By Llyn L. Strelau
Everything old can be new again! I know we all love to design and sell brand new gems and jewellery, and help our clients build their collections of fine jewels. But our clients will often bring in items which they wish to recycle or reuse. Whether an inheritance from a friend or family member, or a piece that’s lost its original purpose due to divorce or widow-hood, it’s up to us to find the best way to give it new purpose.
A diamond is forever… right?
Diamonds are the best candidates for a long and happy tenure in a piece of jewellery, and are usually in good condition for re-setting. Unless they have structural flaws or razor-thin girdles, it is pretty much impossible to damage one. Other ‘used’ gemstones may be in less-than-pristine condition, and thus a frank discussion with the client is needed to determine if sentiment overrules reality, and whether the stones can (or should) be worked with.
Besides gemstone quality, the other issue faced in re-design is what to do with the metal (gold, silver, or platinum) the client provides. It could be the setting from a heritage gem they wish to re-set or their stash of half earrings, broken chains, or gold dental crowns!
Usually, we will weigh the scrap and use it as a gold credit towards the new project and recoup the value next time we have any refining done.
Many years ago, I would combine a client’s scrap gold on the soldering block and melt it into a blob, then poke and prod it with my soldering pick until I had a quasi-realistic nugget form that could have a bale attached for a pendant. Thankfully, I haven’t had to make one of these in a long time.
Trend or timing?
Recycling is perhaps more common in periods of economic slumps and job layoffs—the times when clients might prefer to re-work old jewellery, rather than purchasing brand new pieces.
Unfortunately, in recent years, it is easy for our clients to source gemstones and finished jewellery through online, discounted sources. Often, the quality is not what they anticipated and jewellers are stuck with attempting repair or re-setting gems not purchased in our shops, and therefore, do not provide any income to us.
When to say ‘no’
Some jewellers gently refuse to set gems they did not supply. However, I treat these situations on a case by case basis. If the gems were family heirlooms and have great sentimental value, or were perhaps acquired as a memento of a vacation, I will usually work with them.
On the other hand, if it’s obvious the client purchased a stone purely because they were too frugal to pay a fair retail price, the situation becomes more complicated. Aside from not making money on the sale of the gemstone, I’m also taking responsibility for setting the gem with no vested interest.