At Kristen Baird® Jewelry, I often have the opportunity to create custom pieces of jewelry for a variety of occasions and for all types of people. Sometimes clients see my work online and would like to customize one of my pieces to fit their color, size and style preferences. Or they have a precious life moment or piece of inspiration that they want me to capture and turn into a unique work that they can cherish forever. But my favorite kind of custom work is the deconstructing and reimaging of heirloom jewelry.
There is just so much romance to pieces like this: taking something already special and turning it into something magical! Many people feel an intense attachment to and associate sentimental memories with their heirloom jewelry, and I feel honored to work with them to respect what they hold so dear to their hearts.
Reasons for Heirloom Redesigns
There seems to be an infinite amount of unique stories to each heirloom client I encounter, but here are several common scenarios:
- Broken or damaged: Not all jewelry lasts forever, especially well-loved pieces that were crafted and set years ago! A band can crack, a stone can fall out of the setting, wear and tear happens. But most people come to me because they simply don’t want their jewelry repaired or refurbished exactly the same way. They take this opportunity to work with me to create something new and different.
- Don’t wear it anymore/out of style: Not all styles and tastes last forever either! You could wear your favorite piece of jewelry everyday for a year, but it might lose its appeal over time, or what you thought was trendy 20 years ago is “so out” now. Whatever the situation, my clients come to me because they feel guilty for letting their priceless pieces sit in a drawer never being worn.
- Repurpose a gift: Whether it was handed down by a family member or someone bought it as a gift, sometimes a piece of jewelry that you didn’t select yourself is not your thing. People bring me their unwanted jewelry, and together, we turn it into something they love!
- Divorce: Ah, the dreaded divorce scenario. Fortunately, I’ve never worked with any Bitter Betty’s! Every client in this situation sees the process as cathartic and as a way to start fresh with a new chapter in their lives.
We’ve all seen the strength of the heirloom redesign trend in the past few years, but with the uptick in organizing and cleaning, due to the 2019 Marie Kondo craze combined with time sitting at home during coronavirus shelter-in-place, the demand has skyrocketed. People are also looking to support local small businesses and, by proxy, local designers. Fortunately for me, my process is mostly digital and able to be done remotely, making heirloom jewelry a huge contributor to my business, especially during this time. This leads me to my next point.
Something I realized this year with the COVID-19 pandemic is that my custom heirloom jewelry process was already set up for social distancing – thankfully! While I have seen more redesigns coming my way due to coronavirus (#thatquarantinelife), I think this trend is here to stay. I found that people have become more intentional and more real. They are slowing down, appreciating the arts, and expressing gratitude.
Personally, I find this completely refreshing, and little did I know that by streamlining my entire system last year, I would be prepared for something we had no idea was coming. Even as I was reshaping the custom design process in 2019, it did feel strange to digitize in-person meetings, but look at us now! Currently, my system goes a little like this:
- Commission Inquiry Form: The commission process begins with the client filling out and submitting a commission inquiry form. This form provides me with the initial details and helps set expectations for the custom piece. Although the questions on this form may not seem relevant at first, trust me, everything has its place and each little snapshot is part of the larger picture to help me with the design.
- Consultation: Next, we’ll have a 15 to 30-minute consultation phone call or Zoom video call, which will give us the opportunity to thoroughly go over the scope of the project, such as design ideas, budget, and timeline. This is also the point where my clients get to ask questions of their own, and in turn, I ask lots of questions, even random ones. Sometimes, that throws people off at first, but I always tell each client to trust the process. Even little things that might seem insignificant can weave their way into a design and become something so personal and special!
- Contract, Design, and Estimate: From there, I will draft a design, and the client will sign a contract that outlines the specifics of their project including the final design, estimated cost, and a completion timeline.
- Deposit: We proceed with a deposit and the signed contract. This is the “business-y” part of the project, but it is very important to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
- A Masterpiece in the Making: Finally, once the business part is finished, the party can really start! This is when all the tools come out, complete with fire, hammers, and technical magic! Ta-Da! Something unique to my commission process is that, in the end, my clients not only receive a one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry, but they also get specific documentation of the entire creation process. I capture SOOO many pictures and when I send the final product to them, I include a little presentation with my initial design sketches and photos of the work each step of the way. This offers my clients a sequential build-up in suspense until the big reveal of the finished piece! I even post the sketches, photos, and a video on my website after the client has seen everything.
Inside the Zoom Calls
I have to say, it’s been so much fun doing Zoom calls, creating and sharing Loom videos, and incorporating more phone calls and text messages into my process! I have really been able to give my clients something to look forward to. As a designer, I have always worked with people from across the country, but now we are doing the entire process from the comfort of our own homes and in real-time. I have enjoyed welcoming clients to my studio, virtually, by using my computer camera to give a behind-the-scenes tour of my private space. This is something that I have never been able to do previously and it is a HIT! This whole process really exposes how we are all humans. We all have lives and families. It reinforces the idea that when people shop with us, they are directly impacting our future by spending their dollars with us. It’s raw, yet fresh.
I’ve met so many inspiring and wonderful clients over the years through heirloom redesigns, but here are two that I wanted to shine a spotlight on.
What to do when one chapter closes? Let’s open a new one! Often, I have the opportunity to work with my clients as they are transitioning from one relationship status to a new one. Turns out, the redesign process is as cathartic as it is fun! With this Diamond Dazzler redesign, our goal was to combine beautiful (former) wedding diamonds with cherished pieces inherited from my client’s mother.
One of my favorite methods, The Cluster Style, works so well for incorporating a variety of gem cuts, shapes and sizes. The beauty of it is that we were able to mix three statement diamonds into one design where they all get to shine as a single unit instead of competing against one another.
My client put full trust in the style and process which is always awesome for me as a designer. And WOW, let me say, she was blown away with the result! This 18K white gold beauty shines from every angle. And of course, the texture and smooth ripples gives this piece a depth and interest, not to mention how comfortable it is to wear!
What a meaningful gift to be given: an oval sapphire ring from your mother, something your beloved father gave her years back. How about incorporating diamonds from your grandmother’s ring and yellow gold from your dad’s wedding band to add to the sentiment? That’s precisely what we did here!
My client was given several pieces and gifted this redesign by her mother to honor and memorialize her dad and grandmother. We had so much fun with this unique 14K yellow gold + diamond + sapphire redesign. The tears flowed at the delivery of the piece. I may have teared up a bit too!
As I mentioned in the beginning, heirloom jewelry is deeply significant to the people I work with, and I don’t take it lightly. These pieces bring comfort to those who have experienced losses and can even keep the memory of someone they loved alive. I learned early on that I wasn’t just working with tangible pieces of metal and gemstones. I am transforming cherished mementos and pieces of someone’s memory into entirely new and different treasures. Emotions are bound to come into play, especially when I deliver the finished product, but through my one-on-one process, I am able to honor my clients, their heirloom jewelry, and their vision for what it can become.