Unless you are a professional jeweler, it can be hard to tell the difference between high quality and cheaper materials used in handmade artisan jewelry. Price is not always the best indicator, and if you know a little bit about how to identify real stones and metals, you will be able to walk away from a transaction feeling like you got your money’s worth. Of course you can choose to buy pieces made with cheaper materials if they appeal to your tastes and budget, but the important thing is knowing that you are getting what is advertised.
Educating Your Palate
Just as food professionals must do, you must educate your palate to distinguish between quality and less-than-quality. Doing this takes some time and effort on your part, but it can be a fun experience. If you don’t want to indulge in formal education on the subject, you need to educate your eyes on what to look for. Spend time looking over fine jewelry from high-end stores. Salespeople probably won’t be all that interested in answering tons of questions if you aren’t prepared to make a purchase, but you can still look as well as check out library books that teach jewelry making skills. Graduate to flea markets, crafting fairs, and bazaars to start testing your eye for quality. Good jewelry in any price range is well made with attention to little details. When you find an artist or vendor who consistently delivers jewelry that you like, ask them about their process of selecting materials or finished products. These people are often passionate about what they do and will be happy to help you appreciate their handiwork. Over time, you will spot good jewelry almost immediately and be able to ignore the rest.
Know the Difference between Glass and Real Stones
There are some very classy and elegant glass beads being manufactured, and the point of knowing the difference between glass and real semi-precious stones isn’t that you can always avoid glass beads (unless you find glass to be too crass for your jewelry box) so much as to know that you are getting what is advertised. Obviously, precious and semi-precious stones are more expensive for the artist to use and the final product will reflect that cost. In your self education, inspect groups of glass beads against semi-precious stones. Listen to the sound they make when dropped, look for irregularities within the stone (glass beads are usually very uniform in appearance), check texture and grain, and carefully inspect the edges and inside of drilled holes for more tell-tale clues. With practice, your knowledge will turn to instinct, and you will be able to pick out the real from the glass more easily. The same applies to understanding metals, whether they are solid or plated.
The final test of quality should be what styles appeal to you. If you prefer vintage costume jewelry or jewelry featuring one type of semi-precious stone in particular, you will soon be able to decide what you like best by looking at many examples. Whether you choose statement pieces or delicate work, your selections should be those pieces that you love to wear or collect. The really enjoyable work in building your collection is in all the shopping and looking you get to do as you decide your style and how to find quality handmade artisan jewelry that makes your heart sing.