In your search for good quality jewelry, you will come across costume, or fashion jewelry, and fine jewelry, and the simplest distinction between these two types of jewelry is always the price.
Everyone knows that costume jewelry is the cheap kind while fine jewelry is the more expensive kind. Naturally, it means that if you are financially constrained, then costume jewelry is your obvious choice.
But what happens when it turns out that the pieces of jewelry bagged are not exactly what you were looking for? What if you were looking for good-quality jewelry without breaking the bank?
As confusing as it can be, it is not impossible to find good-quality costume jewelry or more affordable types of fine jewelry. In this guide, we’ll show you how to make the right choice when it comes to costume and fine jewelry.
Fine And Costume Buying Advice
Your sense of fashion and style changes over time, which may mean buying and wearing different types of jewelry in different seasons.
However, it may also mean that after trying out different jewelry styles, you’ve settled on a kind of jewelry, and you’d want to have more of those.
You also know that you’d like to spend your money on good-quality pieces of jewelry without going broke. So how do you do it, especially when shopping in a market with so many jewelry options that may or may not be genuine?
The first thing you should do is to understand the differences between costume and fine jewelry. Beyond prices, other elements differentiate costume from fine jewelry.
Costume jewelry, also called fashion jewelry, costume jewelry refers to jewelry that is made from inexpensive materials like plated metals and simulated stones.
There are also high-end varieties of fashion or costume jewelry, which are made of more valuable materials. Fashion jewelry often consists of trendy accessories you will wear for a short time.
Unfortunately, the craftsmanship for most costume jewelry pieces is lacking in many ways, and these pieces don’t last as long. This is the case because no rules govern the manufacturing processes for these pieces, which are mass-produced, and the materials and composition of the elements used may not be standardized.
Some brands will use materials like plastic and acrylic, and for metallic jewelry, most of them are made of brass, zinc, or copper, mostly plated with an ultra-thin layer of gold that wears out soon after purchase first wear.
Fine jewelry, on the other hand, is jewelry made of valuable materials like precious metals such as gold, platinum, and sterling silver, as well as pricey gemstones like natural diamonds, sapphires, rubies, etc.
Unlike fashion jewelry or even demi-fashion jewelry pieces, fine jewelry is not only made to last a lifetime but also, but these pieces of jewelry also hold value for a lifetime.
Fine jewelry includes masterpieces with the highest level of craftsmanship as they are made of high-quality precious materials.
Precious metals used to make fine jewelry include 14k and 18k gold, platinum, and 925 sterling silver, and elegant precious stones adorn them. Thanks to these pieces’ elegance, value, and durability, they can be very expensive.
Now that we know what makes these two classes of jewelry different let’s take a look at some of the things you should keep in mind when buying costume and fine jewelry.
Costume vs. Fine Jewelry
1. Materials used
The metals used to create jewelry determine the jewelry’s price, value, and durability. But even on a small budget, you can still find good-quality pieces made of durable metals that are good for your skin.
Here is a breakdown of what you need to know about different metals used in jewelry making.
925 Sterling Silver
This is a common metal used in jewelry making, and pretty much everyone owns at least one piece or pair of sterling silver jewelry.
Sterling silver is popular because it is inexpensive; it’s sometimes as cheap as lower-quality jewelry metals that make up the bulk of costume jewelry bulk, which is why you should consider buying sterling silver jewelry if you don’t want to splurge but want good-quality pieces.
While sterling silver jewelry will oxidize and develop a black or dark gray film after some time, this layer of tarnish can be removed easily by cleaning the jewelry in warm water and a gentle detergent.
This might be a challenge for some people, but sterling silver jewelry is advantageous in many other ways. It can be re-worked or resized relatively easily because it is made of 92.5% pure silver, a very malleable metal.
And to counter the tarnishing problem, your sterling silver jewelry may be plated with platinum or rhodium to counter oxidation, hence longer-lasting, lustrous jewelry pieces.
On top of that, sterling silver is one of the metals that is least likely to cause allergic reactions. It would be wise to buy nickel-free Argentium silver over sterling silver, especially if you have super sensitive skin.
While gold is the go-to metal for most people, and we’d recommend it to anyone in a heartbeat, gold can be expensive, even for the simplest pieces of gold jewelry.
But you really should have some pieces of fine gold jewelry, the price tag notwithstanding. And the best way for you to own gold jewelry without breaking the bank is by shopping for second-hand gold jewelry from pawnshops and thrift stores.
Unfortunately, finding high-quality gold jewelry pieces in the pawnshop is an extreme sport, and you should consider other worthy alternatives.
One of the best alternatives for you to try would be gold-filled jewelry or vermeils because they have much more gold than gold-plated jewelry.
Gold-filled jewelry is perfect for pendants, necklaces, bracelets, and rings meant to be worn occasionally. Since gold-filled jewelry wears out eventually, you’d want to buy pieces intended to be worn occasionally, or maybe a necklace because it doesn’t get abused much on the neck.
Bracelets and rings meant for daily wear, on the other hand, shouldn’t be gold-filled because they take a lot of abuse and would wear out sooner.
That said, you should skip the gold-plated jewelry completely because these always end up being a waste of money as they wear out too soon, and the quality is often questionable.
Other metals that we’d recommend for good quality jewelry include jewelry made of niobium and titanium, surgical-grade stainless steel, and or even brass. Some brass jewelry made well will last a really long time with proper care.
The stones incorporated into earrings and necklaces don’t matter much, and you could have stud or drop earrings with real or faux diamonds; these pieces just need to look sparkly and often call for minimal care – especially if they are made of high-quality metals.
Rings, on the other hand, take a lot of abuse, and the stones incorporated into the rings shouldn’t be fragile unless you intend to wear the ring occasionally. Here are some of the stones you should consider for your rings.
Diamonds because they are the hardest substances on earth and also the strongest. Unfortunately, the price for high-quality diamonds is unreasonably high, and unless you are buying secondhand diamond rings, it would be best to skip the diamonds.
Remember that the focus is on high-quality, functional jewelry, but not if you have to spend your entire paycheck on one piece of jewelry. If you must have a bright, sparkly ring, we’d recommend Moissanite as the perfect alternative to diamonds.
Moissanite rings have become increasingly popular in recent days because it is a stunning stone that is almost as strong as diamonds, has more fire than diamonds, and goes for a fraction of the cost of a diamond – talk about value for money!
In many ways, moissanite stones are like cloned diamonds, and you don’t have to worry about the quality or the durability of the stone because it is just as good, if not better.
What if you prefer colored stones? If this is you, then you could go for rubies or sapphires. These two make up the third hardest gemstones, and the best part is that other than the red rubies and blue sapphires, you can find either stone in pretty much every color imaginable.
The cherry on the cake is that these stones are very cheap. The only catch with the sapphires is that if you want a sparkling white stone, the white sapphires will not give you the same fire as an actual diamond, and it may look duller than you imagined.
And so, moissanite would be a better option. All these alternatives make great quality high-fashion and fine jewelry that will not break the bank.
That said, it is not written in stone that you must wear a ring with a white stone, so why don’t you go all out with something bolder and perhaps more elegant in the form of purple, pink, or teal sapphires?
2. Choosing the best earrings
Whether you are buying the cheaper costume earrings or the finer pieces, the first thing you must do is to make sure that t the jewelry is 100% hypoallergenic and nickel-free.
This is important because you could develop a nickel allergy at any point in your life, and because cheap costume jewelry is often to blame as the trigger, you should avoid all earrings that may have nickel in them.
How do you do this? Well, just understand that there are good metals and not-so-good metals. The good metals that are hypoallergenic and always safe on the ear include niobium, titanium, Argentium silver, and nickel-free 14k solid gold or 18k solid gold earrings.
Sterling silver is risky because it can be a hit or miss, depending on the material that it is plated with, and the plating also wears off, exposing the sterling silver base metal that would trigger an allergy.
Note that sterling silver is made of silver alloyed with copper, and copper can cause irritation, or trace amounts of nickel may have made their way into the sterling silver alloy, so this is a risky metal.
Surgical stainless steel is also recommended by some people, but it’s not 100% safe because it has trace amounts of nickel. The next best thing if you cannot find or afford the pricier good metals is to find implant-grade jewelry which is safe.
If you struggle with nickel allergies whenever you wear cheap costume jewelry or have to deal with that annoying dark-green skin discoloration, then your only way out is to find the best quality jewelry.
These cost more, but you won’t be uncomfortable or unhappy. So, with gold, avoid 10k or 14k gold if unsure, and settle for 18k gold.
Weight. Besides settling on the best metals, you also need to know your limits and what’s good for you in terms of the weight of the earrings. Most costume earrings tend to be heavy.
Be wary about such heavy pieces. And whenever you need to wear such statement earrings, it may be wise to wear them for only a few hours at a time because, in addition to the posed risk of stretching the earlobe, the heavy earrings carry the risk of the cheese cutter effect in your piercings.
Interestingly, costume jewelry is not the only kind that can be very heavy; fine, high-quality jewelry could be quite heavy as well. Though elegant and valuable, gold and diamonds are heavy.
So, if you are planning to buy such high-quality pieces, you should wear them infrequently and also for shorter periods. Wear the daintier pieces in between, or maybe find more of the new hollow-designed gold earrings. A jumbo earring clutch back or support patch will also help.
3. Making the best choice of necklaces
Whether costume, say gold-filled or made of solid gold, a good quality chain necklace will work well with different options of pendants.
So, your job is to settle on the right necklace/ chain length – this will depend on your physique and personal preference. An 18” is preferred by most people, but the 20” is more comfortable and hardly needs an extender added.
Also, invest in lightweight statement necklaces, and don’t forget the classic pearl necklace that could be made of real or faux pearls in single, double, or triple strands.
4. Where to buy the best quality, affordable jewelry
Some of the places that offer affordable, safe, and good-quality jewelry include the museum giftshops that often have affordable fine jewelry from local artists. The touristy shops also have great options for fine jewelry. Flea markets also offer great opportunities.
Online, try out stores like Nordstrom for affordable fine jewelry. eBay also has great deals on good jewelry, as does Etsy, although you need to be patient to filter through many shops and vendors to find good pieces.
Consider Swarovski too for cheaper, good-quality crystal jewelry.
5. The vintage appeal of costume jewelry
Even though costume jewelry is considered cheap, there is a thriving market for vintage costume jewelry, especially pieces by designers.
You will be surprised by how expensive these pieces go for, with most of them ranging from $100 – $10,000, depending on the materials and stones used to make them.
So, if you love vintage pieces over fine jewelry, you may spend even more on those vintage pieces. Note that these expensive vintage jewelry pieces are prized that high because they are rare designer pieces.
Your budget, style needs, skin sensitivity, and metal preferences will determine the kinds of jewelry you buy. However, you don’t have to break the bank for good-quality jewelry that will last long without irritating the skin.
You just need to know where to shop and what to look for. In other words, just because you prefer fine jewelry doesn’t mean you only buy from big-name brands.
There are countless other small brands, designers, and artists who offer fine jewelry for much less. So, you don’t have to buy cheap costume jewelry when you can afford fine jewelry for almost the same amount.
At the same time, costume jewelry made of sterling silver and brass, for example, can be great for you.
Lastly, there are endless options of very expensive and valuable vintage costume jewelry on the market today.
Stephanie is a jewelry lover when she was a teenager. Her major was fashion design when she was in college. She is a jewelry designer at SOQ Jewelry and other design companies. Now she is also a writer for our website. She writes a lot of designs&brands posts with very actionable tips.