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First, "try to focus on the significance of the ring as opposed to the ring itself," says ring designer Heidi Gibson. "By offering you an heirloom ring, he is entrusting you with a symbol of his heritage. The bride should always show respect for this gesture, whether or not she likes the actual piece."
You'll also have to show respect to the ring's original owner, says Elizabeth Doyle, co-owner of New York City jeweler Doyle & Doyle. "Jewelry is extremely personal and meaningful," she explains. "The person who gave you the ring may have given it because they really want to see it on your finger. And changing it could be very hurtful."
Both Gibson and Doyle agree that if resetting the ring would cause any relationship strife, you shouldn't alter the ring at all. Instead, "consider purchasing another ring, perhaps jointly, that fits your style and keep the two as separate entities," suggests Gibson. "This way you can get a ring that you love while preserving the heirloom ring for posterity." At the same time, Doyle suggests, honor the significance of your heirloom ring by wearing it for special occasions.
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If you won't rock the proverbial boat by resetting the ring, "look first for designs and designers that resonate with your style," suggests Gibson. "Of course, look for positive reviews, while word-of-mouth references are ideal." Designers can work with you to create a one-of-a-kind style or allow you to select from existing designs that flatter the stones you have to work with.
Often a designer won't be able to preserve the ring's original setting. "If you are trying to keep the rest of the setting intact, ask your jeweler if this is a possibility before they attempt to remove the stones," says Gibson. "You should generally consider that the rest of the piece will be scrap material for trade-in value only. The stones themselves will not lose actual or figurative value when reset."
If the original setting has value — and especially if the ring has more value in its current form than it would after a redesign — you have another reason to hit pause on resetting your ring. "I always prefer to see people save and preserve their valuable family heirlooms," admits Doyle. "It may be nice to pass on to a child at some point, or it could be reset with a diamond at some future date."
At the end of the day, Gibson says, you should be happy with what you wear each day. "While I do believe in preserving sentimental value, there's also something to say for having and wearing a ring that you love. After all, it's your finger," Gibson says. "Resetting an heirloom ring is an amazing way to extend family tradition, to save money — because the center stone is generally the most expensive part of a ring — and to define your own style."