In the jewelry world, the marketplace is divided into two segments: fashion jewelry and fine jewelry. Let’s compare and contrast the two.
The main distinguishing factor is the materials used in creating the jewelry. Fine jewelry is unsurprisingly made from precious metals and is set with precious gemstones such as diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. On the other hand, fashion jewelry is made from base metals and is set with commonplace stones such as synthetic gems. What constitutes a precious metal? Generally only a few precious metals are used for jewelry: gold and platinum. Of these two, gold is far and away the most popular, and for good reason.
Check out What We Talk About When We Talk About Gold to learn more about what exactly “gold” means and why it’s the perfect metal for fine jewelry. Brass, with a myriad of platings, is far and away the most popular metal for fashion jewelry.Where a debate lies is silver. Most will classify it as a precious metal, and it is, but it is very commonly used for what I would call fashion jewelry. In my eyes, the eye test is more like “is this an heirloom?” If it is, then it’s fine jewelry, if it isn’t then it’s fashion jewelry. Westies & Co’s “Broken Image Link Chain” makes a statement but is definitely fine jewelry. It seeks to elevate the humble Netscape icon by casting it in solid 18K gold set with emeralds, sapphire, and pink tourmaline.
With fine jewelry you’re paying for craftsmanship and quality. Fine jewelry can be a statement piece, but most buyers don’t have the budget to experiment with precious metals and diamonds. If you do, then you should feel lucky and take advantage of that privilege. For the rest of us with budget in mind, fashion jewelry has an attractive offer. Because the cost is lower, fashion jewelry can take more risks. With fashion jewelry you can find pieces that fit within a trend, a designer’s vision, or a lifestyle. Obviously there are pieces that test the rule. For example, Supreme’s Jesus piece or Westies & Co’s “S” collection.
Where to cop
The secondary market for fashion jewelry is almost nonexistent in comparison to fine jewelry. If you like the work of a particular fashion jewelry brand, then I suggest buying it and supporting the designer. That being said, don’t expect the piece to hold a lot of value over time. Due to the use of high end materials in crafting fine jewelry, there is a thriving secondary market. Even if the piece doesn’t appeal to a buyer, it’s always worth more than the sum of its parts, which sets a good basal valuation for sellers. Pawnbrokers, auction houses (e.g. Sotheby’s, who auctioned Nigo’s collection), estate sales, and jewelry stores all present and sell a large variety of heirloom fine jewelry at lower than retail prices. This is very attractive to shoppers searching for vintage pieces as well as those who want a good deal on common goods. The downside is that you will rarely come by the exact piece you want, so hunting these sources is better suited to the patient.
What to look for
How do you know that the piece you’re looking at is high quality? Is it a good deal? Using good materials is a start, but it’s not sufficient to make a great piece. Examine the surface of the piece and determine if there are any blemishes. Having a beautiful, mirror image surface shows great attention to detail. If it’s a pendant, how does it attach to a necklace? Is the connection well thought out, like Westies & Co’s hidden bail (shown below), or does it lack movement and fit poorly? Jewelers that take pride in their work consider these things carefully.
Last but not least, always trust your gut feeling. If you’re not satisfied with the design and appearance while shopping, you won’t feel any better about it after buying. I strongly suggest taking time with your purchase. Buy the right one first or you’ll probably buy it twice.