Preserving and Passing on Your Values: How to Create a Family Heirloom
If you are lucky enough to possess a family heirloom—perhaps your great-grandmother's antique ring or the pearl necklace of an aunt many more generations away—you undoubtedly cherish it. After all, family heirlooms offer us a profound connection to our families’ unique histories. They remind us of loved ones now gone while turning our minds to loved ones of the next generation, forming a link between family past and family future.
Family heirlooms take countless shapes and sizes, but they are precious because they hold stories and memories from the past about the lives of loved ones who are no longer around. They speak truth, roots, personality, and connection where even a cherished photograph can fall short.
What makes an item an heirloom?
In many cases, a family heirloom will most strongly represent values. An heirloom engagement ring can symbolize far more than just one relationship, for example: it embodies generations of love, support and commitment, and helps continue those traditions on.
Some heirlooms symbolize overcoming a struggle. If you were forced to leave your home, what would you take with you? From books and jewelry to medals and trunks, perhaps the most remarkable family heirlooms are the ones of refugees, artifacts preserved by those who fled their homes in times of conflict and had to choose only a few items to bring with them.
In other cases, family heirlooms represent a storied history of status and wealth. The ultimate example of this is, of course, the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, which include the regalia and vestments worn by British kings and queens at their coronations. These precious items symbolize 800 years of monarchy and can be traced back to the 12th century.
So: how to create a family heirloom? Whether something of special value has already been handed down to you, or no heirlooms yet exist in your family, there is no wrong time to make the decision to create one for your own children and grandchildren. An heirloom isn't always a piece of jewelry; it can be anything from a piece of furniture to glassware. Whatever its form, the emotional connection family members have with the heirloom is what makes it valuable.
Choosing the right occasion, the right piece
If you are getting married or renewing your vows, you are in a unique position to create a piece of heirloom jewelry for generations to come to wear on their wedding days.
If you decide to select a piece of jewelry—a custom ring, bracelet, necklace, or even earrings— there are a number of qualities or criteria to assess. For instance, if you’re choosing to honor your ethnic background, you may want to consider selecting a particular gemstone or precious metal traditional in the culture you hold dear.
Additionally, when creating heirloom jewelry, consider quality, style and durability. If you intend for the item to passed on for generations, it must be able to stand the test of time. Certain colored gemstones—such as sapphire, ruby, spinel, garnet, and tourmaline—are more durable than others.
How will it be passed down?
Once you’ve chosen the item you will pass down, consider the tradition with which you wish to see it passed onto future generations. Do you want the heirloom to go from generation to generation? From mothers to daughters? From a father to sons? In any choice you make, you should feel comfortable being flexible. If your daughter decides not to get married, can she pass the heirloom to a cousin, or her niece? Establish the rules early on to avoid conflict within the family—after all, these items should bring your family together, not divide it.
Your legacy, remembered
When you choose a precious item to commemorate your contributions to your family dynamic, truly you fortify a connection and reverence for family history in the hearts of your future generations. Monetary worth is one thing; memories, tradition, and resilience are what give the passing-down of an heirloom the meaning so many families cherish.
If you’re considering creating a piece of heirloom jewelry, consider speaking with a gem expert who can help guide your search for the perfect gemstone.