Fine Jewelry vs Costume Jewelry

There is a Huge Difference Between Fine Jewelry and Costume Jewelry In this post I'll talk about the difference between costume jewelry and fine jewelry.

Fine jewelry is made with valuable metal such as gold and platinum and is set with natural, precious gemstones. Funnily enough cultured pearls are considered a "gemstone." They are in the organic category. Therefore they are part of the fine jewelry category.

Basically, costume jewelry can be made of any almost any material—including plastic. Manufacturers typically copy more expensive fine jewelry by substituting the expensive materials for less expensive ones. Often the pieces are highly stylized and fashionable. Many costume pieces, are quite artful and attractive and command high prices.

Fine Jewelry and the Finer Things

The nicer jewelry items with real gemstones and noble metals are called fine jewelry. Fine jewelry will always be more expensive than its imitative costume versions.

Fine jewelry includes pearls and gemstone beads. Whether in necklaces or worked into pins, it is their genuine status and not how they are used that makes them fine.

Cheap Costume vs Nice Costume Jewelry

Manufacturers often copy more expensive fine jewelry by substituting the expensive materials for less expensive ones. This is copy-type costume jewelry.

There are however jewelry designers designing specifically for the costume jewelry market. Often the pieces are highly stylized and fashionable. Many costume pieces are quite artful and attractive and command high prices.

The Idea of Costume Jewelry for Outfits

In the 1920's Coco Chanel popularized the idea of buying "outfit" jewelry. A set of inexpensive accessories that matched the outfit and complemented it, for a finished and fabulous look.

Hollywood movie stars took this trend from the screen into the mainstream.

Costume Jewelry for the Famous and the Masses

Kenneth Jay Lane was a famous costume jewelry designer in the 60's. His most popular design was the three strand faux pearl necklace worn by Barbara Bush. Kenneth also designed unique pieces of costume jewelry for Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Onassis.

The Problem with Costume Jewelry

Assorted Costume Jewelry. Many of These Pieces are Unfixable.

Assorted Broken Costume Jewelry. Many of These Pieces are Unfixable.

The problem with costume jewelry is that if it breaks, it can be next to impossible to repair. It may be completely unworkable to solder a post back onto a costume earring.

This is due to the fact that the heat generated from the soldering flame causes the thin gold coating to evaporate or blacken. Or the plastic to simply melt. Most costume pieces just can’t stand the heat!

Fine Jewelry Can be Repaired and Re-worked

Fine Metals Can Take Flame, Costume Metals and Plastics Cannot

Fine Metals Can Take Flame, Costume Metals and Plastics Cannot

On the other hand, fine karat gold and platinum jewelry can be soldered any number of times. This type of jewelry can be worked on again and again.

It can be passed on for generations and last for over a hundred years. I saw some amazing pieces of jewelry from the Egyptian tombs that were thousands of years old. They held their beauty and fascinating looks.

Sometimes a piece is beloved, like the rhinestone multi-layer necklace my ballroom dancing client wears to competition. She had her necklace customized to go with that necklace. It broke before a competition and I was able to drill into the metal and do a "don't look close" repair.

I'm not saying costume jewelry can't be fixed. I'm saying it can be expensive and inelegant when done. And plenty of pieces are not worth fixing.

Costume Jewelry as Gifts, Not Always a Good Choice

There’s nothing more maddening than a broken piece of jewelry that can’t be fixed and can never be worn again. It’s like being told your Corvette has to be junked because it has a flat tire and can’t be driven anymore.

That’s not right. Fortunately, Corvettes can be repaired. Not so, the plastic and gold tone Corvette earrings your boyfriend impulsively bought for you at the car show last month. He should have sprung for the 14kt gold ones instead!

Another Post About Costume Jewelry

See my blog post on taking a favorite piece of costume jewelry and replicating it as fine jewelry.  I've done this a number of times. Sometime if you can't repair it, you just put your foot down and say, "I like that design." We will make it up so it'll last.

Calla Gold


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About Calla Gold

Calla Gold is a Personal Jeweler and Author who takes pride in working with clients one-on-one to integrate their personal sense of style and taste into custom designed jewelry and repaired jewelry pieces.   Unlike typical Santa Barbara jewelry businesses, Calla Gold has no brick-and-mortar location. Calla Gold comes to you, bringing you the jewelry collection you want to see and collaborating with you to create unique custom jewelry. Calla also works with at-a-distance clients.

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10 years ago

Great article.

I’ve always felt weird wearing fakies. I remember once, I had a synthetic diamond (that was a gift from a boyfriend) but every time I wore it, I felt like a fraud (I think it was 3 carats!)

I love the idea of turning a costume piece into the real thing; I never thought of that until now.

Thanks for the ‘food for thought’…

Lisa S.
Lisa S.
10 years ago

So true about the notion of not being able to repair costume jewelry. I can’t tell you how many times I have enjoyed a necklace, ring or earrings for a time, only to have them break. Unfortunately, costume jewelry these days is made poorly and doesn’t last very long at all. I had a costume ring that adored and I wore until it broke. I kept the pieces for so long and finally discarded them about a year ago. IF I HAD ONLY THOUGHT ABOUT HAVING IT MADE INTO A “REAL” RING, I could have taken it to Calla Gold… Read more »

Amy Marie Orozco
10 years ago

I never thought about not being able to repair costume jewelry. Usually, I use broken pieces in a craft or art project.

Lisa Darsonval
10 years ago

There’s nothing more frustrating that not being able to fix your favorite costume jewelry piece. But it’s good to know that if I like the design enough, I can count on you to help me find a solution to keep it. I never would have thought to turn it into a real, high quality piece of jewelry.

4 years ago

Should a jeweler stamp the inside of a custom made pendant with the type of gold it is?

Reply to  LuAnn
4 years ago

Hi Calla,

That was very helpful and will share with my gemstone faceting class. Thank you. LuAnn