Wearing an heirloom: Rings carry with them history, love
An heirloom ring is more than shiny gold, silver, platinum, diamonds, rubies or pearls.
Kerry Riley of Washington Township says she treasures her ring, partly because she never got to meet the woman who wore originally it. But the connection is as strong as if she had, she says.
Mary Riley passed away when her son, Frank, was 16. When Kerry Riley married Frank, they could not afford both a wedding reception and a ring, so they chose the reception. On their 30th wedding anniversary, her husband’s aunt gave them the engagement ring that had belonged to his mother, Mary Riley.
It is a solitaire with baguettes on the side set in platinum.
“It really sparkles,” Kerry Riley says. “It was worth waiting for. As I wear the ring, I actually feel a bond with a mother-in-law I never got to know. She raised a wonderful son, and I only have his memories of her and none of my own. His other aunts and cousins share their memories, and that brings comfort to me. So, as I wear the ring, I create my own memories of her and her kindness and love for her son, my husband.”
Heirloom rings, many that have been around for decades, can connect generations when passed down through a family. Their value is tied to the memories and love they represent.
Beth Duafala of Raccoon Township, Beaver County, has several pieces of jewelry from her mother, but there is one piece in an art deco setting in white gold with a diamond in the center that she really cherishes.
When her parents got married, they couldn’t afford rings. It was several years later that her father bought the art deco ring as a “wedding ring,” making $15 installments until he paid off the $280.66.
“People notice it because it is different,” Duafala says. “When I look at it, I think of my dad making all those payments. That was his way of showing love and commitment to my mother.”
Roberta Weissburg, owner of Roberta Weissburg Leathers in Shadyside and South Side Works, has her late mother Harriet’s engagement ring. Her father, Robert, went to his future father-in-law, Sidney Blitz, who owned Blitz Jewelers on the North Side, to buy a ring, but the ring his father-in-law found for him was $200 more than he wanted to pay. Little did he know, his father-in-law paid the extra money.
“Before she passed away, she gave me the ring, and it reminds me of that story every time I look at it,” says Weissburg. “And I think that my father never knew about the extra money. The ring is like personality on my finger. It represents my parents and their love for each other. It means everything to me. Owning something like this is about family.”
Sharon Hill, from Hempfield Township, cherishes a ring from 1904 from her grandparents Earl and Annie Yeager. Her grandfather found a diamond outside a beer garden, had it set, and gave it to her grandmother.
“There is no amount of money that could replace the ring,” Hill says. “I gave the ring to my daughter. The story is something I will always remember, because he wanted something so bad and didn’t have money to buy a diamond, but there was a reason he found that diamond. I believe God provided it for him in an odd way. And she appreciated it. They had a long, happy marriage.”
Hill’s daughter, Heather Brunson, had admired the ring since she was little, but Hill didn’t give it to her until she was old enough to understand the significance.
“It is sentimental and inspirational, “ Hill says. “And it’s a part of our family’s history.”
John Henne, president and CEO of Henne Jewelers in Shadyside, sees lots of heirloom jewelry. He says he often has customers come in with pieces that he cleans and checks out to make sure the stones are secure before giving them back to the owner.
“These pieces are very sentimental,” Henne says. “Customers want to wear this jewelry, because it means so much to them. I often look at the pocket watch which was my grandfather’s and given to him in 1920, so I know how important an heirloom piece is.”
Maria Burgwin of Highland Park says her father-in-law had a ring designed by Henne Jewelers for her mother-in-law, Lela Burgwin, from a family brooch that had three diamonds. She took the ring off her finger and gave it to her son, Maury, to give to Maria.
“It is so beautiful and sparkly,” Maria says. “I think of her and my father-in-law every time I see this ring. I would love to give this ring to my son for his future wife some day. It means so much more that someone so special entrusted us with this ring to keep it in the family and hand it down through the generations.”
Judy Vrabel of Uniontown says her family’s heirloom rings hold many happy, as well as sad, memories. The rings belonged to her deceased mother. When her parents, Audrey and Thomas E. Traynor were married, he gave her a gold wedding band and later bought an accompanying engagement ring for Christmas. At the age of 42, Audrey Traynor died. Before Thomas Traynor died, he gave the two rings to Vrabel, who was the oldest daughter. She kept the wedding band and gave the other to one of her sister, Lois Jane. Vrabel thought the ring was lost when Lois Jane was killed in a car accident in 1983. But it turned up later in her sister’s house, so Vrabel then gave it to her youngest sister, Mary Margaret.
“My sister now has the lost ring, and I continue to wear my ring,” Vrabel says. “These rings will always continue to hold many wonderful memories or our mom. She’s always present in our lives. They are little diamonds, not big diamonds, but we love them and believe you can’t put a price on these rings.”
Cindy Kohler of North Huntingdon and her husband, Bill, have a unique twist on the heirloom ring.
“He made our bands, and when our son and daughter got married, he made wedding bands from the same block of material,” Cindy Kohler says. “I was amazed he still had the piece of material. We were all married by the same minister, too, which I think is pretty amazing and special, too.”
At their son’s wedding, they took a photo of all of their hands.
“It is a really strong metal, which I think is symbolic of the strength of marriage,” Cindy Kohler says. “When I was pregnant, I had to remove my band part-way through the pregnancy because there was no way they were going to be able to cut the ring off, it was so strong.”
She says their children were all for the idea of having these wedding bands made from stellite.
“They saw the significance of us all having the rings,” Cindy Kohler says. “He also made their rings a little different in size because, when we got married, the wider band was popular. Our kids have much narrower bands. But we are all connected through that one piece of material, which represents a unique family bond.”
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7889.