Costume Jewelry: A Cheaper Alternative to Fine Jewelry

attractive woman wearing a pearl necklace

Have you ever been asked if the jewelry you’re wearing is costume or fashion jewelry? It’s a rude question to ask, first of all, but if faced with someone snooty or particular about the people they rub elbows with, they’ll be very particular about the people they associate themselves with – and the type of jewelry they wear.

It may be confusing if you don’t know the difference between these two types of jewelry, so here’s a thorough explanation that defines the difference between high-end fashion jewelry and its cheaper alternative, costume jewelry.

What Is Costume Jewelry?

Basically, costume jewelry are accessories made with low-end and affordable materials. The result is jewelry that looks almost the same as jewelry made with high-end materials, but over time, the differences between the materials’ qualities will begin to show.

Costume jewelry is also known as artificial jewelry, fake jewelry, imitation jewelry, and junk jewelry, among other names. In the jewelry industry, there’s a wide spectrum of jewelry available. At one end of the spectrum is high-end jewelry made with precious stones and metals like sterling silver, which are very valuable in the market. These are designed to last a lifetime and, when handled properly, can be passed down generations. At the other end, however, is costume jewelry that will eventually corrode, fade, and chip.

This is the option used for men and women who want to have glamorous looking jewelry they only need for a while and don’t intend on keeping it for a long time. It’s seen as more as a temporary fashion accessory unlike fine jewelry, which not only serves as an accessory but also a keepsake or investment.

History of Costume Jewelry

vintage accessories
Image by JamesDeMers from Pixabay

The term “costume jewelry” dates back to the early 20th century. At the time, the term “costume” wasn’t used the way it is now and was another word to describe someone’s everyday outfit. However, the use of fake jewelry has been in use since the 18th century.

In the 18th century, jewelers began to make crystals with inexpensive glass, while in the 19th century, they began to make jewelry out of less precious metals. Prior to this, only those wealthy enough to afford fine jewelry could wear them, but by the end of the 19th century, commoners could start wearing jewelry that looked similar to fine jewelry without spending just as much.

Use of costume jewelry didn’t take off until the 20th century, when the industrial revolution allowed mass production of costume jewelry and replica heirloom pieces. Because of this, the demand from the middle classes grew. Because of this, jewelry could no longer be an accurate measure of wealth as people from all social stations could have stylish looking jewelry.

By the middle of the 20th century, more designers from high- and low-end fashion brands added costume jewelry into their designs. Even brands like Dior and Chanel were known to have used costume jewelry in their stores, while names like Miriam Haskell and Corocraft became popular for producing extremely high-quality costume jewelry.

The use of costume jewelry also became popular in the 1940s to 1950s during the rise of television and movies. Fans would clamor for the jewelry worn by their favorite actresses in certain movies, and either studios or the jeweler responsible for making the jewelry would profit on it by mass producing replicas of that said jewelry.

Costume Jewelry Today

Costume jewelry is one of the most affordable forms of jewelry you can buy. It can range from less than $10 to around a few hundred dollars, depending on the brand (a Miriam Haskell costume jewelry is still a collectible due to its quality, even if it is costume jewelry and quality.

Because of its affordable material, the metals can oxidize and change color. The stones (usually made of plastic or cheap glass) can easily fall out or lose their shimmer. However, because of its affordability, you wouldn’t really worry about the damage or losing the stones as you can easily dispose of damaged jewelry and buy a new one.

Aside from its everyday use, costume jewelry lives up to its name by serving as costume materials in stage productions where fine jewelry isn’t very practical to use. Instead of valuable gemstones, it uses rhinestones, which are fake diamonds made from glass or acrylic polymers. And instead of 925 silver, gold, platinum and other luxury metals, it uses pewter, nickel, and brass. However, because these metals oxidize, it eventually loses its shine.

What Is Fashion Jewelry?

woman wearing bracelets

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

On the other hand, fashion jewelry is a step up from costume jewelry but not in the same league as fine jewelry. It’s also known as “bridge jewelry” because it is the middle point between costume jewelry and fine jewelry.

Silver and gold-plated jewelry fall under fashion jewelry. These are accessories with silver and gold coating the cheap metal so that it looks like the metal is pure luxury metal. However, because of the wear and tear and the tendency for cheap metals to oxidize and expand, it will eventually chip at the silver and gold, revealing the cheap metal behind it. However, you can also find some fashion jewelry pieces made with sterling silver.

The biggest difference between costume jewelry from fashion jewelry and fine jewelry is its cost. It’s the most affordable out of the three, but at the price of sacrificing quality and durability. Don’t expect a piece of costume jewelry to survive a decade, let alone be durable enough to pass down to your children and grandchildren. However, if you’re not looking to keep jewelry for that long and are looking for something trendy and fashionable for a few uses, costume jewelry is the ideal option.

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