into one statement piece. But it’s not just old gemstones and gold one can repurpose. Bulgari has been using ancient coins from Greece, Rome, and Persia and turning them into haute joallierie for its Monete line for decades.  

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Given today’s fast pace, it’s a luxury to truly be able to enjoy fine gems, especially those with a bit of history. Reincarnating old sparklers is also much more sustainable, as fewer metals and stones would have to be mined from the earth. With a respectful nod to the past, but a stylish grip on the present, it’s no wonder the truly discerning have taken a fancy to upcycling beloved, but sometimes overlooked family jewels. Here we talk to five jewelers who talk to us about how they give old gems a new lease on life.

Kristine Dee

For Dee, it’s all about crafting accoutrements that will best enhance a client’s features, and suit her lifestyle. “I would want to meet them, and see what their face shape is, hairstyle, or body type, and of course I want to see the jewelry pieces they want me to redesign. From there, I can proceed to make something that is proportionate to them…because each of us is different.” Of course, these vintage stunners are given a huge helping of Dee’s sophisticated aesthetic, which is both soft and feminine but with an irrefutable strength. The resulting pieces are idiosyncratic, just like the strong, confident women she designs for. And by crafting bespoke pieces that honor heritage but are created especially for the wearer, it elevates one’s family heirlooms and allows it to be enjoyed by current and future generations.  

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For more information, visit http://kristinedee.com or her Instagram at @kristinedeejewellery.

Janina Dizon

When working on jewelry revamping projects, Janina Dizon starts by first assessing all of her client’s jewels. She advises them as to which pieces they shouldn’t touch, which ones they can have redone, or which ones are too delicate to be redesigned. “Certain gemstones are fragile, like emeralds for example. Small tapered diamonds are tricky, and for pearls, it depends on their luster.” And while some projects involve a massive stylish overhaul, it isn’t always so complicated. Dizon shares, “some are just as easy as plating it another color of gold. And sometimes, giving jewelry new life can be just as easy as changing the centerpiece stones.”

One example of how a small change can have a massive impact was when she worked on Anne Curtis Smith’s moonstone ring from her father, which the actress had wanted to wear to her New Zealand wedding as her “something old.” The moonstone of the antique was cracked and the gold ring a little too delicate, but by strengthening the sides of the stone, the precious family gem was able to make it to Anne’s big day.

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For more information, visit janinadizon.com or her Instagram.com/janina_dizon.

Erica Concepcion Reyes

For Erica Concepcion Reyes of Riqueza Jewelry, it’s all about the beautiful memories associated with these bygone treasures. “Heirloom jewelry tells stories and owning something that has been passed on to you helps you feel connected to your family.” She recalls one particular project wherein her client came in with all her trinkets, from college rings to baby earrings to gifts given by her husband during their courtship days. Reyes then set out to create a unique charm neckline that has become a beautiful keepsake of important milestones and moments in her client’s life.

When working with her patrons, she first suggests that they restore their vintage pieces, which includes cleaning said pieces, repairing them and securing loose stones if needed. If the clients are set on a redesign though, she would work with them to create bespoke jewelry that they can love and cherish.

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For more information, email [email protected] or visit Instagram.com/@riquezajewellery.

Paul Syjuco

“There are a lot more things to consider when redesigning heirlooms,” declares Paul Syjuco. “Aside from the sentimental value, and the state of the materials, the new design has to give a nod to the old or incorporate some kind of memento, on top of the client’s personal style of course.” It’s a fine line the experienced jeweler expertly treads, whipping out baubles akin to modern sculptures whilst honoring the legacy of jewels past. “It somehow [also] adds to the story of the jewelry pieces, and how they have evolved through generations within the family.”

For more information, visit paulsyjuco.com or Instagram.com/paulsyjuco. 

Nicole Whisenhunt

Nicole Whisenhunt is no stranger to redesign projects, with 70 to 80 percent of her everyday work having something to do with reworking old gems. Sometimes she claims it’s as simple as changing the color from yellow to white and vice versa, to give pieces a fresh new spin. Other times, she goes back to the drawing board and concocts something from scratch. As an added bonus, these reworked pieces can even be worn in more ways than one, as is the case with Nicole’s interchangeable earrings. With her keen eye for design and creativity, it’s no wonder her clients can’t get enough of her makeover magic.

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For more information, email [email protected] or visit Instagram.com/nicolewhisenhunt.

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