Courtesy Neil Lane, Getty Images
Neil Lane
Jan 01, 2018 @ 9:00 am

As The Bachelor's engagement ring designer and Hollywood's go-to for diamonds, Neil Lane knows how to make a wedding sparkle. I Dos and Don'ts is his take on everything bridal, from etiquette to style. Here, he considers what happens when being gifted a rock you don't love puts you in a hard place.

Q: What do you do when you inherit a family heirloom engagement ring but it’s so not your style?

A: Good news: You can graciously accept a family heirloom without being a victim to its design! People have been reconfiguring and repurposing their family jewels for thousands of years. From Cleopatra to Queen Victoria to modern-day women everywhere, we have seen throughout history that diamonds and precious stones have been traditionally passed down from generation to generation. However, the designs have been altered to reflect current fashion trends and the personal style of the owner.

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I actually got my start in designing rings through reconfiguring the heirlooms of Hollywood’s up-and-coming stars. In the ‘90s, I was lending my couture designs and unique vintage pieces to young talent in LA for award shows like the Oscars, Emmys, and Golden Globes, and various red-carpet events.

Word got out, and clients started coming to me to help them redesign their moms’ and grandmas’ engagement rings for their own nuptials. The majority of rings that were brought into my store in the ‘90s actually dated back to the ‘60s and ‘70s when gold was the most popular metal to wear and jewelry styles were chunkier with geometric-cut diamonds and gemstones. Many of my clients were hesitant to reconfigure their heirlooms. However, what some didn’t know was that the diamonds they were nervous to alter had already been reset in gold to match fashion trends of the ‘70s from their original platinum settings from the ‘30s and ‘40s.

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My point is if you want to reconfigure your family gem, you shouldn’t feel guilty. You can hold onto the piece’s tradition while also expressing yourself; in the end, it’s your jewelry. It should reflect who you are and your own sense of style. If the piece was passed down to you or your spouse from family, it may be difficult for them to accept that your style does not match theirs entirely. But “good design” is the design you like. So point out what you love about the piece—and then make the tweaks it’ll take for it to feel like your own.

Here are a few options:

1. REDESIGN IT

Courtesy Neil Lane

What to do with a heavy piece? Melt down the metal and remold it into a completely new design. This can be done with almost any piece, even your dad’s 1972 class ring. It will retain the ring’s physicality and preserve its essence and energy while completely renewing its look.

Redesign Tip: Bring images with you to help inspire your jeweler. Make an inspiration board on Pinterest or tear sheets from magazines. I remember my early clients bringing pages of the latest jewelry trends ripped right out of InStyle magazine. This was extremely helpful and crucial to the design process.

2. SIMPLIFY IT

Courtesy of Neil Lane Couture Collection

What to do with that elaborate 1950’s cocktail ring your great aunt Tilley gave you? Pieces from the ‘40s and ‘50s are ornate, colorful, and elegant. They often incorporate a variety of stones in different shapes and sizes. Today our wardrobes call for distinctive yet versatile pieces that can be worn from day to night, from work to evening cocktails. To create a piece that is uniquely yours, you can simplify it by reducing the number of stones or removing the halo (the setting containing many pavé diamonds encircling a central stone). Isolating one or two stones can completely transform a piece of jewelry.

Simplifying Tip: Have your jewelry appraised before you reconfigure it. Some rare pieces that haven’t been altered are extremely valuable. If that is the case with your heirloom, you can make the decision to sell it and buy something you truly love.

3. LEAVE IT ALONE

Courtesy Neil Lane

When in doubt, you can simply hold onto it. There’s no rule that says you have to wear Granny’s pearls just because she gave them to you. Wait to see if they grow on you. What is old will become new again; what seems unstylish today could be considered very glamorous in just a few years from now. You can also choose to keep them safe for the next generation. This becomes more difficult when you’re looking at a piece of jewelry that you’ll be wearing every day, like your engagement ring. But if you’re not sure how you might want to upgrade it, try wearing it for a few days to see if it grows on you; if not, you can always revert to option one or two.

Remember: You can wear a family heirloom without letting it wear you! If Queen Victoria can reconfigure the crown jewels, you can reconfigure your family gems.

Have a wedding topic you want Neil to tackle next? Email your question to romy.oltuski@timeinc.com with the subject line "I Dos and Don'ts."

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