When people talk about “jewelry,” they tend to talk about it as if all “jewelry” is equal. This is not the case. There are actually a few main categories of jewelry that are very different from one another. And they range not only in quality, but also in the intent and purpose behind the jewelry.
Let’s get started!
Costume Jewelry vs Fine Jewelry
Before we dive into the specific types of jewelry you might buy, it helps to know that there are basically two “families” of jewelry:
Real and fake.
Or as they’re often also referred to in the jewelry world: Costume Jewelry and Fine Jewelry.
Costume jewelry is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “Jewelry designed for wear with current fashions and usually made of inexpensive materials.”
And fine jewelry is just the opposite. It’s jewelry made with precious metals and gemstones, usually designed to last years, decades, or generations… Not a single fashion season.
As we get into the 5 types of jewelry, it will help to keep in mind that each of these fit into these two main families, either real or fake.
Type #1: Costume Jewelry — Novelty and Alternative Materials
Do a quick search online for costume jewelry and you’ll mostly find jewelry that imitates fine jewelry (more on this below) and you’ll find jewelry that’s just designed to be fun and cute which makes no attempt to imitate fine jewelry.
These might be fabric tassel earrings or a plastic bat necklace for halloween.
Type #2: Costume Jewelry — Fine Jewelry Imitation
The other type of costume jewelry is that which is designed to imitate the appearance of fine jewelry. You’ll find this kind of costume jewelry in most clothing boutiques.
The purpose of this kind of jewelry is to offer a fashionable accessory at an affordable price. For most people, it would be impractical (or downright impossible) to buy fine jewelry for every changing fad. Even if you can afford it, it really wouldn’t be the best use of your money.
If you read THIS ARTICLE, we talked about how there are classics, and then there are the “it” items of the season. Often, it’s better to buy an imitation version of a piece of jewelry if it’s a fashion that will likely go out of style by next year.
On the other hand, the classics that never go out of style are worth purchasing at fine jewelry quality and prices, because you’ll get years or decades of use and enjoyment out of them.
Need a cute necklace to go with that outfit this fall or spring? Don’t feel bad about going costume.
Celebrating you’re tenth anniversary? It’s probably better to get a necklace or ring you can enjoy for the rest of your marriage.
Costume jewelry’s main purpose is fun and fashion.
That’s why it’s so cheap, both in terms of price tags and quality. Costume jewelry is designed to be disposable.
Type #3: Fine Jewelry — Promotional Quality
This is something that blows a lot of people’s minds.
All “fine jewelry” is not created equal either. Just like there are divisions of quality and purpose between costume and fine jewelry, there are different subcategories within fine jewelry as well.
Anyone who has been in the jewelry industry for a long time knows the term “promotional quality.” This is what most major, national chain stores sell. Without naming names, these are the nationally recognized stores you’ll see in malls and strip centers all over the country.
While these stores definitely still sell fine jewelry — their inventory is made of precious metals and gemstones — they are generally on the low end of the quality spectrum.
There are two things you need to know about promotional quality jewelry sold in most chain stores.
First, if they don’t say what the quality is and the price seems low, the quality is low. You’re not that one lucky person who miraculously found the best deal in town.
And second, most chain stores that sell “certified” diamonds are not getting their diamonds “certified” through the most reputable diamond grading labs. The qualities are often off by 1-2 color and clarity grades.
That’s a big difference.
Say you go to a reputable jeweler who has a one carat diamond for sale of a certain color and clarity grade.
You decide to shop around.
You go to a store in the mall and they tell you “This is the same size, color, and clarity… But for a much lower price.”
Most of the time, that’s just not true and they’re using questionable diamond grading laboratories that willingly fudge the grading scale to make the diamonds appear better than they are.
If you were to buy that diamond from the mall store and send it off to a reputable diamond grading laboratory like the Gemological Institute of America or the American Gem Society, in most cases the report will come back that you got exactly what you paid for…
You paid fair market price, not for the quality they promised you, but for the quality you actually got.
Ask anyone who has worked for both a boutique fine jewelry store and a mall store, and they’ll tell you: The two are not an apples-to-apples to comparison.
Having said all that:
If you find a piece of jewelry that you just flat out like, and it’s pretty to your eye, and you want it…
Then buy it. But don’t kid yourself about getting a deal, or getting “the same thing cheaper.”
There is a very reliable saying in jewelry:
“You get what you pay for, or less.”
The jewelry industry is too well regulated and too competitive. If someone is telling you they’ll give you the same thing for significantly less, they either don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re lying.
Sorry. But after 30+ years in the industry, those are the cold hard facts.
Promotional Quality is a very real thing, and it lives in big box retail jewelry departments and in mall stores.
Fine Jewelry — Hand Selected Boutique
The next step up in quality and price is jewelry stores that hand-select all of the jewelry that goes into their showcases with an expert eye.
This tends to be independent, local jewelry stores.
Take our store, Garcia & Co. Jewelers in Farmington, NM, for example:
The store owner is Graduate Gemologist through the Gemological Institute of America, and the store is 3rd party certified through the American Gem Society.
From ownership to sales staff, everyone is trained in gemology and jewelry. The owners have personal contacts all over the globe where they source the most beautiful products for the best possible prices.
There is a generally a massive gap between promotional quality jewelry stores and hand selected fine jewelry stores in terms of knowledge, expertise, and professionalism. These stores also often offer in-house jewelry repair, appraisal, and custom design.
You’ll notice a bump upward in price tag for this kind of jewelry, but you’ll also notice the increase in quality, service, and professionalism to go along with it. This kind of jewelry, and jewelry store, offers high quality with highly personal service.
Fine Jewelry — Entry-Level Luxury
This might shock some people, but there are also tiers within extremely high-end luxury jewelry.
Many scoff at a $7,000 price tag on a Rolex watch. But, for many watch lovers, a Rolex is entry level luxury timepiece. Some shoppers are looking at $50,000 Swiss timepieces as the next addition to their collection.
Some might think a $15,000 diamond ring from Tiffany is extravagant. But that’s “too cheap” to the person looking at the $40,000 diamond ring from Harry Winston.
The jewelry in this category commands a premium price tag for both the increase in quality… And the globally recognized luxury brand name.
This is jewelry for the people who have “made it,” and they want everyone to know it.
(To be fair, both Tiffany and Rolex offer Premium Luxury items that are truly breathtaking. I use them as an example here simply because those are the recognized brands that affluent individuals tend to reach for.)
Fine Jewelry — Premium Luxury
For those not well-versed in the top tiers of jewelry, names like Graff, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Harry Winston might be foreign.
There is jewelry out there so rare, exclusive, and expensive, that these designers don’t even bother listing prices on their websites. You have to schedule an appointment to meet a sales professional and get the details in person.
Having personally visited the top diamond dealers in the diamond capital of the world, I can tell you that Harry Winston and Van Cleef & Arpels are names that cast awe and reverence across the jewelry industry.
They use the creme de la creme gemstones of the world. They employ the most talented jewelry designers. And they carefully guard their reputations as the most premium jewelry designers in the world.
Types Of Jewelry Wrap-Up
I hope this article was as fun for you to read as it was for me to write. The jewelry industry is rich, diverse, and endlessly interesting.
If you’re looking for a local jewelry store in Farmington, NM that offers both quality products, expert credentials, and highly personal service, come see us.