Fine, Semi-Fine & Fashion Jewelry: Understanding the Difference

The concept of jewelry isn’t new. Dating back thousands of years, some of our early ancestors chose to adorn themselves with shells, pebbles, and carved animal bones and teeth regardless of ornamental purposes or to showcase their might. Today, we are just as obsessed with accessorizing ourselves, whether for beautification or to send a certain form or message.

Jewelry has evolved through the ages and is now made from different metals and gemstones. There's a lot more to the quality of jewelry than it might first appear to be. There are essentially three classes of jewelry: fine, semi-fine, and fashion, it all comes down to the materials that the jewelry is made with. And while at a glance, sometimes they can look similar, they aren't going to look similar for very long. The classes of jewelry dictate not only how inherently valuable they are but also how long they're going to last.

We want to be well equipped with some of this knowledge to be able to distinguish them or avoid looking like an amateur, and more importantly, to make wiser purchases in the future. 

While all jewelry is valuable for the beauty it brings, below is what each of them means. 

Fine Jewelry

Crafted using precious metals such as gold, silver, palladium, and platinum, these designs are often paired with cultured or natural pearls and genuine precious stones like diamonds, turquoise, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. Fine jewelry rarely tarnishes and is designed to endure for decades, if not centuries. And if the piece does bear damage, experienced jewelers can easily fix, alter, or modify it. If you melted the jewelry down to its most base elements, it would still be worth something, and often quite a lot. The appeal of fine jewelry isn't just that it has value, but that it retains its value. Fine jewelry can be passed down from generation to generation. 

Of course, all these benefits come with a substantial price tag. However, for those who are willing to splurge, it’s not just an ardent purchase, it’s also an investment due to its intrinsic value. Some examples of fine jewelry would be wedding rings, engagement rings, and heirloom jewelry. In addition, it's also a great option for people who like to wear their jewelry 24/7 and don't want to worry about taking their jewels off when they engaged in water activities, sleep, shower or workout.

Semi-Fine Jewelry

Semi-fine jewelry seems to be a class that exists within fine jewelry & fashion jewelry which usually refers to gold-plated, gold-fill, or gold vermeil (solid silver plated with a thick layer of gold) jewelry. This type of jewelry is frequently paired with more affordable real gems like aquamarine, Morgan stone, topaz, quartz, and opal, or gemstones with improved properties. 

There’s also a variety of semi-fine jewelry produced using lab-created or augmented stones, treated with heat or chemicals to appear clearer or more flawless which will have comparable aesthetic and characteristics to genuine stones but are less expensive. Semi-fine jewelry is a great way to get a large array of jewelry options and jewelry styles without having to break the bank for heirloom pieces, yet bears a close resemblance to fine jewelry. It is also great for anyone who has allergies to other metals like brass or nickel.

Because it's usually plated in gold or silver, it won't easily discolor (though silver may tarnish). However, it's going to be more fragile than fine jewelry. The plating will eventually wear off. Stones may break or become loose, hence adequate care should be given for them to last. Jewelry that falls into the semi-fine category should be reserved for pieces that are fashion-forward but not expected to last a lifetime. 

Fashion Jewelry

Fashion jewelry is usually made by adding a layer of gold on top of base metals such as copper, brass, aluminum, or zinc combined with simulated stones such as plastic stones, cubic zirconia, and Swarovski crystals.

Because fashion jewelry is made of materials that are prone to cracking or tarnishing, they do not have much of a shelf life and they would need as much care as semi-fine jewelry, if not more. Be very cautious when letting them come in contact with water, oil, or sweat. Since fashion jewelry doesn’t use precious metal as a base (like silver) and has less gold content, it’s a much more affordable option. Additionally, it is sometimes difficult to repair fashion jewelry once broken due to the level of heat that is required to solder the brass or copper, which would in turn blacken the plating.

Nevertheless, fashion jewelry is often seen in every girl’s jewelry box. This might be lovely and even seem to be of high quality–but it shouldn’t be confused with fine or semi-fine jewelry. As the name suggests, manufacturers make stylish pieces that are in line with current trends, intended to serve as only an accessory. The main drawback is that the designs will fall out of fashion. Luckily, it tends to come at a much lower price than fine or semi-fine jewelry does, and a broken piece could easily be replaced entirely.

Final Notes

In summary, the materials that make up the jewelry are the deciding factor behind whether a piece falls into fine, semi-fine, or fashion jewelry class, which in turn, determines how long they are going to last. The amount of care and attention would also vary based on the classes. So be wise and be smart the next time you procure jewelry, make sure you are getting what you are buying for!