How to Build a Fine Jewelry Collection on a Budget

We received an email from Emily (Hi, Emily!) who asked how they can build a “nice jewelry collection” on a budget.

Emily’s definition of nice jewelry includes “real silver that doesn’t turn green and gold that doesn’t wash off.” Emily’s nice jewelry collection is a fine jewelry collection. Fine jewelry is made of real silver, real gold, or vermeil or high-quality gold-plated pieces.

In an effort to help Emily I wrote up a list of quick tips to serve as a guide for building a first Fine Jewelry collection. This post is an expanded version of that list (scroll to the bottom to see the list)!

In a nutshell, collections take time to build. Go slow, have fun, and only purchase long-wearing high-quality pieces for your fine jewelry collection.

Start with two chains.

Everyone needs one silver chain and one gold chain. You can customize the gold color by choosing the karat, or opting for a rose gold chain. Knowing what gold looks best on you is a matter of trial and error. Go to your favorite fashion jewelry store and drape a few gold necklaces over your wrist. Decide which one looks best and, if needed, ask an employee what color of gold it is.

You will need two chains, one silver and one gold. Knowing what length of chain will make a difference in the price. Use a tailor’s tape measure, or a piece of yarn, or other cloth, or other favorite necklace to find your preferred length.

You are planning a purchase that will last you for many years. Take your time to identify your favorite color, favorite style, and favorite length.

Also, look through some images to determine what thickness you like best. Avoid incredibly chunky and incredibly delicate chains. These are trendy, but your collection is meant to outlive the trends.

Once you have the ideal chain in mind figure out what it is called. The following photo contains four chain styles with lasting power.

The first chain is a Rope chain, the second is a Snake chain, the third is a Figaro chain, and the fourth is a Curb chain. These chain styles have staying power. Getting years out of your chains means you have more money to spend on pendants and charms.

Make practical decisions about rings.

This may not be a popular thing to say – especially not for me, a member of the jewelry industry – but it is so true. You only have so many fingers. There is no reason to have more rings than you have fingers (excluding midi- and toe-rings, of course!).

Step one is to ask yourself if you really wear rings. Daily do you have a ring on a finger? Two rings? Three? Four? My grandmother wore eight rings every day. She only took them off to switch to others in her extensive ring collection, or to plant rosebushes. My other grandmother only wore her wedding ring. One of my great-grandmother’s never wore rings in my presence. I rarely wear more than six rings at a time.

Be honest with yourself.

If you do not wear rings on a daily basis and want to start wearing a ring, or rings, start with good quality silver plated band. They are comparatively inexpensive and by wearing it you will find out if you really want to wear rings or not.

On the other hand, if you know you l-o-v-e rings on your fingers, on your toes, and maybe in your eyebrows, then identify the styles you buy over and over again.

Do you have a pile of used-to-be-gold rings, or a pile of used-to-be-silver rings, or a mix of both?

Are your rings low-profile so they fit nicely in your winter gloves?

Are your rings bejeweled with treasures of every color?

Do you have five rings with the same kind of stone?

Once you know what your preferences are you can start looking for the right ring(s) for your fine jewelry collection.


Do not buy all your rings in the same size unless your fingers are all the same size.

If you have ten rings and only wear two rings at a time, the plated rings will last a lot longer than if you have four rings and wear them every single day.

Look for Sterling Silver rings, they are only slightly more expensive than silver-plated rings and they will last a lifetime. Aim for 18kgp or higher gold-plated rings. You can buy 14k, and even 12k gold rings, but plating should be of a higher karat because, eventually, plating wears off.

If, like me, you wear rings all the time skip the plating and go for solid sterling silver, or solid, not plated, gold. At this time, gold is high, so silver is better for a college budget.

Buy only one ring at a time, and take your time looking for the right pieces. You are in college and this is a treasure hunt! Enjoy it!

Now here is the really hard part. Maintain a collection, but do not let your collection run away with you. My bejeweled grandmother had a ring drawer. When she wanted to buy a new ring, she had to let an old ring go. I try to maintain the same discipline in my own collection. When I buy a new ring, I cannot wear it, until I have let-go of an old ring. It is a difficult thing to do, but in this way I maintain control of my collection rather than letting my collection control me.

All about earrings.

If you have one set of pearls, one set of clear stones, one pair of gold hoops and one pair of silver hoops, then you have earrings to match any and every outfit.

Get sterling silver earrings, and get gold or at least gold-plated earrings. Unlike rings, earrings do not endure constant abuses and so plating will last longer. As previously stated, sterling silver is only a little more costly than silver-plate and it will last longer so it earns a place in your fine jewelry collection.

Pick pendants that mean something.

There is nothing wrong with kitschy souvenirs. In fact, we once collected tiny spoons. Kitschy pendants are equally charming, but inevitably they lose their sparkle.

Instead of buying a shiny acrylic pink flamingo pendant to remind you of your summer in Miami, save your money and get something lasting. You have plenty of pictures to prove you were in Florida when the quarantine lifted.

When you pick a pendant it should have more extrinsic value (emotional worth) than the asking price. Pendants can connect you to your heritage, to another person, to a specific event in your life, and hold their value over time if they are made to last. That’s why we love coin pendants; they connect the wearer to a time and place, to an idea, to something bigger.

In addition to coin pendants, you can get quality sterling silver and gold charms from numerous retailers. A silver feather will be something you will be happy to wear on a warm summer day in twenty, or thirty, or forty years.

Bracelets, Anklets, and Body Jewelry

Like all the jewelry we have discussed thus far, your bracelets, anklets, and body jewelry need to be made of Sterling silver, or gold. Surgical stainless steel is a budget friendly and antiseptic option for body jewelry. It is typically silver in color but can be rainbow treated too.

The key to success when building your fine jewelry collection is to take your time. Focus on quality pieces that will outlast trends and serve you well for years to come.

Nice Jewelry Collection Summary

Take your time when building your collection and remember to have fun! A fine jewelry collection contains at least:

  • One Sterling Silver Chain
  • One Gold, or Gold-Plated Chain
  • One Strand of Pearls
  • A limited number of rings, purchased one at a time.
  • Pearl earrings
  • Clear Stone earrings
  • Silver Hoop earrings
  • Gold Hoop earrings
  • Pendants with positive emotional value.
  • Bracelets, Anklets and Body Jewelry of quality

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See you next time on Pendant and Ring!

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