Heirloom Engagement Ring Guide

Proposing with an Heirloom Engagement Ring
Family heirloom engagement rings are a wonderful way to continue your family history into your new marriage.
— Craig Husar, President & Chief Romance Officer

When it comes time for you to propose, popping the question will be the simple yet important start to building your own family. Many couples are turning to the sentimental and personal value found in heirloom engagement rings to make the kickoff of their life together one they’ll never forget. Just because you’re choosing an antique engagement ring doesn’t mean you don’t have questions. We’re here to make the process of proposing with an heirloom engagement ring the best option for you.


Why An Heirloom Ring?

People use heirloom rings to propose for many different reasons. For some, there is a cost savings in using a ring passed down through generations versus buying a new one. For others, a bride-to-be might have her heart set on wearing a ring that has personal meaning to her life. Whatever your reasons for wanting to use an heirloom ring are, the steps that follow might not seem so cut and dry.

There is a lot of thought that goes into deciding to propose with an antique ring. Finding the ring is just one step in the equation. But don’t get overwhelmed with the options. We’re here to walk you through the process and ensure that you come out with the happiest of brides hanging on your arm.


Heirloom Engagement Ring Etiquette

The Variety of Heirloom Rings

Heirloom engagement rings can come from a variety of people. Oftentimes, these rings don’t even have to come from an immediate family member. Those who pass down an engagement ring can be an aunt, a member of your step family or even a cousin. Some rings don’t even have to be traditional wedding or engagement rings. They can be sentimental rings, such as those given to celebrate an anniversary or an antique promise ring.

Some heirloom rings also are made out of nontraditional items, such as a favorite brooch, hair piece or gem. While there is no age limit on an heirloom ring, there is a huge amount of sentimental value in any ring passed down from a family member.


Where Should the Ring Come From?

It might seem overwhelming to choose which side of the family an heirloom ring should come from. Should it be on the bride or groom’s side? This part in the process can be the most challenging for couples. If there is one ring that stands out as having the most sentimental attachment, it can be easy to choose that antique heirloom ring. However, if more than one person dreams of passing a ring on to your soon-to-be bride, it can be challenging.

Here are tips on passing down an engagement ring to help you decide which one to use:

  • Choose based on family history: If a ring has been passed down through a family for five generations, then that might seem like the more obvious choice versus one given by a distant cousin or aunt.

  • Consider a late family member: If the ring belonged to a deceased family member and it holds great value in reminding you of that person, that ring might be most special.

  • Look for a ring that fits the bride’s style: If a ring is the wrong style for the bride, it might be best to pass on it. Find a ring with meaning: A ring that sat in a jewelry box without anyone every knowing it existed might not mean as much as one a grandmother fondly wore on her finger every day.

  • Go with what the bride wants: If the bride-to-be has to wear the ring every day of her life, it might be best to take her opinion into consideration. If the ring is one she wouldn’t like or one that has no sentimental meaning to her, then it might be best to pass.


Asking to Use the Ring

proposing with an heirloom engagement ring

Asking permission to use the antique engagement ring might be as nerve wracking as asking for your girlfriend’s hand in marriage. That’s where our heirloom engagement ring guide might come in especially handy.

Keep in mind that it’s best not to assume you’ll be granted permission to use an engagement ring passed down through the family. It’s always a good idea to get to know the person who currently has the ring. Perhaps you and your girlfriend can sit down with the person and get to know them one-on-one. If you aren’t already close to that person, take the time to get to know them.

When it comes time to ask for the ring, make sure you give the person some time to think it over. It’s a good idea to go into the conversation by describing how much your significant other means to you and what an honor it would be to propose with the ring.

It can be tough for some people to give up a family heirloom engagement ring. Try not to let your nerves get the best of you. Let the person take time to consider your request and don’t pressure them to hand over the ring. Heirloom engagement ring etiquette is very important here.

If the person gives over the ring, be sure to thank him or her for their thoughtfulness. Heirloom diamond engagement rings don’t grow on trees. This person has just given you the chance to make your proposal even more magical.


Now What Do You Do With the Ring?


Don’t rush to propose as soon as you get the ring in your hand. 

It’s important to make sure the heirloom engagement ring is in tip-top condition.

  • Make sure the ring is clean. If it has any damage, it will need to be repaired.

  • Fix any problems so they don’t get worse as time goes on.

  • Inquire about continued services through a dealer. Especially with older rings, it’s important to have annual inspections to make sure the diamond is sitting correctly in the setting.

  • Make sure the ring can be stored properly if it won’t be worn immediately.


Before You Make Changes

As with some of the other heirloom ring etiquette techniques we discussed, it might be best to make sure the giver of the ring is OK with changes being made. No one wants to shock grandma for the first time when she sees her antique ring has been altered.
Make sure you are open about these changes before anything drastic is completed.

While some people love the diamond, they aren’t crazy about the ring color, the setting or other features. Before you discard the other aspects of the ring, be sure to have an open conversation with the giver so as not to hurt any feelings. Here are tips for how to start the discussion:

  • Mention you might be worried about your fiancée wearing the ring every day in its current setting. If she works outside, with children or simply gets her hands dirty on a frequent basis, getting a safer setting might sound like an OK idea.

  • Mention you might want to include personal touches on the piece of jewelry. This might include diamond pieces from another family member’s ring or a style that reflects your fiancée’s personality.

  • If you think the ring is too big or small for your fiancée’s hand, it’s OK to bring that up. Rings look different on different people, and that might be a helpful way to bring up the fact that changes are needed.

  • Sometimes heirloom engagement rings won’t work with the chosen wedding bands. In this case, altering the ring would allow it to complement the band.

If the giver of the ring won’t budge, it’s sometimes best not to push the issue and save the ring for special occasions. Rejecting a ring as it is can sometimes feel like a personal rejection to the person who gave it. At best, try to have an open, honest conversation that is gentle and not insulting to the person who gifted the heirloom engagement ring.


Reset an Heirloom Ring

In some cases, a couple will not be given a once-and-done engagement ring. Maybe the heirloom piece is simply a stone or gem that needs to be reset. Maybe you have the ring, but it is damaged beyond repair and needs to be replaced. Or perhaps you want to take something old and give it a new, updated twist.

Before you have any work done to the stone, be sure to consider what it is you like most about the piece. For some people, that’s the cut and shape of the diamond. For others, it’s the bright white color or even the yellow found in some older pieces.

By knowing what you like about the ring before you point out what you dislike, your jeweler will be able to help you highlight those positive characteristics.

Sometimes old and new can be incorporated when setting an heirloom stone. Some old diamonds can be placed in more modern settings that give them a stylish appeal without taking away the dignity of the old stone. Antique rings also sometimes need added protection to make sure they don’t chip or wear.

It also might be a good idea to have the ring appraised to better understand its worth. Old stones can have damage that isn’t visible to the naked eye, such as cracks or chips. These should be fixed immediately and can usually be done with ease. While the cut, clarity, carat and color are already determined on some rings, it’s still a good idea to consider these aspects when moving forward with your antique engagement ring.


Different Options for Resetting an Heirloom Stone

If you decide to move forward with resetting your ring, there are many options.

recutting an heirloom ring

Re-cut. Many gemstones can be cut and reshaped to fit a new setting or style. Reshaping also can
be done to ensure the stone has a shining luster and clarity. 


new band heirloom engagement

A New Band. In some cases, metal from the old band can be used to create a new one. This can be done if the old band is worn down and isn’t safe to wear or if the wearer simply wants to incorporate something old into a new design. 

new heirloom engagement ring

Old Stone, New Setting. Sometimes the most common option is to take an old stone and put it in a new setting. This allows many options for personal touches, such as adding additional stones, placing it in a unique band or setting, or helping to match the engagement ring with the wedding band. This option allows something old to be placed with something new. Sometimes this is the easiest way to combine family history with the excitement of starting a family of your own.


A New Ring With an Old Look

For some couples, an heirloom ring isn’t an option, but they want to model a new ring off of a family ring. Sometimes that means the bride might want a ring that looks like the one her grandmother or mother wore, but that ring is still being worn by the original recipient. 

Many vintage-style rings are making a comeback, from unique settings to rings that offer European flair more commonly seen in generations past. If your significant other has her heart set on something truly unique, a new ring with an old-world style might be the best way to have both worlds meet.

Sometimes, modeling a custom new ring to look like a vintage heirloom ring can have significant meaning to a bride and groom. For this option, it’s good to talk to your jeweler about the diamonds, bands and metals that are available to you. 

Simply Going for Style?

Antique Engagement Rings

Not all antique engagement rings are passed down through families. Some couples are turning to the Internet to purchase antique jewelry that fits both their style and price point. When so many rings can look the same, an antique ring gives a unique, almost-custom-made look to your bride-to-be’s hand.

Be wary of searching for antique engagement rings online. Make sure the rings have been appraised and their authenticity can be verified. 

Once you’re sure the ring of your choice is worth the asking price, a lot of the decision making can come down to style. From Victorian pieces dating as far back as 1835 to art deco rings from the mid-1900s, there are a slew of ring options out there.

While it wasn’t commonplace for women to receive diamond engagement rings until the early 1900s, many families had diamond rings as a sign of prosperity and heritage. Even if they didn’t belong to your biological family, many of these vintage rings can possess historical value, in addition to giving you a unique style.


Don’t Put Too Much Pressure on the Ring

While the ring is a big aspect of the engagement process, it is not the most important. Knowing you’re about to start a new chapter in your life with the bride of your dreams is the best part of asking for her hand in marriage. When you can slip a ring on her finger that carries not only the significance of your love but the love of generations past, you can be sure you’ve made the right decision. There’s not much more beautiful in the world than a lifetime of love. 

When it’s time to propose, be sure to consult our Trusted Jewelry Advisors at Craig Husar Fine Diamonds & Jewelry Designs. We’ll create a strategic plan to fit your needs and brainstorm new options you’ve never thought possible.
— Craig Husar, President & Chief Romance Officer
Craig Husar Chief Romance Officer


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