You Deserve Cheap, Fake Jewelry… Just Like Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel, 1930s fashion icon (and alleged Nazi sympathizer, let’s not play), had many wise things to say about jewelry. Like, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off,” which is both tasteful and minimalist.

Most importantly though, she said: “Costume jewelry is not made to give women an aura of wealth, but to make them beautiful.”

Costume jewelry is cheap and fake, made to look like real precious gems and metals. So she’s making a statement about the purpose of jewelry. But she’s also saying that you don’t have to be wealthy to be stylish and attractive. In other words: your monetary worth does not determine your worth as a person.

Chanel went on to say, “It’s disgusting to walk around with millions of dollars around the neck because one happens to be rich. I only like fake jewelry… because it’s provocative.” Now this is the kind of opinionated anti-bullshittery I can get behind. And I’ve kept it in mind with all my jewelry purchases.

This timeless genius of style believed there was no shame in wearing fake jewelry. Because economic circumstance should not determine beauty. (And also because the Nazis stole every precious gem in Paris. But I digress.)

No one cares that you don’t wear real jewelry

I have never put much stock in precious stones and metals. Certainly not like this cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs charlatan of financial solvency.

Here’s a brief catalogue of the “real” jewelry I own:

  • My amber and white gold engagement ring.
  • The gold and amethyst family heirloom necklace sent to me by my Zia Luciana from Italy when I got married.
  • A single pearl pendant necklace my husband bought on clearance from Macy’s.
  • My great-great-grandfather’s ruby ring, which my beloved grandfather wore until the day he died. Its value to me is literally priceless.
  • A silver Claddagh ring my husband gave me while we were dating.

… and that’s it. A couple family heirlooms and some tangible declarations of my main squeeze’s everlasting love. Kitty’s pretty damn frugal when it comes to her adornments, too.

I also own a bunch of cool finds from flea markets. Fake fucking diamonds, fake fucking gold, and fake fucking pearls, all because I took Coco’s advice to save my money. All the jewelry I’ve ever purchased for myself is cheap af. And it looks fab.

Because here’s the thing: no one’s ever called me on it. No one has ever given a flying nun that I’m wearing plastic and nickel. No one’s ever judged my husband for being too cheap to deck me out in billion-year-old crystallized carbon when cut glass does just fine.

My cheap, fake fashion statements fly completely under the radar. So why bother spending money on the real thing?

Fuck societal expectations

My friend’s sister once told me that her boyfriend was going to buy her a $30K diamond engagement ring because “that’s what I’m worth.”

If you’re familiar with the snark level of this blog you can probably guess what I said next. “Really? Only $30K?” In my defense, she walked right into that one… and she pawned her obscenely expensive ring when they got divorced.

I’m here to tell you to ignore societal expectations. Other people are not you, and you should always prioritize your plans and dreams over what others consider “normal.”

I’ve read wedding budget advice that’s basically just, “Buy a smaller diamond.” Which is… useless. Meanwhile, I’m over here like, “Get a giant cubic zirconia and blind passersby with that sparkly lab experiment while laughing about how you just saved a down payment on a house!”

Think carefully about your priorities in life if you ever find yourself considering buying a diamond. Is it truly important to you to have an engagement ring that fits into our cultural schema of a traditional wedding? Or do you have other more pressing desires in life? Like owning your own home, being debt free, or vacationing in Thailand?

If you’ve got that other shit dialed and it really matters to you to wear a diamond engagement ring, no judgment!

But if you spring for the billion-year-old carbon over saving for retirement, it might feel more like Sisyphus’s boulder than a symbol of your wedded bliss.

The questionable ethics of precious stones

This wouldn’t be BGR if I didn’t bring the mood way down. So here’s my usual depressing exposé on the ethics of the global economy. I promise to be brief.

Many gems and precious metals fund wars and are sourced in inhumane ways. And their monetary value is artificially inflated by a handful of diamond brokers monopolizing the global market.

Do you really want to spend thousands of dollars to say “My beauty was bought on the backs of African child slaves”? Wouldn’t you rather say, “Isn’t it fetching? $20 at Target girl, I shit you not.”

It is definitely possible to buy ethical precious stones and metals. The jeweler who made my engagement ring travels all over the world to source her materials directly from mines with fair labor and trade practices. And laboratories make lots of sparkly, shiny things these days. So you have options besides mindlessly purchasing the sapphires some poor West African child died to unearth.

Art, heirlooms, and investment jewelry

But what about investment jewelry? I mean yeah, I guess, if you’re a Russian aristocrat fleeing the Bolsheviks and you need a form of currency you can swallow.

This is only a concern for the extremely rich. And those people are too busy bidding on the last Galapagos tortoise at auction and changing the White House wifi password to read this blog.

Want art? Go to the craft market! Here’s a designer who makes red carpet-worthy pieces out of recycled aluminum cans! If your concern is wearing a gorgeous and interesting piece of original art, you can certainly find that for a lot less than you’ll pay for mass-produced gold at Kay Jewelers.

Family heirlooms

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the emotional value of heirloom jewelry. I can’t deny the sentimental permanence of a stone forged in the mantel of the Earth and prized so much by the species that it’ll stick around for generations.

Heirlooms very often take the form of valuable jewelry for the simple fact that it is worth something. The monetary value of heirloom jewelry ensures you won’t carelessly lose it or toss it aside over the years.

And unlike furniture (large and hard to move), books (hard to preserve for long periods of time), or real estate (expensive to maintain), the relative portability and durability of jewelry makes it pretty ideal if you want to leave something for your heirs to remember you by.

My grandfather gave me many gifts in life. He taught me how to grow radishes and play poker and cut a man to the quick with just a few words.

His ruby ring is the only one of his many gifts that allows me to time travel. With it, I can go back to the day I watched it glitter on his hand while he peeled a green apple in a single, spiraling piece.

Family heirlooms are to be cherished and worn with all the pride and weepy sentimentality of Joe Biden receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.

But that’s where I draw the line.

Do not conflate expensive jewelry with a necessary expenditure. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to look good or feel good about yourself. Examine your priorities and be honest about your reasons for purchasing before giving in to Liz Taylor’s foxy advertising.

Oh, and one more bit of wisdom from Coco:

“I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t think about you at all.”

29 thoughts to “You Deserve Cheap, Fake Jewelry… Just Like Coco Chanel”

  1. Coco Chanel is the reason why I so often leave the house with only one shoe on .
    Oh bitches, how I adore thee. When I knew my love was about to pop the question ( they really aren’t that sneaky) I said “Listen motherfucker, don’t stress me out with some expensive god damn ring, I’ll lose it, and every time I look at it I will think about the years of retirement we are missing out on”…. What can I say, I’m a romantic….

  2. Hah – love it!

    Reminds me when I traded my cubic zirconia earrings for real diamonds when I was 25 thinking I was the $hit, and then a total of NO ONE noticed or said anything about them whatsoever. Unless you count my mom – who said they look ridiculous on a guy (womp womp).

    I did feel more confident walking around in them, for whatever that’s worth, but I’d feel even more confident with the $600 cash back in my pockets.

  3. Fiance and I spent $200 total on wedding bands ($100 each). She has a solid rose gold band and I have a tungsten band. Easily could have spent $500 a piece, but totally unnecessary. Engagement ring was more, but no where near that 3 month salary idea… didn’t even know that was a thing until after I bought it! Unreal.

    Her favorite necklace? $20 on Etsy. Favorite earrings? Cheaper than that. I used to really like watches and probably spent $300 across the few that I have… and I don’t even wear them anymore. If I got another, it’d be a $15 Timex and be much more practical.

    We’d much rather spend our cash on things that bring us significant value in life – travel, savings, experiences, friendships, health, etc.

  4. Yes yes yes! Haha- I love the quote “Costume jewelry is not made to give women an aura of wealth, but to make them beautiful.” I mean, come on, do you really want to spend a load of $$$ on a fragile item that you will likely forget/lose/break/not care about in 20 years?!? No thank you.

    1. That’s what I was all! I want to be cute AND rich, so why waste my dollars on the expensive shit when costume jewelry looks damn good?

  5. Great points and an entertaining read. And, thanks for linking to my site regarding Coco Chanel. I get sooooo many compliments on my flea market and thrifts jewelry. Yes, it levels the playing field because even if you can’t afford the real gems and pearls, you can still demonstrate and exhibit good taste and style

  6. I’m on the fence on this one. When my parents past away we started the sad task of going through their stuff. I came across a couple of Swiss watches that my dad had which I remember one of them as a kid. That brought back some memories. The watch turned out to be a really cheap Swiss watch from the 60s that keeps time sometimes. I kind of wish he bought a better watch that could handle being past down a couple generations.
    Lesson for me is to buy a few quality items that have meaning and personal value and hold will hold this value for perhaps two generations.

    1. That’s a great lesson! As I wrote in the article, I’m fortunate that I have some valuable heirloom jewelry that was passed down to me that I can pass on to my nieces and nephews.

  7. I agree with you by and large, but I personally like to have “real” jewelry because I’m SUPER hard on it and I want it to hold up. I sleep and shower in my engagement/wedding rings and four bracelets that I wear every day. I’ve been doing so for 5-10 years (depending on when I got them) and they all look great, because they are platinum/sterling/gold.

    On the flip side, whenever I get cheap jewelry it craps out (tarnishes, the gold rubs off, etc) within a year, and I get so bummed because I liked the piece. If i were to wear a CZ engagement ring, I’d have to replace it every few months because it would get scratched to hell. So I do try to buy “real” stuff if I can afford it (classic stuff that I know I’ll wear every day/most days to maximize CPW) and shy away from overpriced costume jewelry (Bauble Bar, I’m looking at you!) in general.

    1. I totally understand that! And I’m not sure what kind you’re thinking about specifically, but have you heard of lab grown sapphires? They come in pretty much every color so they can replace a lot of “real” gemstone more cheaply, and they’re both just as durable (the second durable, after diamonds) and cheaper. The sparkly bits are usually where they try to get a lot of money out of you.

      1. I second lab grown sapphires. It sucks to have cheap jewelry fall apart, sure, but I think my philosophy on jewelry is different from yours, Samantha. I have a collection of inexpensive baubles for fashion’s sake, because I don’t wear the same thing every day.

  8. Oh, my god. I read that article about that quack lady giving out financial ‘advice’. She climbed out of a six-figure debt by the simple act of realizing she was six figures in debt? The universe rewarded her for saving money by giving her more money? lolwut did I just read.

    Also, can this be a theme, where you do more advice-posts inspired by the sassy ladies of pop culture history? I’d eat it up ^.^


      And your wish is my command! Coming up next: Make like Elizabeth Bathory and replace all your expensive beauty products with the blood of virgins!

  9. Hi, I think this is a unique way to think about jewelry. I have a very different view, I don’t buy fake jewelry for financial reasons. My logic is if life fails on me, I still have the real jewelry to sell. I can see your rationale if you like and wear beautiful accessories every day.

  10. Financial Diet rounded up the link to this post and I neeeeeeeeded to read it. Been waffling about expensive jewelry for a long time. Thanks for putting it in perspective! I laughed my damn ass off.

  11. The jewelry sector has always lied about this bullsh*t ‘investment jewelry’ or ‘diamonds are an investment’. It drives me bananas.

    This is one of those lies perpetuated by the jewelry/diamond industry.

    The truth is that jewelry is merely an adornment while investments make you money. Does your jewelry make you money? If not than it’s probably not an investment 🙂 – Silly jewelry salespeople! Stop lying to consumers will ya, you make honest tradespeople look bad.

    I’m in the precious metal and gems business, and honestly can’t disagree with what you’re saying here. This is my first visit 🙂 – Love your site name btw!

    1. Thank you so much!!! I’m glad you chimed in. I loved working with the jeweler who made my engagement ring. It was a special experience, and I ended up with a gorgeous ring that means a lot to me and my husband.
      And you’re absolutely right. When I buy jewelry for myself, it’s because it’s PRETTY and makes me feel pretty and confident. I don’t buy it with an eye to what it’ll fetch at auction 50 years from now.

  12. Well, I AM picky about the metal that a necklace or ring comes on (I’m allergic to nickel, so I avoid pieces that have the potential to burn welts on my skin wherever they touch), but the jewels themselves? Unless you’ve got one of those little jeweler’s eyepieces (which Google informs me is called a loupe), who’s going to know if it’s a real sapphire or a piece of blue glass?

  13. This was a great read!

    I’m not the biggest fan of jewelry, but will sometimes buy necklaces on etsy or at the thrift store. I don’t like the feeling of rings on my fingers, but if I ever do get engaged, there’s wood rings which look really cool (as well as affordable and guilt free).

  14. Love the Chanel quotes! And the call out of the diamond industry. My engagement and wedding rings are metal designed by a vendor on Etsy. I actually do have a ruby ring as well—not ethical but a souvenir of my time in Myanmar (where, for better or worse, a lot of ladies bought into buying precious gemstone jewelry on the regular because it was relatively cheap). Every time I wear that thing it catches on stuff. I can’t imagine wearing it every day. I don’t even wear my plain metal bands anymore, lol.

    Despite owning some real! gemstones my favorite pieces are “fake,” like kynite earrings, which are a more vivid blue than sapphires, cheapish jade earrings, porcelain bead earrings, enameled origami earrings. I appreciate the craftsmanship and design more than the value of the sparkly stuff. This is where I disagree with buying cheap stuff from Target. I have and I’ve loved it, but it’s not the best quality and almost certainly mass produced in way that probably isn’t super ethical either. My most expensive piece of jewelry is made of gold and ethically sourced peridot, but what I really like about it is how it’s made using traditional Myanmar crafting techniques.

    I’m pretty skeptical about buying jewelry as investment. Heirloom, sure. But unless it’s worth thousands of dollars, people might have a hard time selling it (and there are better ways of investing thousands of dollars).

    I will, however, call out mid-grade jewelry out in particular. Like, you really can’t resell that shit. I inherited a necklace that my husband’s father made my husband buy for his then-girlfriend for hundreds of dollars (She cheated on him soon afterwards so he never gave her the necklace.) I have tried to sell that shit and cannot. Hundreds of dollars of semi-precious stones in a nice silver setting and no one wants it. I also have a real jade pendant of pretty good quality in a beautiful gold-plated setting. Unfortunately the gold plating has worn off and it’s probably not worth it to remove the jade from the pendant and replate it. So if you like gold, get real gold, even if it’s 14 karat. It will stand the rest of time and deep cleanings. I’m probably going to restring the jade pendant on a silver chain and call it a day.

    Lastly, a fascinating history of jewelry is _Stoned_ by Aja Raden. She goes over the glass beads that bought Manhattan, how pearls used to be more valuable than diamonds, emeralds and religion and colonialism, and the history of the wristwatch.

  15. Soooooooo…… If I have some minor-ish jewelry, a Zales-level dinner ring, couple of other pieces given to me by my parents that I don’t particularly want (I mean, my dad gave me the ring — which I had zero use for — for Christmas one year and said, “I guess it’s gonna be the only way you’re ever gonna get one”)…

    I know it’s not holy-shit valuable, but I’d be more than happy to cash it in. There is, in fact, nobody I would saddle with this thing. I’d just as soon have whatever money I can get out of it.

    What’s the best way to go about it?

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