Have you found yourself shopping for yourself or for loved ones, and wondered “why pay more for high end jewelry if there’s stylish options for less?” This is a valid question, because everyone has a budget, and your money is always a key deciding factor. We’d like to suggest that quality is also a key factor, not just for longevity but for the practical reason that more affordable jewelry often causes skin irritation or allergic reactions. Whether you have nickel or copper sensitivity or not, it helps to know a bit about the metals and materials used in jewelry. This allows you to make educated choices about what is worth purchasing. Like Coco Chanel, we are all for mixing costume jewelry with investment pieces – but green rings left on your finger and itchy skin around your earrings is neither fun nor elegant. Let’s learn how to choose jewelry that looks good and also physically feels good on your skin.

The Basics

First of all, most mainstream jewelry (as in, more affordable jewelry sold in popular stores that isn’t fine jewelry) tend to use nickel, copper or brass as a base metal. This jewelry is often gold-plated, and with continuous wear, the top layer will rub off and your skin will interact with the base metal, which can often cause unwanted reactions. It is very common for allergies to develop, so if you were able to wear costume or marketplace jewelry when you were younger, but find your skin getting irritated by it now, that’s normal. Listen to your body. Jewelry should make you feel beautiful and happy, not swollen and itchy.

Breakdown of Gold & Silver

When considering mainstream jewelry, ask questions. Is it gold-plated, silver-plated, gold-fill, gold vermeil, sterling silver or solid gold? Here are common jewelry term defined, and listed in order from least recommended to most recommended.

  • Gold-plated: a base metal (nickel/copper/brass) dipped in a thin layer of gold.

  • Silver-plated: a base metal (nickel/copper/brass) dipped in a thin layer of silver.

  • Gold-fill: uses a base metal but has a higher quality and thicker layer of gold than gold-plated jewelry.

  • Gold vermeil: a sterling silver base dipped in a thin layer of gold.

  • Sterling silver: 92.5% silver mixed with 7.5% other metals. Not often found in fine jewelry stores.

  • Solid gold: an alloy that combines pure gold with a mix of metals (silver, zinc, copper) to add extra shape and durability. 18K gold is 75% gold, and 25% other metals.

  • Platinum: at 95% pure platinum, this is the purest metal for those with sensitive to very sensitive skin. White gold contains nickel and rose gold contains copper, so for absolute peace of mind, go with platinum (or 18K yellow gold).

As you can see, platinum or solid yellow gold are your safest bets. Sterling silver is also a better buy than silver-plated, because it is made up of 92.5% silver and only 7.5% other metals. Don’t forget to check that the tag actually states it’s 92.5% silver, instead of just a piece that has some sterling silver mixed in. Depending on how sensitive you are, sterling silver may work for you, but the highly allergic or sensitive will still likely react to the nickel or the other base metals contained in it. For yellow-gold jewelry lovers, 18K or 19K gold is best because it has a higher percentage of pure gold (75%). Gold vermeil has more actual gold than gold-plated or gold-fill jewelry, but if you’re willing to pay more for gold vermeil (yes, it costs more than gold-plated or gold-fill), 14K solid gold (58% pure gold) is better than vermeil. Trial and error has likely given you a good idea of what type of jewelry material you are sensitive/allergic to, but if you aren’t sure, definitely ask an allergist or dermatologist.

How to Mix Trend and Fine Jewelry

Obviously, we are biased. This doesn’t mean that fine jewelry still isn’t best in terms of quality, and also for those with sensitive skin or nickel allergies. At the same time, we also understand that for most jewelry lovers, you may not want to wear the same earrings every single day, and can’t run out to buy a new emerald cocktail ring every time you have a special event to go to (if you can, rock on, boss). Be creative and strategic! We say go for top quality earrings and rings since these are often worn for long periods of time, and mix in wooden or acrylic bangles. Or if you usually wear your hair down, invest in a necklace or bracelet that can be worn often, and throw on colourful costume jewelry or dramatic layers of fake pearls when you want a more statement look. However you choose to find balance between your finances and style, we hope the information we shared today was useful!