March 23, 2012

Costume or Fine Jewelry?

Costume or Fine Jewelry? What kind of jewelry do you make? Is it costume jewelry, fashion jewelry, fine jewelry or jewelry by another name? If you create handmade jewelry is it fine?

A customer asked Magpie Gemstones about the term costume jewelry and we became curious. Yet, research on the topic didn’t net much information. Therefore, what follows is an educated opinion.

Costume jewelry became popular in the 1930s and was “meant to be worn with a specific outfit (Wikipedia).” What does the word costume mean to you? When I say “costume”, I think of the word temporary. For example, we see costumes on the stage in the theater and these are created for a specific show. I recall sewing costumes for my children when they had parts in theater productions. At the onset, I was advised that the costumes only needed to hold up for the production and didn’t require fine finishing for longevity.

It seems to me that costume jewelry is also made to last for an abbreviated length of time, not forever. Costume jewelry was and still is considered fashionable (Wikipedia), at least temporarily, whereas fine jewelry may be thought of as a keepsake or investment. This former type jewelry may be mass produced from less expensive materials such as synthetic stones, glass and plastic beads and base metals.

Fine jewelry, obviously, is made from gems and precious metals. Many jewelers advertise that they carry “fine jewelry.” Goldline Fine Jewelers, in particular, states that “fine jewelry is dedication to the highest possible standards, materials, quality and customer service.” Other “fine” jewelry stores advertise that they have an in-house jeweler who provides full service from that one-of-a-kind design to service and repairs. We wouldn’t expect this service and standard for costume jewelry.

This brings us back to the original query regarding what type of jewelry you make. My guess would be that most of us make a variety of types of jewelry. I enjoy creating some costume jewelry that I consider “faddish” and for which I use less expensive materials. Other pieces are made to show my personal design style and I mainly use fine materials. I also make keepsake pieces, like my daughter’s wedding necklace, and intend these to last as they are passed from one generation to another. Sometimes I design for a specific customer and often a piece is one-of-a-kind.

So, do I make costume jewelry or fine jewelry? I guess I think I’m somewhere in between. But at the very least, I want all my pieces to be composed with good technique and attention to quality. How about you? We’d like to know what you think, leave a comment below.

Karen Meador Dreamcatcher Designs


  1. Wonderful article and a good summary of how I also feel about the jewelry I make.

  2. thanks Szarka, that answers most of the question. I think I am like you a little of both, but i still dont want to catagorize into either of the catogories costume or fine as that would limit what materials I could use, maybe we need to coin a new category for 2012 after all we do have access to all kinds of materials that were not as easily accessible as when those terms were used.Maybe you should have a contest, LOL

  3. I make costume jewelry even when I'm using fine materials because I simply am not good enough to make a lasting piece. But my things are one-of-a-kind and they bring me and others joy. I do many other things, and I'm not ready to improve my skills seriously enough to consider what I make to be fine jewelry.

  4. I believe I fit into the somewhere in-between category as well. I choose to label my jewelry as Art Jewelry.

    Fine Jewelry if I must label things, I suppose would be using precious metals and gemstones. Then that starts a whole another debate about what is a prcious gemstone?

  5. Frankie Harvener24.3.12

    I believe I have made a mixture of costume (mostly) and since I use gemstones (generally semi-precious) and occasionally, sterling or gold filled, jewelry I hope will last. I enjoy using glass and lucite beads as well in designs. Guess I just love beads and wire and rocks. I enjoy making jewelry for myself and friends and once in a while, I sell some items to benefit my church or our Computer Users Group. I feel like Sharecropper, but I try to make things that will last. I don't believe I have made any pieces that could be considered heirloom. :-)! Just love my hobby.

  6. I feel that costume vs fine is an artifical division more about the materials cost than the quality. And it relates more to commercial production than what I make. Most people that decide to use better quality materials with care and emotion are jewelry artists and art jewelry may become more precious over time than fine jewelry if it is created for a specific event such as a wedding or other life event. To my way of thinking(from 40 years at the jewelry bench) the design elements and execution can lift any jewelry from costume to fine. I have been setting diamonds in silver and bronze in artistic pieces along side the fine beads and cabochons you provide and while the dont fetch astronomical prices like diamond studded tennis bracelets they sure create a "fine" smile on the face of the buyer or recipient.

    1. Well said, Harry. I appreciate the reference to emotion and reverence for the material....that's what I believe an artist does. One can find jewelry made of precious metals and gemstones at WalMart, for goodness' sake. I make jewelry mainly because the process puts a fine smile on my face, but seeing a friend/customer fall in love with one of my pieces warms the cockles of my heart,too !

  7. Thanks, Szarka!

    My wire wrapping, and my wife's beadwork is almost always one of a kind, and not "mass produced". My Texas tax permit specifically states "Jewelry (except costume) Mfg." I try to make everything to last for many years, regardless of the materials used.

  8. This is a great questions. The jewelry I make is definitely not "costume". I use sterling silver and semi-precious stones and pearls, as well as the highest quality Japanese seed beads. My pieces are all one of a kind and made to last. My cousin, who is a goldsmith says I am an artist and beads are my medium, so I think of my jewelry as "handcrafted wearable art" :)

  9. Anonymous24.3.12

    I had always thought of costume jewelry as being that box of trinkets my mother gave me that belonged to my grandmother and aunt back in the early 1900s. Nothing in that box of shine and pizzaz was "real" jewelery acording to them. They were all for playing dress up, thus, costume jewlery. By some fluke of nature, (I loose everything), I recently found that box and was suprised to see how well some things held up. While trying to upcycle my toys of past, something did not feel right. I took my treasure box to a jeweler and found that tin and glass bracelet was platinum, emeralds and diamonds. That tacky sunburst brooch, was 18 ct. gold with 25 diamonds, the smallest of which was 1 1/2 ct. The list goes on and on. It now seems that costume jewelery is in the eye of the beholder. If it is made well, and gives pleasure, it is art. Oh what a great time I had playing with my costume art as a child. I still have every trinket. Make your art to last long enough to be a pleasent suprise 100 years from now. Be it precious metal or not,be it precious gems or glass beads, someone will love it.

  10. I am much like Laurel, it sounds. Every piece I make is made to last a lifetime and beyond, construction-wise, and I use quality gemstones of all types (stones, semi-precious, and precious)and pearls. I prefer Sterling Silver because it is like putty in my hands to work with and has a lot of available components on the market. I can also do some metalsmithing and hammering and shaping and I am learning more of that so I can take my work to the next level. My style is very Artsy and Earthy but sophisticated, designed for a woman who is secure with herself,knows her style, has unique tastes, but wants something of quality because she will keep this piece forever, and wear it often. I make timeless designs and use a lot of cultural influences. But I also do classic elegant things too. I really don't like to make things with inferior materials at all. I do however like copper and brass when it works with my designs, and I just did a Gold Vermeil line.

  11. Anonymous24.3.12

    While I use mostly precious metals, semi-precious gemstones and Swarovski crystals in my jewelry, I don't consider it "fine" jewelry. I think of very expensive pieces with diamonds and cut gems in standard settings (and rarely one-of-a-kind) as fine jewelry. But my work is definitely not costume, either. It's made to last for years, whether of sterling silver and gemstones or a more rustic design of copper and brass.

    I've heard the term "bridge jewelry" used to define what most of us create. Something that bridges the gap between the two categories. I think that fits, but I don't think the general public knows what bridge jewelry is. So I usually call it "handcrafted" or "artisan-crafted" jewelry. I think that's a term that sets it apart from what you find in most jewelry stores and connotes a lasting, heirloom quality.

  12. Anonymous31.3.12

    I like the terms "art jewelry" and "hand-crafted wearable art" to describe my pieces. I use sterling silver, silver fill, gold fill or copper in most of my work. I also use semi-precious stones. That said, I also use carved bone, wood, resin, glass and found materials, along with leather and ribbon in some pieces. Other than earrings, I rarely make more than two or three of the same thing. I do make things that will last ( I hope!).

  13. Andrews fine jewelers

    Wow, great article, I really appreciate your thought process and having it explained properly, thank you!

  14. I know "costume jewelry" is a historically viable term, but to me it feels a little disparaging. It sounds like "dress up" for little children. I may just have a chip on my shoulder about it since I don't create/sell fine jewelry, but does it have that connotation for anyone else?