Jewellery Repairs vs. Jewellery Restoration. Which do I need?

If your antique jewellery is damaged, do you need it repaired or restored?

Antique jewellery is enduring, this is not the same as bombproof.. We receive jewellery remodelling enquiries where the jewellery is not being worn because it’s damaged in some way rather than disliked. While jewellery remodelling is obviously a big part of what we do, beautifully made old jewellery has its own charm and it doesn't have to be changed in all instances, just fixed. Whether it's a repair, or a more involved restoration will depend on the condition of the piece. Either way, you want to work with somebody who understands jewellery making or you'll end up with an even more damaged piece.

Pink sapphire, gold and platinum ear studs with new posts and scrolls
Our client wanted to pass these 1950s stud earrings on to her daughter, but the original posts were thick, bent and one had cracked at the base. We replaced the posts and added scrolls that were more wearable.

The goldsmiths I work with all trained in antique jewellery restoration as part of their apprenticeships. Several of my guys said;

“The best way to learn how to make jewellery, is by repairing it”.

This isn't spot welding with a laser (although lasers can be very helpful!), antique jewellery engages a variety of approaches, and a good goldsmith understands each one. (A lot of these techniques are still used today!)

The difference between antique jewellery repairs versus jewellery restoration?

Jewellery Repairs

In general, when jewellery is repaired, original broken parts are put back together.  Say an earring post has cracked, or stone claws are bent/misshapen, or a clasp no longer working.  These are all things where the goldsmith will work with the original componentry.  It may involve more metal being added, or a new spring etc, but it is still all part of the original piece.

18 karat gold earring broken post repair
The post had broken away from this 18 karat gold earring. We replaced it, and also trimmed the posts a little for our client to make them more comfortable to wear.

Jewellery Restoration

Jewellery restoration may involve repairs but the requirements go further. Restoration is generally when the condition of the piece is irreparable (highly damaged, worn, or repaired incorrectly creating more damage) meaning repairs will be ineffective, or weaken the structure further. Replacement parts or components are going to be required.  A simple example could be a stone setting so worn there is not enough metal to hold a gemstone stones securely in place, or where part of a piece has broken away.

The metal in this eternity ring was worn in several places, and had a couple of cracks meaning there was a high risk diamonds were going to be lost. For a small area, we could probably have repaired the metal, but here, because there was so much wear, the goldsmith used the old metal to re-create the stone setting, adding additional platinum for strength. The ring is back to being worn daily.

The key outcome with repairs or restoration, is to ensure that jewellery looks the same as when new.  Sometimes with some tweaks for a client but a different path to remodelling. It is a good path, as a lot of antique jewellery is very beautiful in its own right – it just needs to be returned to its original glory.

We advise our clients on the nature of the work, once we've seen the jewellery as then we have a better idea of how everything works. Which leads neatly on to the next point..

Can you give jewellery advice from a photograph?

We do offer some advice on jewellery from photos, providing that the caveat is understood that it is almost impossible to know exactly what is going to be required, until the piece is physically in front of the goldsmith, and under magnification.  A little problem may be an indication that there is a bigger one, or it may not.  Only by seeing the jewellery can we provide a definitive answer on the work required.  We try to provide worst case scenario pricing for this reason, it is preferable a client is prepared for an expensive exercise.  Nobody complains if it works out lower in cost because what was feared turned out not to be such an issue!

While there is a clear break in this photo, there is also a repair line to the right of the break, and then another two repair lines were found when the piece went into the workshop.

What kind of jewellery restoration and repair work does Heirloom carry out?

With antique jewellery, the list of tasks which may be required are endless!  A rough laundry list of work we do includes;

• Replacing earring posts/pins

• Fixing broken clasps (where possible)

• Rebuilding broken and worn mounts

• Re-setting gemstones and matching missing stones

• Re-plating and polishing

• Adding/removing bracelet links

• Chain repairs

• Reconnecting broken rings

• Restringing pearls and beads

• Building new piece sections

What are the costs to repair jewellery?

Costs are driven by labour in the first instance, and then materials.  In addition, there is the level of detail required by the client, as in some instances the value of the jewellery.  If the piece is extremely valuable, clients are generally looking for a solution that will be in keeping with the style and era of the piece.  For more sentimentally driven repairs, clients are not always as concerned for an exact replication if it is going to be disproportionate against the value of the piece.  A few examples are below;

To replace broken posts From £100

Fixing broken clasps From £100

Repairing stone settings (including broken claws) From £120

Rebuilding and replacing stone settings (worn mounts) From £250

Jewellery plating and polishing From £65

Adding/removing bracelet links From £120

Chain repairs From £50

Reconnecting and reshaping broken rings From £100

Restringing pearls and beads From £250

Building new piece sections From £400

Some jobs involve a combination of some of the above, depending on the piece condition.

Old water jug pre and post silver plating
This old water jug has been in the family for years, as the lack of silver plate showed! We smoothed a couple of dents out of it, and then re-plated it. Because of the size of the jug this was a fairly large undertaking.

Is it always possible to repair jewellery?

Honestly, no. It depends on the damage, how much metal there still is to work with, and where the piece comes from. Sometimes if a client really wants to wear it again, a total rebuild is required, where we can save all the gemstones and keep some of the metal, but it will require a whole new mount. This happens with rings that are worn every day where the wearer is active with her/his hands.

Other challenges are found in jewellery that has come from the Far East. These are often metal related, as different alloys are worked with, and the metal reaction to heat can be unpredictable. In addition, the finesse is not always what has been stamped on the shank if it hasn't been hallmarked. Worse, in some cases the metal has been plated, to hide casting imperfections. Which can create all sorts of problems in the workshop.

Finally, the cost of repairing jewellery has to be measured against the value of the piece. This could be monetary, it could be sentimental, or both. As a lot of the time is labour, it doesn't matter if the jewellery is silver or platinum - you're paying for specialist jewellery repairs. I'll advise against it in one in five cases - just because the piece value doesn't match up. That said, we still carry out work on highly sentimental pieces, as client happiness to be able to enjoy wearing their cherished pieces is often priceless.

Badly made diamond ring
This ring looks old but was actually hadn't even been worn a year. It was sadly, quite badly made, casting holes in the shank and settings too small for the diamonds. There was nothing we could do to make the it more wearable other than start again.

If you have valuable jewellery you would like to ensure is correctly repaired get in touch with us and we'll see how we can help.

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