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Buying Quality Handmade Jewelry Online

Updated on March 13, 2013
Pearl earrings I made myself!
Pearl earrings I made myself!

I love jewelry. I'm definitely more of an accessories person than a clothes person. From dainty bracelets to big statement necklaces - I love having different types of jewelry to wear depending on my mood.

One of the best places to get a variety of one of a kind jewelry pieces at a reasonable price is, an online market place for handmade or vintage items. They sell jewelry from 25 cent items to $100,000 items! Given the sheer number of handmade and vintage items available on the website, you have to be careful with what you're getting because some items are made better than others. Also, be aware that different shops can sell the same item at varying price points.

Read on to find out how to spot high quality handmade jewelry and to get the best value for your buck.

A necklace I made!
A necklace I made!

Type of Metals

Here are some common types of metals that I've personally bought and that have held up the best as jewelry:

Sterling Silver
By far, sterling silver is my preferred choice of metal in jewelry. It's relatively inexpensive, but it's easy to take care. Wearing your sterling silver jewelry on a regular basis keeps your silver from getting tarnished, but if it does get tarnished, just rub it with a jewelry cleaning cloth and it will be like new! When you buy sterling silver jewelry from large stores, it will usually be stamped "Sterling Silver" or "925". The 925 stands for the composition of 92.5% silver and 7.5% of some other metal (usually copper). Fine silver is 99.9% silver and is way too soft to be used as jewelry. However, if you're buying handmade artisan jewelry, it's hard to tell if the silver being used is actually sterling silver. Just look at the number of positive reviews for the seller and look for other indicators of quality jewelry (discussed later on). The better the indicators, the more likely the metal being used is actually what the seller claims it is.

14K, 18K, and 21K Gold
If your skin tone does not look that good with silver, or if you just prefer gold, this is a classic choice, but be aware, real gold gets mighty expensive! I personally would not buy real gold jewelry from online market places, but if you're looking for a unique piece of gold jewelry, especially wedding rings and bands, sites such as Etsy or Big Cartel may be your best bet. Just remember to look at the reviews rating for the seller. A large number of positive feedback is always a good sign that the seller is trusted and well established in the community, making it more unlikely that substandard materials are being used. A note about 21K gold - it is quite soft. I wouldn't really recommend wearing jewelry, such as wedding bands, made of 21K gold that would likely get beat up in your everyday activities.

Rose Gold
I'm a big fan of rose gold (also called pink gold). I love the look and colour of it and it's becoming a pretty popular metal colour. You can find it both in costume jewelry (i.e. Forever 21) and in designer pieces. If you want an option to pricey solid rose gold, look at the section titled "Gold Filled".

Plated Jewelry or Gold Vermeil Jewelry
Gold, rose gold, or silver plated jewelry gives you the appearance of pure gold, rose gold, or silver jewelry, but without the quality or price. I try to avoid plated jewelry because I really don't think it's worth it the money. Basically, plated jewelry is a thin layer of gold or silver on top of another cheaper metal. Once the plating rubs off, the cheaper metal underneath is exposed; however, that is not to say that all plated jewelry is made the same. Some designers have higher quality plating than others. Try to look at close-ups of the plated jewelry before purchasing. Look out for an uneven finish - different patches of colour, etc. An even glossy finish is a good sign of quality gold or silver plated jewelry.

Wikipedia defines gold vermeil as being at least 10K gold that is at least 2.5 micrometres thick plated over sterling silver; however, I've seen "gold vermeil" loosely used as a fancy term for regular gold plating over a metal that isn't sterling silver so just be sure to read the product description closely!

Gold Filled
To get the look of gold (or rose gold), but with a better quality than gold plated jewelry and a better price than real gold, look no further than gold-filled jewelry pieces. Gold-filled jewelry is cheaper metal covered with a thicker layer of gold so that a piece of gold filled vs a gold plated jewelry is much more durable and longer lasting. A piece of gold filled jewelry can last many years even with constant wear. If you want the look of rose gold, definitely consider rose gold filled jewelry. It will last longer, but be MUCH cheaper than solid rose gold. For buying tips, look at the Finishing section later on in this article.

Rhodium Plating

Rhodium plated jewelry looks incredibly shiny and gives jewelry a white reflective surface. I have several pieces of jewelry from Swarovski and they use rhodium plating quite extensively. I have never had a problem with rhodium plated jewelry and all my pieces look as shiny and new as the first day that I bought them! However, I have heard that well-worn rhodium plated jewelry can wear away in a year or two. Once this happens though, all you need to do is to get it re-plated which can cost about $30. If you can see the rhodium plated jewelry before you purchase it, you can tell that it is rhodium plated by the super shiny, almost white-like surface.

Other Metals
Although there are many other types of metal that are used in jewelry making, such as pewter, brass, copper, etc., the above mentioned metal types are the ones that I have personal experience with and that I've found hold up the best in terms of daily wear. Try googling the other types of metals and see other folks' opinions!


A quality piece of handmade jewellery will have a smooth appearance with very little nicks or marks (unless it's intentional) and be on the look out for any discoloration on the surface itself that may be an indication of substandard materials.

I once bought a gorgeous yellow crystal sterling silver ring from a seller online. It was handmade with an intricate wire wrap design. It was the first piece of jewellery that I had bought online and I didn't realize that the pictures shown in the product listing didn't have any close up pictures. I received the product and it looked like the ring in the picture...from afar. Up close, you can see all these tiny nicks and marks made by the pliers and jewellery tools that the seller used. SIGH. So before you buy handmade jewellery online (especially higher priced items), look closely at the pictures. It's even better if the seller already has close up pictures of their product so you don't have to zoom by 200%. If it's hard to view the item, e-mail the seller and see if he/she can take a higher quality photograph or zoom in.


Make Your Measurements!

I don't think I can remember how many times I've bought jewelry online without actually thinking more carefully about how big or small the actual jewelry piece was.

Just two weeks ago, I bought a cartilage earring online thinking it would look so cute in my ear only upon receiving it to realize that the earring was way too small to fit. After an hour of struggling, I gave up. This wasn't the seller's fault at all. It was completely my own darned fault for not actually taking out a ruler and measuring my cartilage ear hole to see if it would even fit on my own ear!

It can be very hard by looking at pictures to imagine the size of an item on your body. Most sellers will have measurements on the product listing page so make sure you whip out your ruler or measuring tape before you buy! You wouldn't buy clothes without looking at the sizing and measurements, so why should it be any different for jewelry? If the seller doesn't have measurements, some will have pictures of the jewelry piece on an actual person which sometimes may be enough to let you imagine the piece on yourself. If the seller doesn't have either of the above, don't even bother. You don't want to end up buying a piece of jewelry only to have it not fit or not be what you imagined. Many sellers don't take returns either, so be careful!

An Important Note about Etsy.Com

If you are looking at the feedback for a seller, make sure to actually click the link to view the detailed information about the seller's feedback. For those that don't know, if you buy things from the website, the sellers provide you (as the buyer) with feedback as well. The feedback for a person as both a buyer and seller is grouped together. So if you see a seller with something like "Feedback: 50, 100%", this may mean that the seller bought 49 items with a 100% positive feedback, but have only sold 1 item with 100% feedback.

Thanks for reading!

Elaine Li


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