Fine Jewelry vs. Costume Jewelry (Why I’m Collecting Wear-Everyday Pieces)

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Not to say I don’t enjoy a good costume jewelry piece, but as a fan of strong personal style, I’ve been longing for some signature pieces in my jewelry collection. Pieces I can toss on before heading out the door, will go with everything, and that I don’t have to worry about getting wet or turning green. I’ve been calling them my “wear-everyday” pieces.

I’ve always been a bit of a fine jewelry snob, which I blame on my mom who raised me scouring T.J.Maxx for sterling silver in the clearance counter, and hitting up the Downtown LA Jewelry District for deals. As I got older, I wanted my jewelry to reflect something a little more cool and modern, and seeing as cool modern fine jewelry is way out of my price range, I turned to costume jewelry to fill my needs.

But seeing as even cool modern costume jewelry is reaching pretty ridiculous prices ($500 for rubber? $360 for brass and glass?), my eye started to wander more and more toward the fine jewelry counters.

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My wear-everyday pieces consist at the moment of: two gold chain link necklaces, one vintage (bought off eBay) and one new (bought in Downtown LA). I wear a horse pendant on the vintage chain which my dad handed down to me a few years ago (he wore it the entirety of my childhood!). This summer, I’ve been wearing a sterling silver and turquoise ring bought from my parent’s small business, which I stack with two gold rings (bought in Downtown LA). Two midi-rings from Catbird (their prices are great!) have been in constant rotation, and I recently picked up two “baby” signet rings with my initial “K” off eBay. One ring fits me as a pinky ring, and the other fits me as a midi-ring.

I love the thought that these pieces will get better with age…gain character with every ding and scratch…develop that beautiful color from patina…and are part of a very personalized experience of getting adorned for the day.

Fine Jewelry Shopping Tips

Good places to shop

Fine jewelry can be expensive, but here are some ways I’ve been keeping the cost down. ;)

Shop vintage: Vintage jewelry will be a little more beat-up since it’s been pre-loved, but it often costs less, has better workmanship and details than a lot of stuff you can buy new today, often has a great patina to it, and a cool history (I like to imagine the person who bought it new, where they wore it, and how it came to be set free to find a new home). I personally love vintage jewelry!

eBay & Etsy: I scour these sites more for vintage jewelry than for new jewelry, but Etsy can be a good source of interesting handmade pieces (just beware that most gold items I’ve seen are gold-filled). Be sure to check the ratings and read the negative comments of any sellers you’re interested in purchasing from, especially on eBay. Especially look for negative comments from people complaining the jewelry they bought didn’t test for pure gold or silver. Chances are these sellers are peddling plated jewelry as the real deal, hoping no one tests their pieces to make sure! Unfortunately I’ve seen a lot of this from sellers out of Asia.

Your local Jewelry District: You’d be surprised how many larger cities have a jewelry district! I just discovered that San Diego has one! I know for a fact Los Angeles has one, and it’s awesome. Jewelry districts typically sell new and vintage jewelry, depending on the dealer, and price it at the current selling price of gold or silver on the stock market by the gram. You’d be amazed how much less jewelry costs without the store and designer markups! There is also room for price negotiations with the shop owners if you’re savvy…and always bring cash, you’ll get better deals if you offer to pay in cash.

Antique shops, Antique malls, and vintage shops: Obviously good places to find vintage jewelry. It’s a treasure hunt, and if you’re there on the same day as the shop owner, you can often negotiate prices.

Estate Sales: Another good place to find vintage pieces. I’d love to get the opportunity to go to these because from what I gather, that’s where all the good stuff is usually unearthed. These are sometimes advertised in the local papers, or on Craigslist.

Get your jewelry tested: If you’re shopping off eBay, or buying vintage, it may give you peace of mind to have pieces you pick up tested by a jeweler to confirm it’s purity. Jewelry testing is usually pretty cheap, and if you get into the business of buying a lot of items, it may be cost effective to just buy a gold/silver test kit of your own (be sure to practice safe handling and storage procedures, as these kits contain acid which can damage your clothing and skin, or be poisonous if ingested!)

Clinton thanks you for reading!

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— Details —

Mug Reiko Kaneko
Shirt Vince
Shorts American Eagle (similar)
Necklaces vintage & Downtown LA
Rings Catbird, LittleFeathers (similar), vintage & Downtown LA

— More Options —


10 Comments

  • I agree that a lot of quality costume jewelry has insane price tags these days! I definitely don’t get that rubber necklace. I hope those who buy it understand rubber breaks down after a few years much the same way bakelite does. *shudders* I second the estate sales, that is where I have found my best pieces for sure! Contrary to conventional wisdom, I have actually found the estate sales closer to DC seem to be cheaper than those further out. :)

  • Thanks for sharing your great tips on jewelry shopping. I buy my diamond and gold jewelry at the Los Angeles jewely district too. I make my own hand made gold filled, sterling silver, gold plated jewelry designs and do custom orders. It’s really fun for me. Thanks for your post! http://www.kblossoms.etsy.com

  • I absolutely agree with buying fine jewelry for everyday pieces. When I was growing up, my mother had two signature pieces: 14k gold ankle bracelet and a 14k gold necklace with a horn. She instilled in me the idea that what was important was quality and not quantity. It is better to have one high quality piece of jewelry that you can wear everyday, than to have a closet full of jewelry that is worn a few times a month.

  • I’ve been looking for jewelry lately too! I don’t have any statement pieces so I really want to find one that I can wear with many outfits. Unfortunately the pieces I find are usually really expensive (for my budget as a student) or if they’re cheap, they come from stores not necessarily known for their quality (e.g., Forever 21). What stores would you recommend for a university student on a budget? Have you tried jewelry from F21 and what do you think about its quality? Thanks :)

    – Vanessa

  • I’ve never been into costume jewellery, except the ones I inherited from my mother from the sixties, with beautiful glass beads. Apart from that, I dislike (rather read “hate”) what I call classical jewellery, ie big dull (in my opinion) plain white diamonds (as the typical huge one used in engagement rings, sorry don’t care at all for that) nor the other in the same kind. But I cannot wear “shit” material so I prefer to get smaller but true silver or gold jewels. Mixed with hard stones, leather, felt, fabric, precious wood. That’s the reason why I do prefer to have either custom made jewellery or at least different from the ones you find everywhere in traditional jeweller where I can use some unusual semi precious stones, much more less expensive. I do have kind of statement pieces, because they have this special touch and look different, but they are not as expensive nor huge looking as one would expect. I’m really not into showy pieces, especially as I am a petite. I do think that ii is not the price of the stone (or its size) that is important and enhance my beauty but the ones pieces that are really a reflect of my personality, my creativity and, when a present, the time and care the person involved in the purchase took in it. My engagement ring was a mix of silver, wood and pecks of golds with ametrine, rose pearls and orange fire opal. Made from an Etsy seller. I’ve never bought jewels from Ebay though, I would be too afraid to have fakes. As for vintage true you may find treasuries full of history.

  • Some fashion jewelry prices really are nuts. I know that it’s sort of a marketing thing, and if people still want to buy it then the company is not going to lower prices…but still! What gets me is all the enamel stuff that goes for $150. That’s a little hard to justify. I have found lots of nice fashion stuff for good prices though, it just takes some digging around.

  • I finally don’t feel weird for scrolling through a million comments to see if customers complain about their pieces tarnishing! I’ve given up buying costume pieces just because I feel so heart broken after falling in love with the piece and seeing it wither away!

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