Fun Jewelry vs Investment Jewelry

Historically, there’s always been a fairly clear division of costume and semi-fine/fine jewelry. If you wanted the look of a fine jewelry piece but didn’t want to pay the price, you could get the look for less with a costume piece. 

These days, there’s a new hybrid category, and what it should be called is still… unclear – perhaps “fashion jewelry”? Driven partly by fast-changing trends and societal changes, these new gold-plated, CZ, semi-precious gemstone-studded pieces appeal to an emerging demographic. These buyers are usually in their early 20s-30s, that age when one is just starting to be a bit more willing to spend slightly more on things that are perceived as better than the average, but not quite willing or able to spend more for what’s considered the best. While some of these brands offer vermeil options at their highest tiers, most are 14k or 18k-plated brass. Some of these companies have also copied another fine jewelry trend – using recycled gold or silver, so even the brass pieces are plated with recycled gold. Many of these brands also market their pieces (and business) as “sustainable”, “carbon neutral”, “green”, “zero-carbon”, and even “conscious luxury”. 

Mejuri Jewelry. Ana Luisa Gold plated Brass Malachite Signet Ring Monika Vinadar Earrings.
Gold-plated jewelry. (Image Source: Mejuri) Gold-plated brass malachite signet ring. (Image Source: Ana Luisa) Gold-plated green onyx earrings. (Image Source: Monika Vinader)

While many of these claims are yet to be tested, the main reason these brands are popular is how well they seize on trends – paper-clip, flat snake, ball, and heavy curb-link chains are back in style, for bracelets and necklaces. Layering has also been very “in” for some time – #wristcandy, #ringstack, and #layeringnecklaces are examples of popular social media hashtags, evidence of the popular trend of stacking bracelets, laying chains of necklaces (often hung with an assortment of glittering charms and pearl drops), and wearing rings on many fingers as well as stacking multiple rings on a single finger, shows plainly why these brands are cashing in – accumulating a collection like this in fine jewelry would add up in cost very quickly. Considering these pieces and how they are worn is currently trending, the question of how long the consumer intends to wear them might be what determines what people are willing to pay – maybe someone likes the current trend of small, delicate lighting strike charm jewelry, but can’t see themselves wearing them past their sell-by date, so they’d rather buy a 14k-plated pair with CZs instead of shelling out for a 14k or 18k gold pair set with pavé diamonds. 

Ana Luisa Gold plated Earrings. Layering Necklaces.
Gold-plated CZ earrings. (Image Source: Ana Luisa) 14k, 18k, diamond, and emerald necklaces. (Image Source: 770 Fine Jewelry)

Many of these brands market cost as the main appeal of their products – but is saving money or “getting a better deal” really the main issue for buyers? Some true costume jewelry pieces are well-made and can last a long time; many people collect vintage jewelry that is still in perfectly wearable condition. Setting aside the well-known, long-time costume jewelry makers such as Coro, Eisenberg, Hobé, Napier, Sarah Coventry…etc., luxury brands such as Chanel, Dior, and Givenchy also have a history of making costume pieces – the latter very often costing close to (if not sometimes exceeding) the real thing. 

Chanel Metal Calfskin Rhinestone Earrings. Napier Gold Tone Necklace.
Metal, calfskin, and rhinestone earrings – $1,375 USD. (Image Source: Chanel) Vintage Napier gold-tone necklace. (Image Source: eBay)

There’s another camp of consumers who observes and takes notes of the passing trends and decides only to buy fine jewelry versions of a style if they like it – if a fine version can’t be found, they are willing to have a piece made. Some will even search the pre-owned market for a fine jewelry alternative if they are shrewd enough to spy a returning trend, such as the current revival of 90’s style jewelry.

Pamela Love 18k Custom Made 2.3ct Solitaire Diamond Ring. Automic Gold Custom 14k Rose Gold Diamond Eternity Bands.
18k custom 2.3ct solitaire diamond ring – $15,000 (Image Source: Pamela Love) Custom 14k rose gold diamond eternity bands. (Image Source: Automic Gold)


So, here lie the questions: If you enjoy jewelry and it’s an accepted (and perhaps even necessary) expense in your life, what is the deciding factor on if you buy “fun” or “investment” jewelry? It is personal style? When you make a trend or style your own? Is it only when you can see yourself wearing a certain style or piece of jewelry for a long time that it’s worth investing in the real thing? 

Written by Gloria Cheng

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