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The Unsentimental Heirloom

The Unsentimental Heirloom

By Amalah

Hello! I read you all the time and I think you’ve always given great advice. I finally find myself in a situation that I could really use some advice. So here goes…

Advice Smackdown ArchivesI was recently at a funeral for my Great Aunt, she was the only daughter of my great grandmother and sister to my Grandpa. I wasn’t all that close to her in any way for a few reasons…one: we moved around a lot as my Dad was in the navy and we were rarely in the same province together; two she didn’t like children at all and never wanted much to do with us till we were in our late teens at least. (When I say “we” I mean all of the grandchildren of my, my cousins, brothers…all of us) But by then she had spent too much time being either indifferent or mean for us to want much from her. I don’t mean to be cruel in anyway, it’s just the way it was, I was always polite and cordial to her and respectful of her place in our family but when she passed it unfortunately wasn’t all that horrible.

Now on the other hand, I love my Great Uncle, this aunt’s husband, very much…he was always kind and friendly and great to be around…the whole family feels the same. At the funeral, he said that he was happy I was there but that he wasn’t expecting me to come as I live far away, but that since I was there that he had something for me. I thought he just maybe had something little for my kids for Valentines day or something as they usually sent something down for them so I went to see him a few hours after the funeral. He sat down, and very unceremoniously handed me the engagement ring that belonged to my Great Grandmother (my great Aunt’s mother) who I did know and have some vague memories of before she passed away when I was about 8-10ish.

This is all kind of weird for me. I’ve never been given something from anyone’s death, I’ve never been given an heirloom like this at all. I’m kind of surprised, to say the least, that it didn’t go to my mom or that it wasn’t handed down to one of us years ago when my cousins and brothers and I all got married. Actually having said that, my brother was given a ring that I think belonged to this same great Grandmother and he gave it to his wife as their engagement ring. So I have here a ring, that is quite nice, approximately 1-carat diamond in the center and two smaller (.25ct?) diamonds on the side of it on a plain white gold band. It’s lovely and had I known of it (or if my husband had asked anyone at the time if he could propose to me) at the time, I would have loved to have been given it as my engagement ring. As it is….what do I do with it? It seems silly to keep such a pretty ring in a box for however many more years to pass down to my kids. However I have two girls and as much as I think it’s romantic for a guy to ask the parents first if he can propose; to which I could pass along this ring for them to wear, that’s not really the way that story goes anymore. If I had a son, I could keep it for to give to when he finds that special girl…that would be ideal but I don’t have a son.

My mom said to have it sized and wear it on my right hand but I kind of feel silly doing that as it’s obviously an engagement ring. I thought of replacing the diamond in my engagement ring with this diamond (it’s bigger) and putting my diamond in that setting and selling it but I’m not at all happy about the idea of selling it in any form. Plus…I don’t really feel anything when I have it…it’s not like either of these women were giant parts of my life that there is huge sentimental value there, as guilty as I feel having said that “out loud”. I’ve thought of having it made into a necklace but I’m not really a necklace person. Everyone has told me to just wait, keep it safe and see what I want to do with it later.

What do you think?

When my maternal grandmother passed, I ended up with her wedding band. It’s nothing particular crazy-valuable, but it’s absolutely gorgeous. White gold, vintage-style filagree with a row of a few very tiny little diamonds — practically chips, but enough to make it sparkle.

I was already married. My wedding ring was plain, super-skinny white gold band that cost all of $50. My first thought, after getting my grandmother’s ring, was heeeeey, nice upgrade.

But like you, I had a complicated relationship with my grandmother. She wasn’t simply cold, she was awful. I mean, I hate bringing this topic up because the woman has been dead and gone for so many years…but awful. Manipulative. Openly cruel. My mother suffered pretty terribly as a child because of her, and she continued to drive wedges and play favorites with us grandchildren, always using her “money” and “the inheritance” to control and get her way. My older brother took her in and cared for her for years and years — in the end she decided she didn’t like his wife (who also took her in as a newlywed) and disowned him completely. She never liked me, and I figured that out pretty early on, though somehow I managed to stay relatively close to her good graces and not get excluded from the will entirely. (Though collectively we all opted to pool the estate — which wasn’t close to what our grandmother had led everyone to believe it was — and include our mother and disowned brother equally, because frankly? They more than deserved it all.)

So anyway, I ended up with This Woman’s wedding band. Because of my relationship with her, there was no way in hell I felt okay putting it on my left hand, in a place of honor, once I thought about it. Just…no. My husband didn’t like that idea either.

However…in the end, it was just a piece of jewelry, not a cursed symbol of her own unhappy marriage and life. And it was a pretty piece of jewelry, and while my mom didn’t want it for herself, she did admit she’d prefer that it stay “in the family.” Now THAT was a request I took seriously.

I had the ring sized for my right hand. I wear it sometimes, when I feel like it. Sometimes I string it on a necklace with some other silver or white-gold charms and doodahs. Does it look like a wedding band? Yeah, I guess. I think maybe two or three people have even noticed the the thing in all the years I’ve had it, and I’ve simply said, “It was my grandmother’s ring.” That’s more than enough of an explanation. It’s still not my favorite piece of jewelry, because it’s still hers, to some degree.

Perhaps one of my children will want it someday, or not, since she died long before any of them were born. But if they do, I will happily hand it over, leaving the tortured backstory out of it, because they’ll really only remember it as my ring. Not hers. Let the legacy of awful be over. Go make this ring a symbol of whatever in the world you want it to symbolize.

So. That’s my own story. I don’t know if that’s useful at all or not. I’m mostly going to echo what you’ve already been told: Just hold on to it and wait. Perhaps someday you’ll feel like you know what you want to do with it. However, I don’t think your mom’s idea of wearing it on your right hand is a strange one at all: the three-stone style you’re describing got quite a nice marketing makeover a few years back as the perfect “anniversary ring” style, so many people might assume that’s what it is. (Or they’ll simply — and rightly — guess that it’s a family heirloom, if anyone notices at all.) Get it sized for your next anniversary and consider it a gift from your extended family.

If that doesn’t feel right, then hold on to it. Maybe the stone will get knocked out of your own engagement ring and you’ll be happy for have a replacement. Maybe your one of your daughters will fall in love with a noble-yet-struggling young artist who can’t afford an engagement ring, and it can be your gift to them. Or you can get the ring redesigned and reset the stones into something less engagement-y looking to you, or a necklace for one daughter and earrings for the other. But there’s no rush to decide. You can get the ring resized and then still change your mind about wearing it personally and put it back in the box for a still yet-to-be-determined purpose.

I can say “it’s just a ring” but I understand that it can take time before it truly becomes “just a ring” to you, instead of an extension of your great-aunt, your odd relationship with her and your odd inheritance of this supposedly super-meaningful THING. It’s understandable that those feelings of oddness will be there every time you look at this otherwise beautiful piece of jewelry that you THINK you should have some great cosmic sentimentality for…but don’t. It’s okay that you don’t.

If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected]

Published February 21, 2011. Last updated July 20, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • liz

    February 21, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    I really like the idea of making it into a necklace for one daughter and earrings for the other.

    Or necklace and earrings for the OP.

  • Lisa

    February 21, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Keep it. In some form or another. I think Heirlooms are about more than just the value and usefulness of the object, it’s about the connection to the people who have gone before us. Sure the connection might not have been such a good one, but it’s still a connection, and you can’t walk into a store and buy that. In a generation or two the nature of your relationship with your great aunt won’t matter as much as the fact that you cared enough about your future family to keep it. One day some kid can say, “Oh, this is from my great grandmother, she was very cool, loved us kids. I think she got it from her great aunt? So anway yeah, this goes waaaay back in our family”. And that cool great grandmother will be YOU.

  • Jenny

    February 21, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    Since you like your great-uncle a lot, maybe you can symbolize the ring with him and not with your great-aunt.

    I’d keep it and maybe sometime you’ll want to wear it.

    I’d just be careful and not get rid of it or change it for a while because obviously your great uncle wanted you to have it. And that is who this obivously is the most about.

  • Therese

    February 21, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    I received a beautiful ring (similiar to what you described) from my grandfather a few years ago. It had been my grandmother’s (I was named for her and she died when I was 5). My grandfather had been keeping it until he thought I was old enough to have it. I loved my grandmother (or moreso the memory of her) so this was all positive, but, I struggled with some of the same issues as you. What do you do with this ring that obviously looks like an engagement ring but isn’t (at least for me)? I should add that when my grandfather gave it to me he very clearly stated “Your grandmother gave you that ring, if a boy wants to marry you, he’ll need to buy his own diamond!” So, after months of it sitting locked up, I decided it was stupid to leave such a beautiful piece of jewelry unworn. I had it re-sized, appraised, added to my insurance and began wearing it on my right hand. I occassionally would get questions and my answer was “it was my grandmother’s ring” and no further explanation was generally needed. Once I got engaged (to a boy who did buy his own diamond :), I took the ring to the jeweler and had it made into a beautiful necklace that I wore for my wedding (and continue to wear when the occassion calls for a simple diamond neclace). I still have the band with the two small side diamonds in my jewelry box (I like Amy’s suggestion of earrings, I may have to look into that). I guess my suggestion is hold onto the ring in a safe place (get it appraised and added to your insurance policy though!) and when you decide that you might want to wear it somehow, go for it. A right hand diamond ring is awesome or splitting it up into smaller pieces would be great as well. It sounds like a beautiful piece of jewelry!

  • -R-

    February 21, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Don’t rule out the idea of one of your daughter’s using it as an engagement ring, if that’s what you want. My mom let me know that I could have my grandmother’s ring as an engagement ring when I was ready. I told my now-husband, and he asked my mother for it and proposed to me with it.

  • Ahmielyn

    February 21, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    I have a similar story about a not-so-grand mother and an engagement ring. My oldest aunt is the oldest granddaughter on that side and was given her grandmother’s ring when her grandmother passed. To keep the tradition, I was given my grandmother’s ring.

    I had conflicting feelings about whether to accept it or not. My relationship with my grandmother was…not great, and my whole family knew about it. In the end I decided to honor my the wishes of my aunties, since I adore them. Also, I loved my grandfather very much, and I like to imagine him picking out this ring: his love for his girl, his hope for a family, his giddy excitement for the future. That’s what makes it special for me.

  • Amy Beth

    February 21, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    But your Aunt isn’t the one who gave it to you. Your Uncle did. Surely that’s more memorable than the woman who wore it? It’s just a piece of metal, after all. I really think the ring is more about your relationship with him 🙂

    Just my $0.02

  • Amy B

    February 21, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    My husband asked my parents before proposing to me 4 years ago (and my engagement ring contains a diamond that my mom gave him). Lots, maybe even most of my friends’ husbands did the same. Perhaps now it is more of a formality than REAL permission, but it is not something that has totally gone by the wayside. So don’t rule out holding on to it for one of your daughters. I also like the earrings, necklace idea.

  • ellie

    February 21, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Or maybe your daughters will marry other women, and then they can use your ring.

  • Katxena

    February 21, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    When my mother divorced my father, she stopped wearing her engagement right. Later she remarried. When I graduated from college, she had the diamond from her first engagement ring made into a necklace (that she designed) with two accent diamonds my step-dad bought for me. The idea was that it was a gift for me, with diamonds from the two men who had loved my mom and are my fathers. This necklace obviously has TONS of significance for me, so it’s not similar that way.

    But there’s one point of similarity — I was 23, and not a necklace person, and certainly not a diamond necklace person. But I started wearing that necklace every day, at first with plain gold hoop earrings. No matter what clothes I wore, no matter how casual, I wore that necklace. And eventually, I got to where I feel naked without it. So if you want to make it into something special for yourself, go for it. You’ll find a way to make it work for you. You might never be a necklace person — but you might start to be a that necklace person.

  • stephanie

    February 21, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    I’d say hold onto it for your daughters. You might be surprised… my husband gave my parents a “heads-up,” while not asking outright for permission, that he was going to ask me to marry him, and a lot of his friends did the same thing. Also, a lot of couples discuss engagement rings or even pick them out together before getting engaged. If your girls knew this was in the family, they might bring that up when the engagement discussion begins. If it is something you want to offer both of them, they could split the stones from the settings or find some other way to both have a piece of this family heirloom.

    I ended up using the diamonds from my grandmother’s engagement ring and wedding band in mine. (The original setting was not my style, and honestly, was a lot of metal for the size of the stones and hid them, rather than highlighted them.) There are still some small diamonds left, which my mom and aunt are probably going to have made into a necklace or earrings. The settings are still there and might be used one day… who knows.

  • brenna

    February 21, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    I’ll cast another vote for the possibility that your daughters still might use it as an engagement ring. My husband was thrilled to learn that there was a ring in the family when it came time to propose.

  • LB

    February 21, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    My husband was offered his grandfather’s ring to use as a wedding band. We thought about it carefully, and even though it was a lovely ring and he had a loving relationship with his grandfather- it just didn’t symbolize US. We turned it down and bought our own rings, which mean a lot to us. No one was offended by our decision. His grandmother still has the ring, and eventually it will go to another grandchild- and we’re totally okay with that. You definitely have the option of giving the ring to another family member or telling your great uncle that you’ve thought about it and want him to continue to hold onto it.

  • Stephanie`

    February 21, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    I’m not yet married, but my boyfriend and I have talked about pooling together rings from both of our families to make up my engagement/wedding ring. I like the sentimentality of it and so does he. I just wanted to put that out there, that just because you have girls doesn’t mean that they won’t come to you one day asking if you have any family jewelry that no one wears. I didn’t really have a relationship with anyone I might be creating my ring from, but the “family” and “history” part of creation really means a lot to me.

  • Julie

    February 21, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    Just another idea…

    My parent’s engagement ring was literally bought at the 5 and dime and while it was a cute ring, it only contained a diamond chip. Years later my mom inherited her Aunt’s diamond ring. My dad had the diamonds from both rings, plus our family member’s birthstones, made into a mother’s ring.

    Maybe you could do something similar?

  • Megan

    February 22, 2011 at 4:31 am

    Jewelry is never something you need, but always something you should keep. My parents had a cookie tin filled with dead relatives’ rings (which they finally put in a safe). From that I was given a lovely ring for college graduation and my brother was able to farm diamonds for his first wife’s wedding ring (which he got back). You never know. It will come in handy one day and until then, size it and wear it, and think of the kind man who gave it to you.

  • Lydia

    February 22, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    We have ring like this on our family too from a grandmother. No one used it as an engagement ring but the keeper of the ring (like frodo, ha) offers it to all the women in the family who get married to wear on their wedding day. It’s a nice way to include grandma and it fits the “something old something borrowed” requirements. Then we give it back to the Frodo, er, keeper. One day it’ll be passed on to her children most likely. It doesn’t hold huge sentimental value but it’s beautiful, and like other posters said, one day it might hold something nice for the next generation.

    One other little story: my sister and her husband repurposed an old ring from our family for her engagement ring. They were students and had ZERO dollars to put towards a ring, so they did that. So your daughter’s might be equally thrilled if it works out that way too.

  • Nora

    February 22, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    My awful grandmother has given me quite a bit of heirloom jewelry, some of it is pretty nice, some of it is hideous. I keep it all, because I want it to stay in the family. I suggest asking your family members about your great grandmother, where the ring was purchased, how much it cost back then, whatever history you can find out. You’ll be surprised how much more connected to it you feel after you hear more about it. One of the joys of my childhood was looking through my mother’s jewelry box and learning about all her trinkets.

    You can tell your daughters that the ring is available for their possible future engagements. Often couples discuss their engagement plans even if there isn’t a formal “asking the parents,” and if your daughter is sentimental, she might appreciate an heirloom ring.

  • Jennifer

    February 23, 2011 at 10:32 am

    I’d keep it and think of it merely as a gift from your great uncle who wanted you to have something special that has been passed down in your family.

    My story is a bit different. I inherited a ring from my grandmother (who I adore and miss dearly). My grandfather bought it for her in Japan in the 60s but she hated it and never wore it. They had a really turbulent relationship.

    But, it was my grandmother’s and that alone was enough to make it special for me. I didn’t like the setting at all so I had my local jeweler find a new setting and switch the stone to it. I wear this ring every day and even though it shouldn’t have much sentimental value since my grandmother hated the ring I often think of my grandmother when I look at it.

  • Lori

    February 23, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Keep it, wear it. I agree with other commenters that your uncle gave it to you; use it to symbolize your relationship with him. He’s the one who originally bought it, right? Who cares if it looks like a wedding/engagement ring. I have my Great Aunt’s ring set (though I was close with her so the meaning is different) and I had them resized and wear periodically on my right hand. Sometimes together, sometimes separate. People have commented that it’s pretty but never “why are you wearing a wedding ring on your right hand?” If it’s a pretty piece of jewelry, enjoy it

  • Stephanie

    February 24, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    I love being able to keep family heirlooms “in the family”, while making it your own as well. One idea I really liked – when my best friend got married, her new father in law gave her a sapphire and diamond ring that had been made from one of a pair of earrings belonging to her husband’s mother (who had died many years before). The other earring-int0-ring was given to his brother’s wife when they married.

  • The gold digger

    February 24, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    My husband’s mother, who dislikes me enough that she and my husband’s dad told my husband many times not to marry me, gave me her mother’s wedding ring. This was at my wedding, which she and husband’s dad said they were going to boycott but alas, came after all.

    I don’t wear rings. I don’t have an engagement ring (but I do have a fabulous engagement trash can and we took a great trip to Paris with the money we didn’t spend on a ring) and I wear my wedding ring only when my husband is around.

    But even if I did like rings, I wouldn’t want to wear the one she gave me because it has so many unpleasant associations. I stuck it in my jewelry box and put it in my will that my niece, her granddaughter, should get it when I die.

    Well, my niece won’t have to wait. Husband’s mom asked him to have me return the ring to her, two and a half years after she gave it to me. I shrugged, taped it to a notecard, and wrote that I had been very flattered that she would give me the ring (which I was) but it deserved to be worn every day by someone she (MIL) sees frequently.

    My husband was ticked off that his mother couldn’t even be bothered to send me an email that she had gotten it. Classy.

  • Mia

    March 2, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    I agree, hang onto it for your daughters. I always adored a ring my maternal grandmother wore on her right hand — it’s an antique engagement ring from the 20s, but wasn’t HER engagement ring — and my love of this ring was well known throughout the family. I’m extremely close to my grandparents, and my grandmother always told me she’d leave it to me. This past summer my then boyfriend approached my family to let them know he was planning to ask me to marry him, and what do you know, my grandmother offered up that ring for him to give to me. It was a nice surprise when he proposed with it. So, you never know. One of your daughters may one day want it!