Fine Jewelry vs Fashion Jewelry: How to Tell the Difference

If you have ever been handed down a large jewelry collection or come upon a box of jewelry treasures at an estate or yard sale, it is often hard to determine what jewelry may be valuable and well…what jewelry is not! Today we are unpacking the differences in fine jewelry vs fashion jewelry and tips for knowing what you have and what it is worth. 


What is Fine Jewelry?


Fine jewelry is jewelry that is made with precious metals like gold, platinum or silver and with genuine gemstones like diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. Fine jewelry is durable enough to be worn every day and meant to last a long time. 

What is Fashion Jewelry?


Fashion jewelry, also called costume jewelry,  is any jewelry made from other materials such as brass, copper, aluminum, or base metals plated with precious metals. Fashion jewelry includes synthetic gemstones that can be made with plastic, glass, or crystal. Fashion jewelry is often pretty and stylish and is less expensive than fine jewelry. It is also much less durable, cannot be repaired easily, and has a much shorter lifespan. 


Note that just because jewelry is classified as fashion jewelry it does not mean it is worthless. If the fashion or costume jewelry is vintage, antique, or from a particular era, it could be valuable. 


A Trusted Jewelry Professional is Best…


Before we dive into a few things to look for when evaluating fine jewelry vs fashion jewelry, we have to make it clear that these tips are just that…tips. The best way to learn the true value of jewelry is to have it evaluated by a professional jeweler you can trust. A professional jeweler will be able to look through the jewelry collection and easily identify jewelry that is worthy of further inspection. If you have a large collection or want to learn more before you take the jewelry to your trusted jeweler, these tips may help you!


Evaluating Fine Jewelry vs Fashion Jewelry


As you begin to evaluate your jewelry, it may be helpful to have the following on hand or nearby:



Under your good light source, place your jewelry and give it a delicate clean with warm soapy water. This may help when evaluating the jewelry since older jewelry can accumulate dirt, dust, and grime from years of wear or storage. 


A quick sort of your jewelry may be helpful. Does it look handmade or manufactured? Does it feel heavy or lighter weight? While handmade and heavier can be indications of higher value, manufactured and lighter weight could still be worth something depending on the age and era of the jewelry. 


Look for Stamps or Markings


Stamps, logos, or markings on your jewelry are the biggest clues to its value.  Your jewelry loupe will come in handy on this search! Fine jewelry is almost always marked by the maker or designer especially if the jewelry was made in the United States. Rings are marked inside the band, earrings are marked on the back close to where they touch the ear, and the stamp is usually on the clasp on necklaces and bracelets. Take note of whatever you see. Conduct a Google search for logos or brands to learn more about the maker and compare selling prices of similar jewelry bearing the same marks. 


If you see an S, SS, or the number 925, then the metal is sterling silver. (Sterlings silver is 92.5% silver compounds marked as 925 on jewelry)


Gold metals will have a fineness stamp or a karat stamp. Fineness is marked as a number 1 thru 99 or .1 thru .99.  Karats are marked as 10k, 14k, 18k, 22k, or 24k.


If you don’t see any markings or stamps it does not necessarily mean that the jewelry is costume and/or worthless, but does mean you need to keep evaluating. 




If you are on the hunt for gold with the intention of selling it or you do not see an identifying mark to tell you the metal’s fineness or karat, you can check with a strong magnet. Genuine gold or silver is not magnetic. Iron, nickel, and cobalt will attract to a magnet so if your gold jewelry will not stick to a magnet it is more likely to be pure and more valuable. If the jewelry does react to a magnet then it means there are at minimum traces of iron or other magnetic elements within the metals. 


There are other tests that involve acids that can tell you the composition of metal jewelry. These can be tedious and allow room for error if not done by a professional. The only way to know confidently the composition and purity of jewelry metal is to have it professionally evaluated by a jeweler.


Evaluate the Gemstones and Prongs


One of the hallmarks of fine jewelry is the stunning gemstones! Real diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires increase the value of jewelry dramatically. Fashion jewelry often includes synthetic gemstones that look very pretty but are not worth a lot. When evaluating fine jewelry vs fashion jewelry you want to take a close look at the gemstones and the prong settings around the gemstones. 


Using a good light source and your jewelry loupe, look at the gemstones. Real gemstones usually have inclusions or slight blemishes within their composition because nature made them. Synthetic gemstones have a more perfect composition because they were manufactured. If you find a gemstone with very few blemishes that you still feel could be a genuine gem, have it inspected by a professional jeweler. Also, look for any scratches or cracks within the gemstone. Most gemstones are very hard and durable and not easily scratched. 


Look at the prongs on the gemstone setting. They should be strong and not easily bent. If the prongs can easily be bent, broken, or the gemstone is glued in place this is a clue that the jewelry is fashion jewelry. The more elaborate and handcrafted the prongs and setting are, the more likely the jewelry has value. 


A Note on Fashion Jewelry, Trends, and Eras


Even if you find that most of your collection is fashion jewelry, it can still be valuable especially if it is antique or vintage. Trends also play a part in the fashion jewelry’s value as well as the era it was made in. If there is any question at all on the jewelry’s worth, have it evaluated by a professional jeweler. 


Isbell Jewelers Will Buy Your Gold and Unwanted Jewelry


If you have jewelry that you would like to sell, Isbell Jewelers will buy your gold and unwanted jewelry. We make the process as simple as possible. Learn all the details with Isbell’s Guide to Selling Your Jewelry, Gold, and Other Pieces. If you need help evaluating fine jewelry vs fashion jewelry in your collection, stop by our showroom and speak to one of our professional jewelers!

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