One of Robin Callahan's clients brought in some beautiful pieces of old and broken jewelry. The client gave Callahan complete design freedom, and she created this amazing statement pendant.

Bainbridge Island jeweller adapts heirlooms to create modern masterpieces

Something old, something new: Giving new life to outdated jewelry, while preserving the memories

Some jewelry is simply decoration. Other jewelry, like the pieces made by award-winning Robin Callahan Designs, is full of family history, sentimental value and a lasting artistic expression.

Every piece Callahan creates has a story. And when one of her clients came back three times for different pieces, Callahan got to add three chapters to the story.

“She had an opal that she’d purchased from an Australian mine she’d visited with her husband about a year before he passed away. When she was ready, she brought it to me to make into a piece of jewelry,” Callahan says. “She wanted a memory, but also a new beginning. That stuck with me, and I incorporated it into the design.”

Robin Callahan returned to making jewelry at at 54, and quickly gained international acclaim. See her latest creations on Instagram @robincallahandesigns.

Robin Callahan returned to making jewelry at at 54, and quickly gained international acclaim. See her latest creations on Instagram @robincallahandesigns.

Next, the client brought in every piece of jewelry from her marriage, and asked Callahan to incorporate the gems into a new creation.

“People often bring me a box filled with grandma’s jewelry, broken necklaces and different heirlooms, and ask me to create something new. We’ll chat about whether they want me to use it all, or just choose what speaks to me. Sometimes we add other gems, but sometimes it’s important that everything in the new ring or necklace came from that family history,” Callahan says.

A little while after completing that second commission, Callahan collaborated with someone new — the client’s soon-to-be fiancé.

“I worked with him to design the engagement ring, and got to play a part in the next chapter of her life.”

Top: After 20 years her ring needed a new life. Her husband designed the original and she loved the concept so Robin Callahan redesigned it, honouring the original. Bottom: Wedding and engagement rings converted into a sparkling necklace.

Top: After 20 years her ring needed a new life. Her husband designed the original and she loved the concept so Robin Callahan redesigned it, honouring the original. Bottom: Wedding and engagement rings converted into a sparkling necklace.

Refreshing and recycling old jewelry to make new heirlooms

Sometimes clients want to re-work a piece because it brings up bad memories, and sometimes the design doesn’t match their current style.

“Often we’ll pick out a new centre gem, and incorporate stones from the original as accents.”

Recycling old jewelry is a good way to reduce costs — reusing gems and melting down gold to use again. Old gems may be sent away to be re-polished, or even re-cut to add more sparkle. Callahan is always transparent about costs, and updates her estimate with every decision you make.

“I get a feel for who my clients are, and ask them to send photos of jewelry they like. Often they send photos from my website of other pieces I’ve done,” Callahan says. And don’t worry if you are struggling to come up with a creative idea. “It’s my job to imagine the outrageous. Then my clients reel me in, or let me go!”

Robin Callahan designed these convertible earrings which can be worn two ways, incorporating diamonds her client wanted to re-use from old jewelry.

Robin Callahan designed these convertible earrings which can be worn two ways, incorporating diamonds her client wanted to re-use from old jewelry.

Convertible jewelry

Robin Callahan Designs collaborates with artists and clients around the world. If you’re commissioning a ring and can’t visit her in person, she recommends picking up a 10 dollar ring sizing kit to find the right fit. When it’s complete, she’s happy to securely ship completed pieces, but says a surprising number of clients fly half-way around the world to pick up jewelry in person.

“It’s a personal experience, and all of my clients become friends. I want the experience to be special, so their new heirloom has a meaningful origin story.”

Every commission involves many phases of sketches where clients can express preferences and shape the design. Sometimes a single piece can actually turn into two or three.

“One of my clients had so many diamonds, I couldn’t believe it. She wanted a fabulous pair of dangling earrings, but I pointed out that they were the type of thing she’d only be able to wear two or three times a year. So I suggested a convertible piece.”

Callahan used the largest diamonds to make post earrings that could be worn more frequently. Then she created diamond dangles that can snap onto the post earrings for special occasions. She can also use the earring attachments as a sparkling pendant!

“I’m flexible with my clients. There’s so much we can do. The first step is to bring in your old jewelry and start the conversation.”

To see her latest creations, follow Robin Callahan Designs on Facebook and Instagram. To get in touch about a commission, email robincallahan59@gmail.com or call 206-240-1681.

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