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Jewelry can be as intimate as your personal style. Some may prefer dainty pieces, and others the more statement jewelry items. Whichever position you find yourself in, there are common elements that we all consider when shopping for jewelry: Quality pieces that don’t tarnish, are easy to clean, and are valued appropriately.
Meet the Expert
The jewelry landscape is vast, and with so many options, it can be difficult to find both affordable and qualitative pieces. In addition to tarnishing, ease of cleaning, and affordability of the pieces, you have to think about the quality of the metal and decoration. Do you prefer your pieces to be gold-filled or gold-plated? Diamond encrusted or decorated with gemstones? Instead of leaving the search up to you, we have compiled a list of our favorites, based on our own collections, research, and expert insight from affordable jewelry brand co-founder Jill Johnson.
Ahead, the best affordable jewelry brands.
Best Overall: Missoma
The brand with the broadest selection of impressive quality jewelry would be Missoma. They seem to cover all grounds when it comes to finding great jewelry pieces; They have pieces for everyone, from chains and pendants to minimal designs and fashion statements. Their styles include customizable keepsakes, dainty pieces, and more timeless pieces that aren’t necessarily trending but hold remarkable heritage. The necklaces range in chain length and metal types, making it easy to find exactly what you are looking for, especially if you love stacking your necklaces.
Best Dainty: Omi Woods
Sometimes an outfit or mood doesn’t call for a chunky jewelry piece, and Omi Woods understands that. Their pieces are finely crafted and ethically handmade with fair-trade African gold and have globally sourced conflict-free metals designed to be worn every day. Designed to stand the test of time, each style ranges from metals and chain lengths. The custom approach makes these delicate pieces so special for any collection.
Best for Gifting: Mejuri
A cult favorite, Mejuri’s popularity is a testament to its quality, broad array of options, approachable price point, and versatility. Whether you’re buying something for yourself or someone else, you can be sure to find a piece that fits your budget. Gift cards are also available so giftees can choose the pieces on their own. If you’re not sure what style would be best, Mejuri provides an online shopper that helps tailor your picks—a service that comes incredibly handy for the gifting season.
Best Unisex: Maria Black
If there's something that is rare when it comes to jewelry, it’s brands that are genderless in their designs. Creating a fluidity in styles can be difficult, but Maria Black masters this with ease. Styled on both men and women, the designs are universal, speaking to personal style over anything else. With both impact gold and lab-grown diamonds available, each piece is forward-thinking and sustainable.
Best Sustainable: Laura Lombardi
Laura Lombardi has built her namesake brand by utilizing upcycled and recycled materials. Not only is the jewelry made from recycled brass, but plating for each style is done in a zero-waste closed-filter system (with as many styles made by hand in studio as possible). The brand goes further to ensure the pieces are affordable, and it works closely with organizations such as Black Women’s Blueprint, G.L.I.T.S Inc., and The Lower Eastside Girls Club Community Action Fund to give back to the community.
Best Timeless: Oma The Label
If there is one thing that Oma The Label excels at, it is creating gorgeously crafted pieces of jewelry that work for both everyday and statement occasions. Both trendy yet dipped in heritage, each design is unique to the brand yet meant to stand the test of time. Some favorites of ours are the Ojo necklace and Cuban Link Collection as well as the Obi Hoops and The Knot Bracelet. Each piece works with any style and circumstance you can think of—a huge win if you’re in the market for pieces that you can cherish forever.
Best Trendy: Notte
Have you noticed jewelry on someone and you immediately have to know where it’s from? In my case, it’s usually Notte. The brand’s pieces are intricate, cool, and not something you see every day (super trendy!). The styles play with metals, pearls, pendants, and charms that are created for the brand’s unique vision, inspired by cityscapes, la dolce vita daydreams, and eccentric craftsmanship.
Best Customizable: Bonbon Whims
Custom-made from upcycled materials, BonBonWhims is the creative brainchild of Clare Ngai. Each style has its own unique creative outlet suspended in resin with an array of colors and fits to choose from. The most exciting thing? You can customize many of these pieces bespoke to your personality, including the best-selling initial ring where you can choose the lettering, color, and finish. Beloved by her fans, her styles bring an inclusive and welcoming feel to the jewelry space.
Best Story: Awe Inspired
Through each of their designs, this mission-driven brand strives to raise inner strength, feminine power, diversity, and social justice that showcases itself in the form of mythology. You will find that the jewelry is reflective of key stories in history—the Zodiac, Greek goddesses, and, more recently, affirmations. Each style is made out of gold vermeil, sterling silver, rose gold, or solid gold, and prioritizes high-quality pieces that are steeped in history.
Best Gold-Plated: Joey Baby
JoeyBaby has a wide selection of gold-plated jewelry that still notes quality, intricacy, and craftsmanship. Born in NYC in 2020, the brand has mastered the art of personalization. Blending metal with a unique design of freshwater pearls, each piece is beautifully intricate and easy to style.
Best Unique: Yoj Official
There is something that so beautifully stands out about London-based brand, Yoj Official. Its styles are interesting, unique, and expertly crafted to create the most animated jewelry pieces. There are so many styles that we adore, from the Tali Hoops to the Chya necklace and Atigi Shell Bracelet. Looking for pieces that are both affordable, unique, and stand out from everything else you own? YOJ is just the brand for that.
What to Look for When Buying Jewelry
“A key factor in determining a good quality piece of jewelry is its weight; gold and silver are weighty metals,” explains Johnson. “If you hold a precious metal-based piece next to an identical piece made out of metal alloy, you will feel the discrepancy. There are jewelers who will hollow out ring shanks, and/or thin out pendants to save on costs. Higher-end jewelry feels structurally complete versus feeling abnormally light or hollow.”
According to Johnson, vermeil jewelry has at least two microns of gold plating on top of a pure sterling silver base. “For plated or vermeil jewelry, it’s important to look for evenness in gold color and to ensure that the plate/coating has a smooth, luxurious hand,” she says. “The karat weight of the gold being plated is also important: higher gold alloys like 18k or 24k are softer and therefore wear off more easily."
Sustainably & Ethically Made
When looking to buy jewelry, it is important to consider how a piece was sourced and made. A great place to start is by looking into how the brand recycles or upcycles its materials. Following on from this, it is important that they also outline the process of their production line—is it ethical and cruelty-free? Are the workers paid fairly? Also take note that brands have started making lab-grown diamonds which are inherently conflict-free, created in a lab versus mined from the earth.
Type of Metals
The most common metal types are gold, platinum, silver, silver-filled, base metal, and titanium.
- Sterling Silver is long-lasting and durable if properly taken care of; however, it is softer than gold or platinum and can tarnish.
- Silver-filled is made by using a silver wire that is applied by heat and pressure to a cheaper metal.
- Gold is available in yellow gold (the purest form), rose gold, green gold, and white gold, and available up to 24 carats.
- Base Metals consist of brass, titanium, copper, nickel, and iron. These can corrode over time.
- Platinum is one of the rarest and most expensive types of metals that is often used for designing wedding bands.
- Titanium is probably the hardest metal to find, but it is superb for its scratch-resistant qualities and lightweight feel.
What Is the Difference Between Gold-Filled and Gold-Plated?
“Gold-filled jewelry is made by wrapping very thin layers of solid gold sheets around a base metal (usually brass),” says Johnson. “Gold-filled jewelry was popular in the ‘50s, and jewelry wearers took greater measures to preserve the longevity of their jewelry. The vast majority of manufacturers today plate their jewelry rather than using the gold-filled technique.” Gold-plated jewelry has a layer of gold that is applied over the base metal, often immeasurable in weight and often why gold-plated jewelry can wear quickly over time.
How Long Does Gold-Plated Jewelry Last?
“[The longevity] truly depends on the quality of the plating and the integrity of the base metal,” she says. “When cared for properly, certified gold-plated jewelry can last a lifetime. When worn consistently without proper care, gold-plated jewelry can start to fade after 3-4 months.”
Does Stainless Steel Tarnish?
Like any metal that gets exposed to the environment over a long period of time, it can tarnish, and stainless steel is no exception. The best way to keep your pieces from tarnishing is to invest in an ultrasonic cleaning system that uses water and intense vibrations to thoroughly clean the jewelry and the hard-to-reach places. For an at-home option, have two bowls of water, one bowl with warm water and 2-3 drops of mild washing up liquid, and the other filled with mild-temperature water. Drop the jewelry pieces into the warm water with dish soap for a few moments before brushing over with an old toothbrush to target the hard-to-reach places. Rinse the jewelry off in the second bowl of water before drying with a soft cloth.
Even though good-quality jewelry can stand the test of time, it is still important to look after your pieces. Avoid harsh products when cleaning your pieces, and instead, opt for a specific cleaning solution. Similarly, avoid wearing jewelry in the shower or pool, especially in chlorinated and salt water.
How Should You Store Jewelry?
Johnson suggests storing jewelry in a jewelry box or pouch when not in use.“We recommend using a non-rouge containing polishing cloth to clean your piece regularly as elements such as air pollutants, dust, perspiration, perfumes, lotions, hairspray, make-up, suntan lotion, deodorant, body oils, and other natural elements can dull the appearance of gemstones and precious metals,” she says.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie Contributor Nateisha Scott has years of experience in fashion with a personal love for collecting jewelry pieces. With constantly sourcing new jewelry pieces from brands that are both sustainable, ethically made, and uphold impeccable quality, she has been able to narrow down a range of brands that showcase fine and quality jewelry pieces.