This scenario is familiar to many men of a certain age: your parents decide that you’re ready to get engaged so they pass down your grandmother’s antique ring or a great aunt’s vintage diamond necklace. Now it’s your job to figure out what to do with a potentially outdated style, or how to use old diamonds to create a new engagement ring.

An heirloom engagement ring is a great gift to receive, both because of its sentimental value and because it has the potential to save you money and time. The downside to getting a hand me down engagement ring (or other family heirloom jewelry you plan to use to create a new ring) is that it’s someone else’s style, size…and probably generation. Whether you want to create new jewelry from old jewelry, or you want to give the family heirloom ring straight to your fiancèe as is, you’ll need a jewelry designer to make any changes big or small, from completely changing the type of metal, to simply resizing the band to be her size. And if you want to use just the stones from an old piece of jewelry, you’ll definitely need a custom jewelry designer. At Abby Sparks Jewelry, we love working with heirloom jewelry and family engagement rings, and we have tons of tips on how to propose with an heirloom engagement ring.

Custom engagement ring made with platinum, heirloom rubies and diamond accents custom made and designed by Abby Sparks Jewelry, The Devon.

(The Devon upcycled heirloom engagement ring (right foreground) was made with rubies from her family heirloom ring (back left). We created a modern platinum band and added diamond melee.)

1. Ask for Permission

Thought you already had this covered? It doesn’t hurt to double check. Maybe you’ve had the heirloom jewelry for years and you haven’t been ready to use it until now. Or perhaps it’s been promised to you but not officially given. No matter the case, family jewelry can hold a lot of meaning and memories for everyone involved. If it’s a wedding ring from a marriage that ended in divorce, a lot of emotions can get stirred up when the proposal actually happens. Make sure you explicitly ask for permission to use the family jewelry to propose to your girlfriend.

Custom engagement ring made with rose gold and a 1.01 carat diamond made and designed by Abby Sparks Jewelry, The Jessica.

(You can incorporate as much or as little from your heirloom piece as you want. For The Jessica 14k rose gold custom engagement ring, we sourced a brand new 1.01 carat diamond and added a halo made from family stones.)

1. Learn About its Past

Heirloom jewelry may have been in your family for decades, but it’s new to you. Take the time to learn about the original wearer and how they acquired the piece. Was it a great-grandmother’s promise ring? A gift for a distant relative’s wedding anniversary? Maybe it’s just a loose stone that your grandfather always planned to make a ring out of, but never got around to it. No matter the origin story, it’s important for two reasons:

One- You’re fiancee will want to know it’s history because it’s something she’ll be wearing every day for the rest of her life. She’ll also be asked about it’s origin right after you get engaged, at the wedding, and any time it comes up between now and forever.
Two- Both of you should know what it’s made from (14k white gold? 18k? Maybe it’s platinum?) because that affects the durability of the metal and how gentle she’ll need to be with it. You’ll want to know what the stones are for the same reason. Diamonds are the hardest and toughest stone, that’s why they’re great for 24/7 forever wear. For The Meghan custom ring, we were able to incorporate her heirloom diamonds and recycled her metal. Sometimes gemstones and even glass can look like diamonds, but aren’t nearly as tough so it’s important to know what you’re working with. Fine jewelers like Abby Sparks Jewelry will be able to tell you about any details your family wasn’t sure about.

Custom engagement ring made with platinum and a 1 carat diamond with blue sapphires and green sapphires made and designed by Abby Sparks Jewelry, The Janet.

(Love the stones but want to update the setting and metal of your vintage ring? Janet brought in her 30 year old engagement ring for style refresh. We added blue sapphires and green sapphires to a sleek platinum setting.)

3. Ask Yourself, “Does it Fit?”

We mean this literally and figuratively. Does the heirloom engagement ring match your fiancee’s ring size and physically fit her finger? As a piece that she’ll be wearing every day, it needs to be tight enough that it can’t be shaken off, but shouldn’t be painfully tight. If the fit isn’t a match, don’t worry! Most rings can be made smaller or larger within reason. The second fit to consider is more personal. Does it fit her lifestyle? If she’s super active (think snowboarder or an avid climber) then a soft metal or soft stone is not going to work. It’ll get damaged, and you’ll have to constantly repair or even replace a priceless keepsake. Does she work with her hands? A huge stone may not be practical. If you’ve done the research from step 1, you should know what the ring is made from, but if you still have questions about the durability and wearability of the piece, it’s a good idea to involve a jewelry designer who specializes in heirloom jewelry.

Loose diamonds for a custom engagement ring made at Abby Sparks Jewelry.

(Have some hand me down diamonds or gemstones? We can set them in a new style. Book an appointment.)

4.Think About What She Wants

Some engagement rings are timeless–think a diamond atop a simple yellow gold band. Other heirloom engagement rings, not so much…we’re looking at you 1980’s statement pieces! The reality is that every bride-to-be is different. Some would love nothing more than to receive a vintage ring, while others have a specific idea of what they want and wouldn’t love the idea of wearing something designed for someone else’s aesthetic. A ring like The Jacqueline embraces its history and plays up the art deco vibe. Whether you have an entire ring or just the stones, you can bring it to a custom fine jeweler who will salvage the heirloom piece and work with you to create a new one-of-a-kind engagement ring that matches her style. For inspiration on using just the stone, check out The Danika ring made with her heirloom brilliant cut diamond.

5. Propose!

No matter if you decide to propose with your heirloom piece, or choose to redesign an outdated style, using heirloom jewelry is win-win and should give you confidence. Not only is proposing with family jewelry sweet and sentimental, it’s also sustainable and good for the environment. Heirloom rings like The Amy were created specifically for an environmentally conscious bride.  Whether you propose with a family ring or the loose stones, you can let her know that you’ve already booked an appointment to make her a one-of-a-kind dream ring, made just for her!

Ready to propose with an heirloom engagement ring? Set up an appointment with us, bring in your family heirloom jewelry, and we’ll help you design a beautiful custom engagement ring that honors the past and celebrates the future. Prefer to write? We’re available by email at 

book an appointment to work with Abby Sparks Jewelry, custom jewelry designer in Denver, CO