Like a favorite family recipe or a book you read as a child, jewelry often holds many more memories than its small, exquisite forms would lead you to believe. Jewelry may be created for adornment, but it so often comes to express much more than the merely aesthetic. Pieces passed down through generations are solid reminders of the stories behind them — adventures in far off lands, marriages, milestones, accomplishments. And while it’s these memories that make certain pieces special, as often happens if you wait long enough, the designs themselves will come back into style (just another endearing charm of heirloom jewelry). Here, we’ve tapped our editors to share their treasured pieces and asked our resident gemology expert, Fine Jewelry & Watches Pricing & Authenticity Manager Anna Rasche, to give her insight into the history behind them.
Toni Lessler Mills, Fashion Writer & Editor
Can you describe each of your pieces? A jade pendant necklace, a white gold and diamond ring guard/enhancer, and a matching ring and earring set with pearls and yellow gold.
What are the stories behind your pieces? All three pieces were passed down to me after my grandmother passed away a couple years ago. She had an amazing jewelry collection and I can recall playing around with her pieces when I was young. The diamond ring guard/enhancer was actually her wedding band that she bought herself after moving to America and getting a job. My mom noticed that it was a perfect fit with my own engagement ring so she asked me if I would like to keep it as a memory from her. It’s beautiful and sits nicely with my own vintage ring that I picked out with my husband. I’m not sure where the jade necklace is from but I know it was one of her favorite stones. The pearl ring and earring set has been in my family for a few generations. We think they’re from either Barcelona or the Philippines.
How often do you wear your heirloom pieces and how do you style them? I wear the diamond ring on special occasions when I feel like adding a little more bling to my look. I’m usually pretty minimal with jewelry so I have to have a really simple outfit to want to wear anything with it. I actually haven’t had a chance to wear the other two pieces, but now that I’ve seen them on me I will definitely make more of an effort to tie them into my look. It’s a special thing to have something that was owned and cared for by someone you love.
Our Gemologist’s Take: Historically the term ‘jade’ has been used to refer to two different gems: jadeite and nephrite. This pendant looks to be jadeite, which is generally considered more precious and rare than nephrite.
Taylor Crawley, Merchandise Coordinator
Can you describe each of your pieces? Both rings are sterling silver — the signet ring has a green turquoise cabochon and the Tiffany x Elsa Peretti bypass ring is a classic style by the designer, dating back to the 1970s.
What are the stories behind your pieces? Both rings are from my grandmother, who loves collecting jewelry, specifically from Mexico and the American Southwest ca. 1960 – 1980. The signet was purchased on a trip to Mexico in the 1960s. I used to spend hours sorting through her collection and these two rings always stood out!
How often do you wear your heirloom pieces and how do you style them? I wear both rings almost every day on my right hand, side-by-side — the signet on my ring finger, and the Tiffany on my pinky.
Our Gemologist’s Take: When Elsa Peretti jewelry was first introduced at Tiffany & Co. in 1974 her pieces sold out in a single day!
Lauren Reilly, Merchandise Manager
Can you describe your piece? This ring is a collection of rubies on a net-like base.
What is the story behind your piece? I inherited this ring from my aunt, a woman of great taste and a very educated collector! I only know that it was a gift of importance to her, which makes me feel grateful for owning it.
How often do you wear your heirloom piece and how do you style it? I rarely wear jewelry, so I always wear the ring alone, but I like what it does to dress up a simple look like jeans and a knit or a tunic-style dress. It’s also a great talking piece!
Our Gemologist’s Take: This is a great statement piece and I’m sure she will be hard-pressed to find anyone else with exactly the same ring. As a bonus this one is set with lovely red rubies, which Burmese tradition holds will make the wearer invincible to their enemies.
Lauren Bradshaw, Editorial Director
Can you describe each of your pieces? The metal earrings are early ’90s, I believe. I don’t think they’re very high-end, just fun costume, so probably gold and silver-plated. The brooches are probably from the ’40s, but I’m not totally positive, and the 14K signet pinky ring is from the ’70s.
What are the stories behind your pieces? My mom almost gave away these earrings when editing her jewelry box! I claimed them instead, and now I wear them almost every day. They remind me a little bit of a Calder mobile — I love the sculptural aspect. My mom received this signet ring engraved with her initials as a college graduation gift from her aunt. It’s not my normal ring size, but it makes the perfect pinky ring and makes me think about that time in the ’70s — what was she like back then? There’s a sense of nostalgia attached to it that feels special. I remember going through my grandmother’s jewelry box and playing with her brooches when I was little. They were the piece of jewelry I always associated with her, so when she passed, it was important for me to hold onto them. Even though they mainly sit in my jewelry box, I love seeing them every time I open it to be reminded of her.
How often do you wear your heirloom pieces and how do you style them? I wear the signet ring and the earrings almost every day! The earrings make the perfect statement piece for work, and the signet ring has become a signature piece for me — they also just happen to be in style right now!
Our Gemologist’s Take: 1940s sounds correct for these brooches — there was a revival of Victorian styles after WWII, so here we see very romantic motifs rendered in materials like pearls, yellow gold and shell cameos that were first popular in the 19th century.
Lindsey Taft, Merchandise Manager
Can you describe each of your pieces? One is a pearl necklace and one is a cocktail ring.
What are the stories behind your pieces? These pieces are gifts from my grandmother. We have always been very close, so these pieces are really special to me. The pearl necklace was a gift for my college graduation and the cocktail ring was given to me the last time I went to go visit her.
How often do you wear your heirloom pieces and how do you style them? The pearl necklace I usually wear with an evening look or to a special event. The length is perfect because I can wear it with an open/lower neckline or over a blouse or dress. The cocktail ring is really on-trend right now. I love wearing this ring by itself to complement my outfit — it’s a really good statement piece. Heirloom jewelry is my favorite kind to wear. I love thinking of the stories behind the pieces every time I put them on.
Our Gemologist’s Take: This style is sometimes called a “Sputnik ring” after the world’s first satellite that was launched by the Soviet Union back in 1957. It captured the world’s imagination and there are all sorts of fun mid-century jewels made to look like it.
Inspired to start your own collection of special pieces? Shop our selection of authenticated, heirloom-worthy pieces here.