Some family members leave behind heirlooms that are jewelry, pocket watches, or even antique furniture. Anything that has sentimental value or monetary value (or both!) can be passed down from generation to generation and be considered an heirloom.
Even if you don't have a family member that gives you an heirloom, you can buy one from a thrift shop or vintage store. By definition, an heirloom is "a valuable object that has belonged to a family for several generations." This means that an old family-owned item bought at a store is still considered to be an heirloom — even though it's not your own family member's.
The number of generations or amount of time it takes for something to become an heirloom is open for dispute. Heirloom plant seeds have been passed down through the generations for typically at least 50 years. Some take this to mean that a family heirloom item is also considered to be at least 50 years old while others classify heirlooms as something given before WWII. The term heirloom, though, is derived from 1610 when properties that were passed down as inheritances.
If your family doesn't have a family heirloom from past generations, you can always start the tradition now for future generations. Your heirloom can signify your family history or family's story for the next generation.
Most importantly, passing down or buying heirlooms (which are already used), versus buying new items is better for the planet and saves you money in the long run.
Ahead learn more about family heirlooms and how they're more sustainable.
Fashion heirlooms and vintage clothing are a bit different from each other. Both are old pieces of clothing but fashion heirlooms are more sentimental and typically signify a major life event. For example, your mom may give you an old cardigan that she wore as a teenager, which would be considered vintage. But if she gives you a wedding dress from your great-grandmother, that would be a family heirloom. Other fashion family heirlooms can include a flapper dress from the '20s, a military suit from WWII, baby shoes from another era, or a christening gown from way back when.
A piece of jewelry is something that's common to be passed down to younger generations. This type of keepsake is typically small in size but big in value. Unlike a photo album, quilt, or family tree, jewelry can hold sentimental value and monetary value. As jewelry gets older, the quality, cut, and rarity becomes more valuable.
An engagement ring or earrings from a loved one can be given to a family member before a wedding, bat mitzvah, or another monumental event. It can feel like your ancestors from generations past are still with you on big days and as you go through life. These items can remind you of where you came from and even become a conversation starter. Instead of buying new jewelry, wearing your ancestors' jewelry, or buying an heirloom from a store doesn't waste materials.
Not only is it environmentally friendly, but it's better quality than buying a bunch of cheap jewelry that will break and tarnish.
You can take care of old jewelry so that it's made to last for generations. If something is broken, you can always fix it or have it professionally cleaned.
Why are heirlooms so important?
Family heirlooms signify family memories, history, and sentimental value. It's also better for the environment than buying new items.
What are heirlooms and why are they important to family traditions?
By definition, an heirloom is "a valuable object that has belonged to a family for several generations." They string together one generation to the next and symbolize a family's history.
What can you do with heirlooms?
You can pass heirlooms down to younger generations as keepsakes. Preserve them and treasure them so their quality stands the test of time.
If you don't have a family heirloom, you can buy a sustainable piece of jewelry with the intention to pass it down to your daughter once she gets older. Carolina Wong's versatile pearl gold-filled charm is a perfect example of an item that can be repurposed for a necklace, ring, earring, or pin. So, even if the charm isn't "in style" in the next generation (even though this charm is timeless in our opinion!), it can be worn in a trendy way. The same goes for wedding dresses. Some women choose to use a small piece of the dress or repurpose it to fit their body and style.
Carolina Wong's flora amethyst recycled 14K gold brooch also exemplifies quality craftsmanship, sustainable materials, and style that would make a timeless family heirloom.
You can tell your family's story through a family photo, but a jewelry heirloom or fashion heirloom can tell a story without images or words. It signifies the test of time.
- By Bonnie Azoulay