What’s the Difference Between Costume and Fine Jewellery?

What makes a piece of jewellery feel distinguished? Whether it’s the history of a piece, or the craftsmanship of its designer, how can you tell the difference between timeless jewellery and an imitation?

Fine jewellery has a story, a reputation, a crafter, and love behind it. It’s been created by a master jeweller and designed to be kept for generations to come. Costume jewellery is made en-masse to satisfy a trend or complement an outfit. It’s often made from cheaper, synthetic materials such as cubic zirconia.

When choosing between pieces of jewellery it’s important to understand the differences between certain descriptions. This includes the difference between costume and fine jewellery. The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably; however, they refer to quite different things. Read on to find out the difference between costume jewellery and fine jewellery.

What is Fine Jewellery?

Fine jewellery is more than an expression. Instead, this kind of jewellery alludes to the finer quality and value of an item, with desirable features such as precious metals and gemstones. Unlike mass-market imitations, fine jewellery is often associated with handcrafted and excusive luxury that lasts a lifetime. Whether for romantic occasions like engagements, or inherited as a timeless family heirloom, fine jewellery often marks special occasions.

Fine jewellery has a romantic perception, and over the years it has become a symbol of timeless beauty and superior luxury. To be considered “fine jewellery”, a piece must be made with genuine or precious metals. Made from valuable and durable materials, fine jewellery consists of noble metals, such as solid gold, sterling silver and platinum. This kind of jewellery also often features authentic and desirable gemstones like diamonds, rubies, and pearls.

It is a common misconception in fashion markets that fine jewellery describes a style or trend. Yet, because it features precious metals and gemstones, fine jewellery is perceived as more of an investment when compared with other types of jewellery.

What is Costume Jewellery?

Unlike the finer things, costume jewellery (sometimes called “fashion jewellery”) can be made of nearly any material, including plastics. Costume jewellery is often made from inexpensive, imitated, or plated metals, rather solid gold, and silver. Fashion jewellery has a different composition to finer items, and might be made from textiles, leather, or base metals including brass, copper, or aluminium.

Sometimes costume jewellery will feature simulated “gemstones”, which means they are made of plastic, crystal, or other cheaper synthetic materials.  

Popularised by Coco Chanel in the 1920’s, the idea of buying cheaper jewellery for a single outfit created a market gap which many high street brands began to fill. As well as owning luxury jewellery items that would be considered fine jewellery, those wanting to pair outfits with specific accessories at a low cost will often own a variety of costume jewellery.

How to tell the Difference Between Costume and Fine Jewellery

Sometimes it can be tricky to tell the difference between costume and fine jewellery, especially when manufacturers of costume jewellery work to expertly mimic fine jewellery.

Check the Price

The most obvious difference is likely to be the price. Because of the value of materials used, fine jewellery is much more expensive than costume jewellery. Having said this, the price is not always a reliable indication of the type of jewellery you’re looking at. Sometimes, if a vendor is dishonest, a piece of costume jewellery can be marked up to a price you would think would belong to fine jewellery. This is known to happen to some holidaymakers when shopping for jewellery abroad, when they don’t know what they’re looking at.

Look for a Hallmark

When genuine noble metals have been used to make a piece of jewellery, they will have a hallmark stamped on, denoting their authenticity. Hallmarks should look as follows:

There should also be a number within the hallmark which indicates its purity.

Look for Tarnishes

Being made of plastic and plated metals, costume jewellery often has tarnished areas, particularly in more hidden areas. Look for things like evidence of glue, imperfect paint application, and scratches. Much more care and attention is given to the creation of fine jewellery as opposed to costume, therefore such tarnishes as these are unlikely to be found on the former.

Why it’s important to know the difference between costume and fine jewellery

If you know a piece of jewellery has been carefully made with precious metals and gemstones, it’s likely you’ll be happy to pay a higher price. If, on the other hand, the piece is made with plated metals and plastic ‘stones’ then it can be considered a fun accessory that is unlikely to last long.

It should be noted that fine jewellery will stand the test of time, and is often passed down through generations as heirlooms, or sold as antique or vintage jewellery. Fine jewellery will go up in value over time and can even become a collectible item.

Costume jewellery, however, will usually break or become damaged/tarnished after it has been worn several times. Costume jewellery is, after all, simply imitation.

When to choose costume or fine jewellery

Even though fine jewellery is the more valuable option, both types of jewellery have their purposes. Because it’s so expensive, fine jewellery can often be considered too special to wear every day. It’s usually reserved for special events such as weddings or balls. Costume jewellery, on the other hand, can be worn as a pretty accessory anytime, from in the office to a meal with friends.

Costume jewellery can also be made in imitation of a more expensive piece of jewellery you may own. For example, some brides with expensive engagement or wedding rings, may get cheaper versions made to wear out and about to show they are engaged without risking losing their expensive ring. Similarly with heirloom pieces, an imitation version can be made to allow someone to carry that memory with them without it being stolen.

The differences between costume jewellery and fine jewellery are important to recognise when choosing the ideal piece for any occasion. One is an inexpensive accessory that can complement a range of different outfits in a playful way, whereas the other is an investment to be treasured over the years.

At The Chelsea Bijouterie we carry a range of fine, designer jewellery. Shop the range today.