You've heard of costume jewelry and fine jewelry, but the difference might not always be that clear. Fine jewelry can be very expensive, but it is generally well-made and worth the money you pay. However, there are specific characteristics that make a piece fine or not. Knowing what those are will help you judge whether the asking price of the piece you want to buy is appropriate or not.
Precious Metals and Expensive Stones
Fine jewelry is generally considered to be that made of gold that's at least 14-karat, fine silver, or even platinum. It is not plated or filled metal, but solid gold, silver, etc. And if the item contains gems, the gems are generally diamonds, rubies, sapphires, or emeralds. Opals and other gems like aquamarine really aren't part of the fine-jewelry family. Non-fine jewelry is usually called costume jewelry, although some nicer pieces might get the label of "semi-fine."
Antique Paste and Everything Is Relative
There is a category of jewelry that would not qualify as fine in terms of materials, but they became so popular and coveted that they may as well be considered fine jewelry: paste jewelry from the Georgian, Edwardian, Victorian, and Art Deco eras. Paste jewelry uses metals like brass and steel - occasionally some silver and gold - along with a special leaded glass that is polished with a powder made of metal. The result is a gorgeous combination that became more popular and expensive than fine jewelry at times. Georgian paste was especially loved. So when looking at fine jewelry, remember that while there is a technical definition, sometimes you'll find other types of jewelry that are just as expensive and adored.
Combinations Are Generally Not Considered Fine
It's possible to have jewelry that has some fine qualities, such as being made from 18-karat gold, but also some non-fine or costume components as well. Picture a 14-karat gold ring with a cubic zirconia stone, for example, or a bunch of diamond chips set in a gold-plated pendant. These would not really count as fine jewelry and should be priced accordingly. However, they can still be nice gifts if you want to buy someone something but can't afford totally "fine" jewelry.
Remember that fine jewelry is a category described by the materials used to make the piece. You can find wonderful jewelry designs in lots of materials, so don't think that costume and semi-fine jewelry are never good. But if you want to give someone something really special, go for the precious metals and gemstones that make up fine jewelry. Keep these tips in mind when looking for fine jewelry from a local supplier.