A guide to buying fashion jewelry sets

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Fashion jewelry is also known as junk jewelry, costume jewelry, and trinkets. The term fashion jewelry dates back to the 20th century, and fashion jewelry was meant to complement a particular costume or fashionable garment. Fashion jewelry sets were often worn for special occasions and engagements. From its beginning, fashion jewelry was a cheap and disposable alternative to fine jewelry and manufactured to be fashionable for a limited period of time. Instead of precious metals and gems, less valuable materials were used like base metals, synthetic stones, glass, and plastic. Originally, fashion jewelry was made of inexpensive simulated gemstones, such as lucite or rhinestones set in brass, nickel, silver, or pewter. To meet the cost of production, rhinestones were even downgraded by some companies to meet the cost of production. Base metals were popular because it could mimic platinum��s color. However, sterling silver was used during World War II as base metals were needed for military equipment production. Many of these fashion jewelry sterling silver pieces can still be found in today��s vintage jewelry market. Today, there are both high-end fashion jewelry sets and low-end fashion jewelry sets, and fashion jewelry sets are worn for both special occasions and every day wear. Jewelry sets typically incorporate matching earrings, bracelets, rings, and necklaces. These sets are designed for a well-pulled together look. High-end fashion jewelry sets often incorporate semi-precious stones like jade and high quality crystals and cubic zirconia simulated diamonds. Metals include sterling silver, vermeil, and gold or silver-plated brass. Low-end fashion jewelry sets often are comprised of gold plating over pewter and nickel.

The History of Fashion Jewelry Sets

Fashion jewelry sets have been a part of culture for nearly 300 years. Jewelers in the 18th century made sets with inexpensive metals and glass. By the 19th century, fashion jewelry sets emerged with semi-precious stones in the market. The semi-precious materials used made it more affordable for the common people. However, the real golden era of fashion jewelry sets began in the middle of the 20th century. The new middle class wanted attractive yet affordable jewelry. This demand was a timely match for the Industrial Revolution. Finally, carefully executed replicas of admired heirloom jewelry sets were available. Women in all social classes could own a fashion jewelry set that was both stylish and affordable. Fashion jewelry sets were also made popular by designers like Chanel, Haskell, Napier, Coventry, Trifari, and Dior. Leading Hollywood stars like Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, and Vivien Leigh endorsed these designers by wearing their jewelry in Hollywood movies. These designer pieces were available in the popular Woolworth stores during the 1940s and 1950s.

Common Metals Used in Fashion Jewelry Sets

Base metal is a catch-all term in the industry of jewelry for metals used in fashion jewelry sets. In metal working, base metal is any metal that is not a precious metal. With fashion jewelry sets, base metals are often plated with a thin layer of rhodium, nickel, silver, or gold. Many plated pieces are plated first with copper. In addition, many gold-plated pieces have a white nickel plate under the last gold plate.

Raw Brass

Raw brass metal is usually the same color as yellow plated. Its surface tends to be imperfect, and its finish may change over time. This metal looks best with yellow-plated components. There are jewelry sets with anti-tarnish brass, which will hold up better with age. Another plus is that anti-tarnish brass closely resembles the look of 14-karat gold.


Copper is a bright orange-reddish metal that darkens over time and has a distinct patina. It is also a metal that can discolor the skin when worn tightly. Copper is a soft metal and ideal for intricate designs.


Pewter includes a variety of silver-gray alloys of tin with different amounts of copper and antimony. Today, pewter is lead free, and most pewter jewelry sets have a surface-finishing plate over the pewter. Sets marked "antiqued pewter" may comprise of both zinc and copper.

White Metal

White metal is a term used interchangeably with pot metal. It consists of tin-based alloys used in the casting of fashion jewelry. These castings are three-dimensional and often plated. Because many manufacturers use its own proprietary formula, the exact composition of white metal varies. Stamped pieces often indicate a formula of included brass and copper.

Nickel Silver

This metal is silver in color but does not contain any sterling silver. Nickel silver is an attractive option to sterling silver because of its inexpensive cost. Although attractive, many people are allergic to nickel silver.

Surgical Steel

Surgical steel is an inexpensive metal and hypo-allergenic. It is often used for low-end fashion jewelry sets.

Common Stones and Settings Used in Fashion Jewelry Sets

Modern fashion jewelry sets include a wide array of semi-precious stones excluding mined diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. Laboratory-manmade diamonds, sapphires, rubies, and emeralds are used for fashion jewelry. Today, cubic zirconia is a manmade stone that is used in fashion jewelry sets, and high quality cubic zirconia looks just like a real diamond. Popular high-end fashion jewelry sets often use real amethyst, quartz, topaz, citrine, ametrine, pearl, jade, turquoise, and garnet. Gemstone cutting is either cabochon or facet. Cabochons are smooth and domed stones with flat backs. Faceted stones have the overall shape of a diamond with a thin edge and crown. Both cuttings are used in fashion jewelry sets. There are hundreds of variations of setting styles for fashion jewelry sets, but bezel, prong, channel, bead, and burnish settings are the most common.


High-end fashion jewelry sets have achieved a collectible status. Many increase in value over time. There is even a strong market for vintage fashion jewelry sets. With the designer��s signature mark, vintage fashion jewelry sets are quite valuable. Some of the most sought after are sets by Haskell, Trifari, Coro, and Butler. Fashion jewelry sets can be purchased in many venues, including brick and mortar stores, trades shows, jewelry festivals, and boutique shops. Depending on the quality of materials used, fashion jewelry sets can range in price from low to high.

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Bezel Settings

Bezel setting is an early technique of attaching stones to jewelry. A bezel is a piece of metal bent into the size and shape of a stone, and it is soldered to the piece of jewelry. The stone is then inserted into the bezel. The metal is shaped over the stone to hold it in place. This setting style works well for both faceted and cabochon stones.

Prong Settings

A prong setting is the most common type of setting because it uses the least amount of metal to hold the stone. It is also popular because it allows the full beauty of the stone to be displayed. The prongs are arranged in a shape and size to hold the stone and are fixed at the base. A burr cut is used to create a bearing that corresponds to the angles of the stone.

Channel Settings

With channel settings, stones are suspended between strips of metals called channels. Often, small stones are set in a linear line. As with all stone settings, there can be different variations of channel work. The walls can be raised, a center stone can be placed between two bars, and the channel may be cut directly into the surface.

Bead Settings

Bead setting is a term for setting stones directly into the metal using tiny chisels. Holes are drilled, and then a ball burr is used to create a concave depression the size of the stone. When many stones are set closely together and cover a surface, it is known as pave. This type of setting is also used to line up rows of stones.

Burnish Settings

A burnish setting is similar to a bead setting. However, after stones are inserted, a rubbing tool is used to push the metal all around the stone. Stones are roughly flush with a brushed edge around it. The metal is often finished with sandblasting and has a contemporary look.