Walk into any fine jeweler’s establishment, and you’ll likely be impressed with the delicate beauty of the displays.
However, if you inquire about a piece, you’ll likely find the price to be in the thousands.
What is it about fine jewelry that makes it so expensive?
Is it worth the exorbitant expense?
We’ll cover ten reasons for the eye-popping price tags on platinum, pearls, and peridot.
Why Is Jewelry So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)
1. Quality Of Metal
One trait that affects the price of jewelry is what kind of metal is used in the piece.
Gold, silver, and platinum are the most common metals used in fine jewelry.
If you are hoping to purchase jewelry made from one of these classic precious metals, be prepared to cough up some serious dough.
Gold is a naturally occurring metal that needs to be extracted from the ground and purified before it is ready to be turned into jewelry.
It is not exactly rare but is difficult to remove from the ground.
Because the cost of production is quite high, so is the value of the metal.
Demand plays a part as well—the more people who want to purchase gold, the higher the price will be.
There are several types of gold: white gold, yellow gold, and rose gold.
Yellow gold is the purest type of gold, indicated by its yellow color.
The amount of pure gold in yellow gold jewelry is noted by the number of karats.
The most expensive gold is 24 karats because it is made of 99.9% pure gold.
White gold is an alloy, meaning it is mixed with other metals to give it a silver color.
Because of this, there is no such thing as “pure white gold.”
White gold typically comes in two karats, 14K or 18K.
Rose gold contains the smallest amount of pure gold, making it the most affordable of the three.
The most common type of silver jewelry in the US is sterling silver—an alloy that is 92.5% pure silver, and 7.5% other metals (often copper).
Sterling silver is durable and very popular in various kinds of jewelry.
It is much less expensive than gold, but its high content of pure silver will still set you back more than less precious metals.
2. Quantity Of Metal
The amount of metal used in a piece will impact its price as well.
Smaller types of jewelry, such as rings and earrings, will usually cost less than large pendants or brooches.
If you are hoping to purchase a piece with a lot of metal but don’t want to break the bank, you may want to consider a base metal rather than a precious one.
You can also decrease the quantity of precious metal in your piece by going with gold- or silver-plated jewelry instead.
Plated metals are base metals that are coated in a precious metal to give it a nicer appearance.
By only using a valuable metal on the outside of your jewelry, you will save money.
Higher-quality plated jewelry will have a thicker coating, making it less likely to scratch off.
Purchasing gold-filled jewelry is another way to have less precious metal in your piece.
Gold-filled jewelry has 5% the value of solid gold but still looks nice.
Finally, hollow gold is jewelry that is still made of gold but is empty inside.
It uses far less metal than solid gold pieces and is much cheaper.
Hollow gold is common in bangles and hoop earrings.
3. Quantity Of Gemstones
The other major factor in the price of jewelry is the gemstones.
Hundreds of different gems are used in jewelry, each with a different monetary value.
Diamonds are, by far, the most common, especially in engagement and wedding rings.
The number of gems in a piece will greatly impact the final price.
Using more than one gem is common in rings.
Typically, ring designs center on one large gemstone.
Often, smaller stones either surround the large stone or are inlaid in the band of the ring.
The more gemstones used, the greater the price will be, although there are ways to get around paying for several diamonds in one piece.
Some buyers choose to get just one diamond in their piece and then accent it with other less expensive gems.
Sapphire and moissanite are hard gemstones that cost less than diamonds.
If you still want the sparkle of a diamond, but don’t want to spend all your money, consider only making the main stone in your piece a diamond.
You can then surround it with cheaper but still beautiful alternatives.
Perhaps the biggest factor when it comes to the price of fine jewelry is the quality of the gemstones.
When measuring the quality of stones, jewelers use four categories, known as the “4 C’s.”
These categories are color, cut, clarity, and carat.
Color refers to the exact hue of a stone.
When you look at a gemstone, color is likely the first thing you notice.
Even among gems of the same type, color can vary.
The most expensive gems are “fine color” gems.
Fine color gems are the stones that are known for being a specific color.
The most valuable sapphires are a pure blue, while rubies should be a deep, dazzling red.
Depending on the shade of a stone, the price will vary.
Some stones come in many colors, such as sapphires.
As previously mentioned, deep, velvety blue sapphires will sell for top dollar, but pink, white, and yellow sapphires also exist.
These colors are still breathtaking but cost a little less.
Other stones come in a much narrower range of shades.
Peridot, the birthstone for the month of August, is always some shade of green.
However, even this stone’s value varies based on its exact hue.
The finest peridot is green without any hint of yellow or brown.
There are other aspects of color to consider as well.
Saturation refers to the intensity of color, while the tone is the term for how light or dark the stone’s color is.
Depending on the stone, different levels of saturation, tone, and hue are valued differently.
A gemstone’s cut is not quite as noticeable to the untrained eye as color, but it matters a great deal.
The way a stone is cut impacts the hue of the stone, not just the shape.
A skilled gemstone cutter can make a stone appear brighter and bring out the sparkle one expects from precious gems.
For example, the finest diamonds are perfectly colorless.
Less desirable diamonds have hues of yellow or brown.
If a diamond in its rough state has parts that are colorless and parts that are tinted, it is a cutter’s job to produce as clear a jewel as possible.
The cutter will cut the rough gem in a way that allows the most valuable parts of the diamond to shine through.
A stone’s ideal cut depends on how the rough formed.
Some gems are better suited for the classic brilliant shape, while others look nicer when pear-shaped.
A gemstone cutter’s task is to look at a gem in its rough state and bring out the best features of the jewel within.
A fine jeweler will be able to tell you the grade of a stone’s cut.
“Excellent” grade cuts are done by hand and are worth the most money.
Commercially cut gems will generally receive a grade between “very good” and “fair.”
The better the grade, the more the jewel is worth, and the more the piece of jewelry will cost.
Clarity refers to the absence or existence of fissures, flecks, or bubbles in the stone.
These qualities affect how light passes through the jewel.
There are two types of clarity characteristics: blemishes and inclusions.
Blemishes exist on the exterior of the stone.
They include things like scratches, cracks, and polish lines.
Inclusions, however, are within the stone.
Inclusions may appear as fractures, tiny gas bubbles, or even pockets of fluid.
Diamonds and colored gemstones are rated differently when it comes to clarity.
For diamonds, there are eleven different grades of clarity characteristics.
The most valuable grade is “flawless.”
A diamond is given a flawless grade when it has no inclusions or blemishes under 10x magnification.
The least desirable grade is “included,” meaning that inclusions are obvious under 10x magnification.
Colored gemstones, on the other hand, are split into categories before being graded.
They are rated differently from diamonds because, in some stones, certain inclusions are actually desirable.
The most expensive gems fall into the “Type I” category, meaning that they are expected to be “eye clean.”
This means that no inclusions or blemishes should be visible to the naked eye.
Stones in the Type I category include aquamarine, pale amethyst, and smoky quartz.
Type II gemstones may have small inclusions.
These stones include sapphire, ruby, and peridot.
Type III stones have very obvious clarity characteristics.
Green emerald and several colors of tourmaline are Type III.
Stones in this category are often used in jewelry even with very noticeable inclusions.
Gemstones with fewer clarity characteristics cost more because light can pass through more easily.
This makes them appear clearer, shinier, and more brilliant.
Stones with many inclusions or blemishes may appear cloudy or dull.
The final “C” in terms of jewel quality is carat.
Carat is a unit of weight measurement.
The larger the gem, the higher the number of carats.
Some gems, such as diamonds, are generally found in small roughs, meaning that they usually exist in sizes below five carats.
The average size of diamond for engagement rings in the United States is one carat.
However, it’s not uncommon to see diamonds between 0.25 and three carats gracing ring fingers.
Larger-carat diamonds are worth more because they aren’t as easy to find.
Because of this, a one-carat diamond is worth more than two half-carat diamonds.
Other gems, such as topaz, can be found in large ranges of carat weights, thanks to the size of their roughs.
The more common it is to find a stone in large sizes, the less valuable those larger stones are.
Because of this, a half-carat of one stone may be worth more than one carat of another.
Carat also does not necessarily refer to physical size.
Some stones are denser than others.
One carat of a dense stone will appear smaller than one carat of a less dense stone.
Different cuts may also cause gemstones of the same carat weight to appear to be different sizes.
In general, however, the bigger the jewel, the more expensive the piece of jewelry will be.
Craftsmanship is not one of the four “C’s,” but it also plays a heavy role in the price of jewelry.
In fine jewelry, every detail should be exquisite.
Jewels should fit nicely into place and prongs should keep them secure.
Clasps should work well, and each link in a necklace should be a closed loop.
Attention to detail is a sign of good craftsmanship, and jewelers will charge more for it.
Handcrafted jewelry will always sell for more than that which is commercially produced.
This is partly because each piece of handmade jewelry is unique.
Even two pieces intended to be identical will have differences, thanks to the imprecision of human work.
Secondly, jewelers who handcraft their pieces are skilled professionals.
Many were trained for years to produce beautiful, elegant work that customers will be proud to wear.
The work of these jewelers comes with higher prices to compensate them for their time, care, and expertise.
Often, pieces are customized to the needs of the purchaser, making them even more valuable.
They also must charge enough to make back what they paid for the materials in the jewelry.
When you purchase fine jewelry from a skilled craftsman, you are paying for more than metal and stone.
You are paying for quality that will last for years to come.
9. Brand Recognition
As in any industry, big, recognizable brands can charge more for their products.
Having jewelry that comes from a famous jeweler is often seen as a symbol of status.
For this reason, diamonds from Tiffany’s will nearly always sell for more than those from a local jeweler.
Large jewelry brands have made themselves identifiable to the untrained eye.
Pandora’s charm bracelets are famous even among those who don’t wear much jewelry.
Companies with excellent brand awareness use details such as logos, packaging, or colors to make themselves familiar to customers.
They may spend thousands of dollars in advertising to become a household name.
Jewelry brands are also able to make themselves a symbol of wealth by using celebrity endorsements.
If a high-value celebrity is seen wearing Cartier diamonds, they instantly become an item of status.
The message is clear—only the elite wear this jewelry.
The brand is then able to reflect that message in its pricing.
Then the cycle continues: only rich people can afford the jewels, which makes them worth more, so the price goes up.
If you are looking to get high-quality jewelry for less than top dollar, a small business is a better option than a luxury brand.
The real reason gold, silver, and diamonds are worth so much is that we, as a society, say they are.
The fact that they are shiny and relatively rare makes them desirable.
We enjoy wearing jewelry because it looks nice and signals to others that we have something of value.
In reality, any natural substance is only as valuable as humans decide it is.
While it’s true that gold and silver are difficult to extract and refine, their worth is more due to convenience than anything else.
Gold and silver were chosen for currency in the early days of civilization.
This was thanks to their relative durability and availability.
Because both are malleable, they could be made into coins.
Neither is prone to rusting or chemically reacting with other substances.
Because of these qualities, society made them currency and (along with the other, rarer noble metals) the most prized metals in existence.
This societally imposed value lives on.
We continue to view precious stones and metals with high regard.
Consequently, fine jewelry made of these materials sells for thousands of dollars.
While the blow to your bank account can hurt, the exorbitant price of fine jewelry is likely what gives it such allure in the first place.