I have worked in fashion jewellery industry quite long time and know well enough how costume jewellery is manufactured. When I meet customers in person, quite a lot of people don’t seem aware of the differences between types of jewellery. So, I thought it might be nice to give some information for my lovely customers for future jewellery purchases - hopefully from me but in general too. Mainly, I want to give you some examples of what sorts of costume jewellery is out there in terms of materials used.
There are so many different types of metals used to make jewellery. Even if I mark them as high, middle, and low, still there are so many ways of making them into expensive or cheap jewellery.
Let’s start with plating! The cheap options normally do not use real gold/silver. The plating just uses chemicals to make it look like gold, silver, rhodium or rose gold. So, it’s not hard to think it’s not good for human body, as well as the environment.
The next up options use real gold or real silver plating. For example, you can see descriptions saying 9k, 14k, 16k, 18k or 24k gold plated, this is kind of the measurement of the purity of the gold used. Also, there will be a slight difference in the colour between these - for example 24k gold plated will have a more yellowy colour than the others as its pure gold. I tend to use 16k gold plating because it’s got the right shine and perfect colour feel (to me, 24k can feel sometimes too yellow).
A very important thing to remember is that being 24k plated doesn’t make it tarnish proof. The thickness of the plating is more important - obviously thicker plating will last longer than thin. Although the most impact on whether the item will tarnish easily or not comes from the coating applied after the plating. Quality plating and coating are better for human skin and the environment, and quality plated items can offer a real alternative to fine jewellery, considering the cost of solid gold or silver items.
How about the base metal?
The vast majority of cheap jewellery uses something called zinc alloy nowadays, which is fine as far as it goes and all proven to be safe for humans. But it’s not that great a metal really and you can’t really use it when the design is very detailed and delicate. On the other hand, brass/bronze has characteristics somewhere close to precious metal, and it can create really lovely finishing details. Also, it’s a much better option for your skin. And I don’t really need to explain about real silver or gold, do I?
This is just a rough idea of where I think there are differences in the types of costume jewellery out there, and why I say not all plated jewellery should be treated the same. Some use good plating materials to give consumers’ a quality alternative to solid gold/silver. Imagine all the jewellery in this photo made with real gold, it would cost a fortune to buy.
As a consumer, it’s very difficult to know what’s the difference and most fashion jewellery doesn’t even mention. So, FYI, I use brass for the base metal and usually 16k real gold plating, sometimes 24 gold depending on the style of jewellery.
Hope this helps you to make an informed choice and to understand my business a bit more and show you why I do what I do.