Understanding the difference between fashion jewelry and fine jewelry can be quite simple: it all comes down to the materials that the jewelry is made with. Figuring out the quality of the metals and the gemstones are all it takes to determine whether a piece of jewelry is considered fashion jewelry or fine jewelry. We’re walking you through the definitions that expert authenticators use when it comes to assuring the quality of jewelry so that you know what to look for when shopping for new additions to your jewelry collection.
Fashion jewelry, also known as costume jewelry, is usually made with base metals and simulated stones. These pieces are often made with brass, copper, or aluminum, which bend and tarnish easily. Jewelry made entirely out of textiles or leather, base metal alloys, and even metals plated with precious metals like gold or silver also fall under fashion jewelry. Simulated stones include plastic stones, cubic zirconia, and Swarovski crystals.
Some jewelry enthusiasts will insist upon a middle category called “semi-fine,” which is reportedly characterized by jewelry that is made with gold vermeil or is gold-filled. (To find out the difference between gold-plated, gold-filled, and gold vermeil, check out this post about jewelry metals). “Semi-fine” jewelry is also made with real gemstones that are much more affordable, like morganite and opals, or “enhanced” stones, which are treated with heat or chemicals in a lab to appear clearer or more flawless or to change the color of the stone.
The “semi-fine” category may be useful for jewelry makers to more accurately compartmentalize their jewelry, but it is not a standard by which experts and authenticators measure jewelry. In the eyes of an expert, “semi-fine” jewelry is still considered fashion jewelry because of its incorporation of base metals—again, the materials that make up the jewelry is the deciding factor behind whether a piece is considered fashion jewelry or fine jewelry.
Because fashion jewelry is made of materials that are prone to cracking or tarnishing, they do not have much of a shelf life. In addition to that, they are near impossible to fix once they have broken because the level of heat that would be required to solder the brass or copper pieces back together would simply leave the gold or silver plating blackened. Luckily, fashion jewelry tends to come at a much lower price than fine jewelry does, and a broken piece could easily be replaced entirely.
Fine jewelry is used to describe jewelry made of solid gold, sterling silver, platinum, and/or other precious metals. This kind of jewelry also often uses genuine precious gemstones like real diamonds, rubies, sapphires, etc. Because it’s made entirely of solid precious metals and precious gemstones, fine jewelry is so much stronger than fashion jewelry and will not tarnish with proper care and storage. In addition to that, when broken, fine jewelry can be repaired. (For tips about repairing fine jewelry, read this post about what to do in such an event.) Fine jewelry may come at an elevated price point, but in truth, the value and longevity of these pieces are well worth the investment.
If you’re confused about where designer jewelry falls between these two categories, simply look at the composition of the piece. Some designers do raise prices on fashion jewelry simply because of the association with the brand name, making it seem as though a low-quality piece is actually worth more. But most brands only produce high-quality pieces made of precious metals and genuine gemstones. Do pay attention to hallmarks on your jewelry to figure out whether it’s fashion jewelry with a fancy brand name or truly fine jewelry.
If you are interested in investing in fine jewelry but are deterred by the price tag, you should definitely look into buying pre-owned. You get all of the high-quality materials and excellent craftsmanship at a much more reasonable price. TrueFacet Marketplace sells pre-loved fine jewelry and watches, all of which have been authenticated by our in-house team of experts.