LONDON — When Jaleh Shahmanesh inherited her mother’s wedding ring, she knew she would treasure it but never wear it. The blue sapphire, surrounded by diamonds and set in white gold, was almost 100 years old and typical of the ornate rings popular in Iran in those days. Ms. Shahmanesh, born in Iran and now living in London, does not like white gold and felt the setting was too old-fashioned.
But instead of letting it gather dust in her jewelry box, she took it to Fiona Knapp, a British-based jewelry designer and gemologist from New Zealand. During a number of meetings they discussed how Ms. Shahmanesh planned to wear the ring, her personal style and her own design ideas for the piece.
“I wanted more of a chunkier ring,” said Ms. Shahmanesh, who has since had a number of pieces restyled by Ms. Knapp and by her family’s jeweler back in Tehran. “So we came up with an idea that if we just incorporated two small yellow sapphires by their side in yellow gold, it would look nice.”
It took six to eight weeks to complete, and in the end, “it was great fun,” she said. “I wear it all the time.”
So, what do you do when you have a similar vintage piece that needs restyling? Finding a designer or goldsmith you can trust with your heirloom and who has a similar design aesthetic can prove to be really difficult.
“There was a time when the very wealthy knew how to make and order things bespoke and they would go to an artisan and say, ‘This is what I like,”’ said Ms. Knapp, who works out of her home in the English countryside near London. “Whereas someone like me from New Zealand, not knowing about gems growing up, it is quite a difficult thing to know, to visualize and imagine.”
David Warren, Christie’s senior international jewelry director, said, “Jewels come and go, are in and out of fashion and they get chopped and changed through the decades.”
“You even get families where collections are split so half a necklace goes off in one direction and the other half in another,” he continued. “And what do you do with half a necklace?”
Lorenz Bäumer, whose boutique is on the Parisian jewelry hub Place Vendôme, said it is a good idea to get recommendations from people you trust and then research the names thoroughly. “Elements of criteria are style, reputation, accessibility, trust, getting along with the designer once you have met,” he said in an email.
And Emily Tan, the co-owner and a gemologist/designer at Madly Gems in Singapore, advised: “Know your stones, and when you meet with your jeweler, have them educate you about your gemstone.”
“If you feel unsure, have detailed shots of your stone by bringing it to a gemologist to have it certified, so when you pass it on to a jeweler, you know the gem they give back to you is yours,” said Ms. Tan, who trained in New York and worked for the jewelry designer Kara Ross.
Once you find a jeweler or designer to work with, the next step is determining what you want your new piece to be — from simply getting a gemstone placed in a new setting to reworking a pearl necklace as a matching pair of cuff bracelets.
Many designers, including Anna Hu, a Taiwanese bespoke jeweler based in New York — who has worked for Christie’s, Van Cleef & Arpels and Harry Winston — said that design decisions flow from her relationship with a client. “It’s about chemistry,” said Ms. Hu, who also has a store at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Taipei. “What makes an excellent personal jeweler relationship is clients who listen to the jeweler and a jeweler who can follow their vision. It’s a duet.”
Designers like the Hong Kong-based artisan jeweler Wallace Chan said the time element varies with each piece. “Sometimes, I even need to design and make my own tools, as the tools that can meet my craftsmanship requirements do not exist in the market,” he wrote in an email. “Therefore, some works take longer then others.”
Murrey’s Jewelers on 3rd Avenue in New York has been around for almost 80 years and the father of the current owner, Earl Kahn, learned his trade sitting across a desk from Harry Winston. When the consulting designers there restyle a piece, they first disassemble the jewelry and arrange the gems by size and quality on a white sheet of paper, moving them around until both the designer and client are satisfied.
The gems then are set in a carved wax model of the new design and, if necessary, even fitted into a silver model before the final setting is created in an even more precious metal, such as yellow gold or platinum.
“Doing this, you get to be involved, give your input,” said Mr. Kahn, whose daughter, Hillary, is the third generation working in the business. “Our job, by the time we are doing it in precious metal, means 85 percent of the angst is gone. You know what you are getting.”
Sometimes problems are uncovered, like a crack that was hidden until the gem was removed from its setting or tampering with the gem’s color, which sometimes involves painting the rear of the stone with enamel if the original color is dull.
A piece’s history also is something jewelers should take into consideration when restyling. “I will not let people ruin, take apart or repurpose special pieces,” Mr. Kahn said, referring to characteristics such as the intricacy of the design, aesthetic appeal or a special provenance or creator’s signature.
For example, an owner could have a piece by the French jeweler Suzanne Belperron that she does not like, Ms. Knapp said: “But I would say don’t go messing with the stone. If you do not want it, sell it, because the design and name of the designer is more important than the stone in that situation.”
Above all, say those who have had pieces reworked, is the joy of reviving an heirloom.
“I think repurposing jewelry is a fabulous thing because you are keeping yours, but you are enhancing it and making it more valuable,” said Harriette Rose Katz, a New York party planner who has been going to Murrey’s for a number of years.
Elisabeth Turner, a New Yorker, had a number of pieces she inherited from her mother restyled by Murrey’s and by Ms. Knapp, including her mother’s diamond ring changed into a cocktail ring with rubies and a pair of diamond cluster earrings crafted into an Art Deco setting.
“For me, it is being able to take something that isn’t wearable or unusable and turning it into something I can wear,” she said. “I love that it is my mom’s stuff, and I feel close to her.”