Resetting jewelry gives you the chance to breathe new life into vintage jewelry and outdated styles while retaining the spirit of the original design. Maybe you’ve inherited a family heirloom you’ve always loved, but it’s just not your style. Perhaps you have a cluster piece with multiple stones, and you’re looking to share it between members of your family. Or, maybe you’ve seen a bargain piece with great potential, but you’re not sure how to transform it. For some, resetting vintage jewelry is the ultimate romantic gesture: preserving a legacy while creating something bespoke and tailor-made for the recipient.
Why Resetting Vintage Jewelry is on the Rise
Although resetting and remodeling vintage jewelry has been commonplace for almost as long as jewelry has been in production, the practice has become more popular than ever in recent years. Its rise in popularity has been fueled by the surging price of gold (in 2008, an ounce of rose gold cost $700; by 2011 it cost $1,900), the increasing scarcity of certain gemstones (indicolite tourmaline mines, for example, are drying up), the forces of recession and the resurgence of vintage jewelry. Some of the most exceptional stones are found in pre-owned items today, says Lucia Boscaini, director of the heritage department at Bulgari.
How to Reset Vintage Jewelry
So what should you do if you have a piece of vintage jewelry in need of resetting? First, ask yourself a few fundamental questions.
Does the original piece truly suit you or the intended recipient?
Do you know what style suits you? It is recommended that you try on many different pieces so that you have an understanding of what style and look you prefer when you consult with a jeweler.
Do you want the piece modified, or simply restored?
Polishing or recutting stones can bring out previously hidden vibrancy and beauty. If a cluster piece is old, even if you want to maintain the existing style, be sure to speak to a jeweler about providing a sound structure for the stones and making sure they are secure in their settings. If you notice the potential in a set of older stones, you could have something entirely new created from it instead.
What cut and setting are you looking for?
Historically, jewels were cut and set to create an overall effect, whereas today, stones are cut in a manner that keeps them as large as possible. This means that beyond vintage jewelry, cuts like a baguette are increasingly uncommon. If you’re unsure of the look and feel you prefer, use our guide to gemstone settings and gemstone cuts below.
How much are you willing to invest in your piece?
If the piece is in poor condition, consider whether it is worth “throwing good money after bad money,” as Sylvia Kobi from Richard Ogden of Burlington Arcade says. Determine your overall budget for the project before modifying an existing piece.
Does the piece hold sentimental value, or are you hoping to raise the fair market value of the piece?
This is especially relevant if you are buying a pre-owned piece of vintage jewelry with a loftier price. “Although gemstones are quite durable, they are often abraded, chipped, or even cracked, requiring that they be recut. The cost of recutting, plus loss of weight, can negate the lower purchase prices,” says Russell Shor of the Gemological Institute of America.
Tips for Finding the Right Jeweler
If you’ve thought about having a piece remodeled but have concerns about the potential cost, ask the jeweler for an estimate for the job as most provide free quotations. Here are 3 additional tips for finding the right jeweler to remodel your piece.
Find a jeweler that provides remodeling services.
As resetting jewelry can be a labor-intensive process, some jewelers provide part-buy services instead, where they may swap your piece for a new piece, and charge a reduced price for it.
Provide examples of the styles you prefer.
If you take your piece to a jeweler and you think you’d like a redesign, they may ask you to try on a range of pieces to get an idea of direction. This is what Kobi calls “reducing the unknowns.” If you have an idea of what you’d like and you’ve tried it on, photograph it from many angles rather than just one to give a sense of the three-dimensionality of the object. The jeweler may still ask you to try on pieces from their own collection in order to fine-tune the brief.
Understand the jeweler’s timeline.
Each jeweler will take a different amount of time to complete a job depending on their resources and overall workload. The average timelines to expect for basic jewelry resetting services are as follows:
- Completing a Gemological Lab Report, especially for sapphires or rubies, to certify that a stone is natural and untreated. A jeweler will provide a verbal certification to help you understand whether further investment in the piece is worthwhile, or a full certificate for the purposes of insurance. This may take 2 to 4 business days.
- Polishing stones: This may take 10 to 14 days.
- Custom work: Expect upwards of 2 to 3 weeks for the piece to be handmade to specifications.
Types of Gemstone Settings
This is a setting in which stones are held in place by a fine band of metal. A bezel setting is one of the earliest settings invented, and still one of the most common. With bezel-set stones, you should look for scratches on the lower areas around the setting.
A bar setting is one in which bars of metal are visible between the stones. These are most commonly used for emerald- and baguette-cut stones.
A burnish or flush setting is when the gemstone is set at the same level as the metal so that it does not protrude at all. These are often used for more contemporary styles featuring rough and colored diamonds and for men’s rings that feature gemstones.
A channel setting is a type of setting in which multiple gemstones are set into a channel or groove made from metal strips on either side. An eternity ring is a good example of a channel setting.
A type of decorative prong setting, where the prongs reach high on the gemstone. The name of the setting takes its name from the word, “crown,” as it is thought to resemble one. It is often used with colorful stones such as rubies, emeralds, and sapphires.
In a pave setting, small gemstones are set closely together, like pavement. This setting is most common with diamonds.
In a prong setting, claw-like metal prongs hold a gemstone in place. This is a very common setting as it is easy to create.
Types of Gemstone Cuts
The asscher cut is a step-cut, square stone with beveled corners.
This long, slim, straight-angled cut was popular during the 1920s and ‘30s and evokes the Art Deco period. Today, this simple cut has gone out of fashion in favor of other cuts that promote luster. A baguette cut will typically have 14 facets, whereas an emerald cut, for example, will typically have 50+ facets.
This teardrop-shaped gemstone is commonly used for large drop earrings. Napoleon himself was said to have presented his Empress Marie Louise with a necklace with 10 briolette-cut diamonds. The shape was revived in the Art Deco movement, and today is most often used on cut glass and semi-precious stones.
A brilliant cut is a catch-all term for a stone, usually a diamond, which has been cut with many facets in order to increase its brilliance in all light and angles. Brilliant diamonds are usually cone-shaped, drawing to a point in the underside (pavilion), which maximizes its brilliance. The most common shape is round.
This refers to a stone that has been highly polished with no obvious facets. It will usually have a flat bottom and a rounded top side. This shape is most commonly used on semi-precious stones.
See our guide to diamond cuts for more information.
An emerald cut stone is usually oblong but can also be square. Like a baguette cut stone, it features step cuts, giving a geometric edge to the stone. See our guide to diamond cuts for more information.
Any diamond shape that is not round counts as a fancy cut.
The marquise cut is a shape that resembles an eye shape. If used in a ring, this can elongate the finger, making for an elegant shape. The marquise cut is also known as a navette cut. See our guide to diamond cuts for more information.
See our guide to diamond cuts for more information.
A pear cut is a brilliant teardrop-shaped cut, similar to a marquise cut, but with only one tapered edge. This differs from a briolette by being brilliant cut. As a solitaire ring, this should be worn with the point facing the wearer.
The princess cut is the second most popular cut diamond shape after round brilliant. See our guide to diamond cuts for more information.
A radiant cut is one that combines the faceting of a brilliant cut with the oblong nature of the emerald cut.
A rose cut is a traditional cut with triangular facets that rise to form a gentle mound. This cut went out of fashion in favor of the brilliant cut, but has been enjoying a resurgence thanks to the renewed popularity of vintage jewelry.
Step cut gemstones are usually square or rectangular with facets that run parallel. The facets tend to look larger than in a brilliant cut gem, and resemble steps on a staircase. This style of cut was exceptionally popular in the Art Deco period where clean lines were in fashion.
Jewelry Terms to Know
When consulting a jeweler, you may encounter jewelry terms that are unfamiliar to you. These are some of the jewelry terms you should know.
- Abrasion: A condition issue driven by erosion of the piece (caused by friction).
- Bevel: A sloping edge. This technique can often be observed on the edge of mirrors.
- Blemish: An imperfection (a mark, bump, or lump) that may devalue the piece.
- Carat: The unit of measurements for diamonds, not to be confused with Karat (see below).
- Chatoyancy/Chatoyance: The reflection seen in many gemstones, especially Cabochon or Tiger’s Eye. The word comes from the French “oeil de chat,” meaning “cat’s eye.”
- Crown: In the context of a gemstone, this usually refers to the visible part that sits above the setting.
- Culet: The flat face on the bottom of a gemstone or the bottom point of the pavilion (see below).
- Eternity ring: A band of metal with identical gemstones in a channel setting, often given by a partner to their spouse after the first year of marriage.
- Facet: The sides of a gemstone.
- Girdle: In the context of a cut gemstone, it is the widest part. The girdle dictates its shape.
- Infinity ring: See eternity ring.
- Karat: The unit of measurement for gold, not to be confused with Carat (see above).
- Pavilion: The part of the gemstone that sits under the girdle. This part is usually unseen by the wearer.
- Setting: The mechanism for holding gemstones in place.