Dude’s Dossier: An Essential Glossary on Buying Jewelry for the Ladies

With Valentine's Day coming up many men will find themselves panicking at the jewelry counter. You don't need to be one of them. If you don't know the difference between precious and semiprecious, gold-filled and gold-plated, or really understand what "Sterling Silver" is, make sure to check out our guide before you check out at the jewelry store.

It’s no secret that we ladies love our bling (and love the men who buy it for us even more). But just as a girl can be picky about the men she dates, she can be even pickier about the jewelry you bring her. So, to help you guys out, here’s a quick & dirty guide to becoming an Indiana Jones of jewelry and bagging the right treasure every time.

Mastering metals

Gold and silver are still the most common metals you’ll find at the jewelry counter. Expect prices to vary widely depending on how much of the metal is actually used in a piece.


Gold and silver jewelry is never made out of 100% pure gold or silver because both metals are too soft and malleable on their own.

Here are the ways metal content is categorized:

.925 (or Sterling) silver is 92.5% silver, and the rest is usually copper. Genuine sterling silver will always be marked/stamped with (.925), often on the clasp of the piece. If you’re purchasing silver, this is what you want to get.

k gold (or karat) indicates the percentage of gold, with 24k being equal to 100%. 14k (which equals 14/24 or 58.33% gold) is likely to be what you’ll most commonly see while shopping. Anything below 10k cannot legally be called gold in the United States. As with sterling silver, the karat should be marked/stamped on the piece.

Gold-filled is a metal topped with a gold layer, which is heat and pressure bonded to the underlying metal. This makes it very durable.

Gold or silver plated is a metal that is then coated with a thin layer of gold or silver. Unlike gold-filled, plated metal can bend, crack, or rub off.

Why You Should Care

The more gold or silver, the more you’ll pay. While gold-filled jewelry is a respectable choice, I don’t recommend plated jewelry even if your budget is tighter than Mariah Carey in spandex (Hint get her a thoughtful homemade gift instead).

Takeaway Tip

When in doubt about what size necklace or bracelet to get, extenders are your friends. An extender is a length of metal chain that allows a clasp to hook onto various points, and gives the wearer flexibility in setting the length of their jewelry. Especially with shorter necklaces or bigger babes, an extender ups the odds that your gift won’t choke her.

Gemstone guru

Gemstones being naturally occurring minerals, make up the heart of fine jewelry, and come in a rainbow of shades. If you’re looking to buy based on color, gemstones are a great way to go.


Gemstones are often classified as precious or semiprecious, with precious considered the more prestigious of the two. The precious family includes diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. The semiprecious family includes everything else (such as garnet or topaz).

Why You Should Care

Most people (and most stores) attach higher prices to precious stones, even when their quality is not great. You want to pay for the quality, not for the type. Then again, you can try to wow your girl with a rubbish ruby (Note: author most definitely does not endorse this play).

Takeaway Tip

If you’re not sure what color to go with, you might want to pay more attention to her, but in the meantime, you can’t go wrong with her birthstone (List/more information on those here: http://www.jic.org/index.php?page=birthstones).

Professional with pearls

Pearls, which come from mollusks like oysters or mussels, remain a classic jewelry gift, but bear in mind that the traditional string of pearls may be considered quaint by the fashion-forward woman.


Natural pearls vs. cultured pearls: Natural pearls are produced without interference from man. Cultured pearls are deliberately farmed. Because you never know what nature’s gonna give you, natural pearls that are perfectly round are rare and pricey.

Saltwater vs. freshwater pearls: Pearls are also categorized by the type of water in which the pearl-creating mollusk resides. Saltwater mollusks are less productive than freshwater mollusks, making saltwater pearls investment pieces.

Why You Should Care

For the most part, to an untrained eye, pearls look pretty similar (except at the super high end), no matter their classification. You can use the definitions to figure out the type of pearls to look for based on your budget.

Takeaway Tip

Pearls can also come in different colors; but except the most expensive ones, that color is probably a result of being artificially treated. A strand of natural color pearls will typically vary slightly from pearl to pearl, so a perfectly uniform strand can be evidence of treatment.

Arwa Jumkawala

Born to a family in the jewelry trade, Arwa has been immersed in the colorful world of bling her entire life. She adores caffeinated beverages, fluffy animals, and running her online custom jewelry shop, http://gemkitty.com.