JEWELRY BASICS: INTRO TO JEWELRY & FAQ'S
Updated: Dec 16, 2019
Hi friends. It's your friendly neighborhood fine jewelry guru and I'm here to answer some of the most common fine jewelry questions I get asked. (If you submitted a question but don't see it here, hang tight, I'm probably saving it for one of my next posts.) First up, so you know I'm not pulling this all out of my ass, I have been working in fine jewelry since 2014 and have a degree from GIA, the Gemological Institute of America. I have worked in sales, design, repairs, wholesale, logistics, and am now moving into a role in product and marketing. In sum: I know what the fuck I'm talking about.
What are the differences between the metals?
There are precious metals and there are base metals. Precious metals include gold, platinum, silver, palladium, etc. while base metals are brass, copper, nickel, tin, etc. The precious metals are more rare, durable and therefore expensive. It is extremely uncommon to find pieces made of pure gold (24 karat) as gold in its pure state is far too soft to use in jewelry. Platinum, however, is about 95-99% pure when used for jewelry and that's why it's so friggin expensive. It is durable but malleable due to its purity.
What do the numbers on jewelry mean?
Fine jewelry will express the type of metal used with a stamp. A stamp is usually found on the inside or backside of a piece, possibly alongside a maker's mark. The most common are:
-PLAT, 950, 999: There are for platinum. The 950/999 refers the purity of the platinum
-10K or 417;14K or 585;18K or 750: These are for the different karats of gold. The number refers to how many parts are gold vs. other alloys mixed. Pure gold is 24 karats, so 14k, for example, is 14 parts gold and 10 parts alloy. Other alloys are mixed in to increase gold's strength and make it more affordable (and also to change its color; alloys like nickel and copper give us white and rose gold).14 karat is the most commonly used mix as it has ideal durability for pieces worn daily while still maintaining the higher gold ratio. The more parts pure gold the more malleable/soft the item will be, and also the more expensive.
-SS, 925: Sterling Silver. Sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver, with 7.5% other alloys. Fine silver, which is 99.9% pure silver, is less common.
What is the difference between plated and vermeil?
Lots of jewelry on the market is gold plated - it gives people the look and feel of gold at a fraction of the cost. You'll often find gold plated base metals like brass or tin. "Vermeil" refers to gold plated sterling silver, meaning both metals used are precious metals. You can say that sterling silver is gold plated, or you can call it vermeil, but you cannot call any plated base metal vermeil.
Where are the best places to shop for fine jewelry?
I love shopping local when I can. Boutique jewelry stores are a dying breed and it's a shame! Most local shops are filled with GIA trained sales people who can give expert advice and many shops also offer repair services. You'll usually also find loads of brands you haven't encountered before.
When shopping online I try to shop straight from the designer's pages as they often have exclusive styles and loyalty programs. However, some great websites with a large array of brands or options are Stone & Strand, Ylang23, Stephanie Gottlieb, and Lang Antiques.
I also love perusing vintage shops. You'll never know what you'll find. I will say vintage shops can be tricky - there is often costume and fine mixed together, and the sales associates aren't always trained as highly as those in jewelry boutiques, unless the store is exclusively for vintage jewelry.
Many people love Etsy and I've had some luck there but honestly, it's not my favorite place to send someone who isn't well versed in fine jewelry. You can easily end up hoodwinked whereas sticking to brand sites or other authorized retailers will guarantee you're getting what you paid for.
What are some of your favorite fine jewelry brands?
Dana Rebecca Designs! I work there, so obviously I'm biased. But really I genuinely adore Dana's pieces, can attest they are well made and fairly priced, and overall recommend the brand highly.
Honestly a bulk of my collection is comprised of custom pieces I designed when I worked at my old job, Sparkles Fine Jewelry, which is now closed (the owner moved to Spain). The store was also filled with stunning pieces from brands who are wholesale only, so unfortunately I cannot direct you to any of them. I can, however, encourage you again to find some local, independent fine jewelry stores - they will be filled with unique pieces from brands you cannot shop anywhere else.
Here are some brands I stalk on social media and hope to purchase from someday (once I'm rich enough)...
Fine jewelry seems out of reach, any advice on places to find it cheaper?
Fair point. It's absolutely an investment. But here's the thing - if you take care of it jewelry will outlast you. You can pass it down through generations - how many other things can you say that about? Not many. But if you're still looking to find deals, I got you.
First, sign up for emails from your favorite brands. Fine jewelry rarely goes on sale but most brands will have deals once or twice a year for their anniversary or the holidays.
Shop your favorite brands at big box stores if available. While the brand's sites might not have sales, the stores they stock in probably do! Department stores like Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, and Barney's all have fine jewelry and they are often part of store wide sales.
Stalk places like the Rack and Saks off 5th. You'd be surprised how many of the fine jewelry brands are also on those sites and in stores. (You can find Dana Rebecca Designs at the Rack!)
Shop second hand. Places like the Real Real sell gently used, verified fine jewelry (you can even find Dana Rebecca there) so you can rest assured you're getting what you're paying for. Places like ebay, Poshmark, etc. are harder to verify the authenticity of an item, but you still might score.
If you shop anywhere with loyalty programs, save your rewards up to use towards fine jewelry. Nordy notes, anyone?
Are brands like Mejuri worth it?
I have not purchased anything from Mejuri so I cannot speak from personal experience. However, I do quite like their brand aesthetic. To be completely transparent: I'm not a big fan of vermeil or plated jewelry - I personally would rather save up and buy something solid gold as plating wears off over time, the vast majority of brands do not offer replating services, and even if you can find a place to replate it will likely be more expensive than the piece originally cost. That said, I think Mejuri pieces are beautiful, they are made with precious metals and genuine gemstones and diamonds, and they'll last you much longer than anything made from base metal and cz's/crystals. Another notable brand who works in sterling silver and vermeil is Daisy Jewelry. I think brands like Mejuri & Daisy are a great place to start a collection and experiment with your jewelry style before committing to solid gold pieces.
Any place you don't recommend or think is overrated?
Some of the oldest jewelry houses like Tiffany and Cartier have the most absurd markups. However, they're iconic. It's kind of like handbags and other fashion items - you're paying for the label. If you want to buy from one of these brands I advise to avoid their silver collections, they are the pieces with the highest markup. $200 for a dainty ass sterling silver infinity necklace? Are you high?
Where should I go to get a piercing?
Tattoo/piercing parlors. Piercing guns are gross, so avoid anywhere where they're used. Someone at a tattoo shop will be certified and likely exceptionally more hygienic than a stall in a mall.
Tips for layering necklaces?
More than three is asking for trouble IMO but rock on if you can. Try different lengths and chain widths, as chains with different widths will tangle a little less. Periodically throughout the day check them, fiddle them back into place. If you have two necklaces of the same length but you want to wear them together I have a trick you may have seen me demonstrate on Instagram. Undo both necklaces and lay them end to end. Clasp the male end (the clasp itself) of the first necklace into the female end (the jump ring) of the second necklace to make one super long necklace. Wrap it around your neck twice and clasp shut. You should now be able to adjust them to any length you like for easy layering.
Can I mix my metals?
ABSO-FUCKING-LUTELY. Some people are very particular about this, and refuse to wear anything but the same color metal together. I personally do not get it at all. You'll often find me wearing all three metal colors at once. I think it has much more to do with styling the right pieces together rather than their color.
How do I untangle a necklace?
Lay the necklace on a solid surface like a cutting board. Using two pins or two tiny tweezers, work the knot to loosen it. Undoing the clasp and taping down one side of it can also help in the untangling process. If all else fails light your house on fire and accept defeat.
How can I clean my jewelry at home?
It's important to know what you're cleaning before you clean it. Anything soft like pearls, opals, turquoise, etc. are not only fragile but also porous and cannot be cleaned with anything potent or abrasive, so use a soft dry cloth to polish.
Gold and diamond pieces are safe in warm water with a bit of dish soap. You can scrub them gently with a baby toothbrush or a makeup brush. They are also generally safe for ultrasonic cleaners and steamers, but I'd leave that up to the professionals.
Sterling silver pieces that have tarnished are a bit trickier. They need specific silver polishing cloths and cleaning solutions which will shine up silver quickly - just be sure to read the directions thoroughly and NEVER use silver cleaner on anything other than silver.
I'm not sure if I my jewelry is safe for the above methods or I think my jewelry needs something a bit more - who can help me?
Take it to a local jeweler. They likely have an ultrasonic cleaner and steamer on site and will know if your pieces are safe for the ultrasonic or not. If your piece needs a full buff/polish they will likely be able to do that as well, but it's not generally something they can do same day, just FYI.
I need my stuff repaired, who can I trust?
Check to see if the place you bought it from offers repair services or if it's under warranty. If not, again, find a local jeweler. Read reviews and ask a lot of questions until you feel you've found the right one. It's awesome when you find a place who has a bench jeweler onsite. Be sure you get a repair ticket with detailed accounts of what you've dropped off. If it's a more expensive piece, they should also be photographing it for the repair.
Can I leave my jewelry on all the time?
FUCK NO. Would you buy a car and never get its oil changed? NO! You absolutely should always remove your jewelry before you work out, shower, sleep, or do anything in which your pieces will get knocked around or come into contact with chemicals (like washing dishes or cleaning). Read this article I wrote about jewelry care and thank me for saving your jewelry later.
What about "permanent" jewelry?
It's an interesting trend but it will leave your skin at a higher risk for irritation and rashes. My friend (who I won't name) has been having this issue with her Cartier love bracelet - she recently had to bust out the screwdriver to take it off so her wrist could heal. Not everyone will have these type of reactions, but it's important to know it's possible and fairly common. If you're dead set on some sort of permanent jewelry I recommend sticking to solid gold (no stones) and something that is loose so moisture won't be trapped easily.
Please stay tuned for more of this series! I plan on making a post just on diamonds and gemstones as well as a dedicated piece tackling questions for engagement and bridal jewelry. If you have any specific questions you'd like me to answer please drop them in the comments or shoot me a DM on instagram. I hope you've enjoyed this and found it informative :)