How To Buy and Care for Costume Jewelry

Many jewelry buffs have discovered some real treasures in the costume jewelry cases at department stores and antique shops. Costume pieces are made of materials that are less valuable than fine jewelry, and usually feature glass, plastic or synthetic stones rather than precious gems. Because the fake "jewels" are less expensive than the real thing, they often come in larger, flashier styles.

Prices of costume jewelry vary greatly; you can find costume jewelry pieces that cost under $10, but you may also discover higher quality pieces that cost several hundred dollars or more. Some of the vintage costume jewelry pieces carry a heftier price-tag but are particularly well-made, often featuring unusual designs and lots of sparkle. If you are in the market for costume jewelry, here are some tips to help you find just the right piece to add to your collection.

How to Buy Costume Jewelry

  1. Check out the widest possible range of costume jewelry pieces. Consider vintage pieces as well as new items.

  • In addition to the traditional jewelry items, look for more unusual accessories such as fur clips, tack pins and sweater guards.
  • Spend some time browsing in the jewelry department of your local department store.
  • Remember that mall chain stores often have small jewelry collections with pieces that are relatively inexpensive.
  • Visit antique shops and consignment stores for older costume jewelry pieces. Look at the more expensive pieces displayed in locked cases of the store.
  • Also try digging through bins of jewelry to find that "diamond in the rough." 
  • Remember that the quality and price of costume jewelry span a huge range. Higher-quality costume jewelry can be pricier. Check the color of the metal, the quality of the stones and how the items are glued or welded together to determine the quality of an item.
  • If you want to find something truly unique, frequent arts and crafts shows, gift shops and high-end small specialty shops, where unusual jewelry pieces are often sold.

  • How to Care for Costume Jewelry

    1. Look for bottles or jars of jewelry cleaners that specifically say they are safe for costume jewelry.

  • Read labels to be sure that the product doesn't contain ammonia, vinegar, acid or alcohol. These substances can be too harsh for delicate materials. If your piece contains pearls or stones, be sure that the cleaner indicates that it will not harm them.
  • Buy a small, extra-soft toothbrush that you can use to clean your jewelry.
  • Keep a very soft cloth that can also be used to wipe your pieces and polish them to a shine.
  • Always dry your jewelry after washing, because moisture can damage surfaces and cause them to rust or become pitted.
  • Store your costume jewelry separately in soft pouches or boxes so the pieces don't scratch each other.
  • Keep your jewelry away from dust, which can be damaging to the stones.
  • To find out if your costume jewelry is valuable, look for Collectible Costume Jewelry: Identification & Values, by Cherri Simonds. You can buy this book at Amazon.com.

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