The worst feeling is that of buyer’s remorse, and unfortunately, I see a lot of repair clients experiencing just that when they realize that their purchase from another store can’t be repaired or modified to their liking. In order to understand why it’s worth investing a bit more in higher-quality pieces, I think it’s important to know what pitfalls to look out for when buying jewelry in general. So, here are some helpful tips and questions you should ask when making any jewelry purchase – and what to keep in mind along the way.
Always inquire into the materials used in the item. “Fine jewelry” in the U.S. is generally accepted as 14k and above, but in Europe, it is more standard to only see 18k options treated as fine jewelry, while 14k is considered more costume. Lower karat values in gold mean less precious material is used, which results in lower price points. But it also means that the material might be more prone to slight tarnishing or fading over time – and if you have metal sensitivities, you will probably experience irritation from these products.
Keep in mind: Most of the time, if the item is made out of something other than gold, silver, or platinum/palladium, it probably cannot be repaired – or, if it can, the repair won’t hold for very long. This means that if your post breaks off of your earring or your chain snaps, you will not be able to wear that piece again. Costume jewelry really is not created to withstand daily wear or any kind of damage, so you will likely have a limited run with these pieces.
Beware of diamond impersonators. Diamonds are the “gold standard” of gemstones for very good reasons. They are extremely durable, can generally withstand heat application from a torch, and they never fade. When considering jewelry containing white gems other than diamonds such as white topaz, CZs, white sapphires, or glass, you need to know that these gems will limit you in the long run. If your item breaks, it is unlikely that a jeweler will be able to repair the piece without removing these gemstones and resetting them after soldering the repair. Depending on the piece, this can add to the cost of repair considerably. The same principle holds true for simple alterations such as ring resizing – if the gemstones are not diamonds, you will be amazed at how quickly the cost of the job adds up, and you may not find it worthwhile to pursue.
Keep in mind: A jeweler is not going to price a repair according to the value of the piece – she is going to price the repair according to the amount of work and material involved in the repair. A costume jewelry repair can take a higher level of expertise than an item created out of 18k gold and diamonds, and you have less of a guarantee that it will hold properly after the fact. Costume jewelry repairs can be quite expensive and almost never last perfectly.
Watch out for overly delicate chains. Seeing that a chain is 14k gold is not a guarantee that it can be perfectly repaired if you break it. Extremely delicate chains or chains with a twisted or braided style are exceptionally difficult to repair seamlessly and, depending on the style, and you may always notice the solder juncture no matter the level of skill of the goldsmith at hand. Not to mention that once an item has been broken once, it is very likely to break again in the same spot due to the weakness of that juncture moving forward.
Keep in mind: It’s always disappointing for a client to realize that their favorite, super delicate chain can’t be perfectly restored, so you’ll want to brace yourself for that reality and wear the piece accordingly.
That being said, costume jewelry certainly has a time and a place – you just need to be aware of its inherent limitations before spending any money on it and make sure that you balance out these considerations with what you hope to achieve from the piece. One really fun request we will often fulfill is to “upgrade” a favorite costume piece into a fine jewelry version, like this marquise diamond ring we recently completed for a client. She had worn the original costume version basically to death and decided it was time to invest in a “real” style that would last for years to come. We opted for lab-created diamonds to keep the cost down a bit, and the end result is just gorgeous. If you have a project like this that you’re ready to work on, reach out, and we’re happy to walk you through the design process!
Alexandria & Company is an Old Town-based workshop and design studio specializing in creating and restoring fine jewelry and silver hollowware. They are the in-the-know jewelers of Alexandria and have been serving clients out of their small workshop for decades. Tucked in their historic building on South Royal Street, the team at Alx&Co. brings a personalized, modern approach to their craft – this is not your average stodgy jeweler or antique shop. Visit them during their walk-in hours or online to view their collection of handmade fine jewelry or to drop off a repair project; or, if you’re feeling creative, make an appointment to talk about that custom design project you’ve been imagining.
121-B South Royal Street
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Design Studio Walk-In Hours (all jewelry services): Wednesday – Saturday 12-6pm
Silver Workshop Walk-In Hours (all silver repair and restoration services): Wednesday or Friday 12-6pm, or by appointment
Appointments encouraged for custom design.