Who, Me? Buy Fine Jewelry For Myself?

Statistics can certainly be dull. But, there are some numbers (and the jewelry industry loves to compile them) I find fascinating. Especially when they pertain to women’s jewelry buying habits in the US.

I’ll skip to the chase: while she might be very comfortable buying a pair of expensive shoes for herself, most US women have a lower, self-imposed limit of what they are comfortable spending on a piece of fine jewelry.

So, despite increased female agency, greater independent economic empowerment, and the transformations we have seen in relationship dynamics (“we’re not getting married, but we are committed in the long term….so I want a ring”), there’s something still “off-limits” about a woman buying fine jewelry for herself.

This is not to say that women don’t spend plenty on costume jewelry (no precious metal or genuine gems), because they do. To the tune of $26.8 billion dollars per year in the US, as a matter of fact. Compare that to the relatively small annual female self-purchase of non-bridal fine jewelry: $9.2 billion.

Well, that’s a soft question to which there is no quantifiable answer, but I can tell you that during three-plus decades in the industry, I have certainly gathered plenty of anecdotal information on that. This info has been gathered mostly when women come in with their broken costume jewelry, only to find out that the savings on costume jewelry is all on the front end, since everything from the materials to the manufacturing techniques to the country of origin result in far, far cheaper pieces.

But those exact same savings components conspire against the owner once the piece breaks. Since the metals aren’t precious and the stones aren’t genuine, a laser welder is usually the only solution for breaks. Each laser weld runs about $50 - $75 here in Bozeman. And re-plating an item costs far more than that. Moreover, costume jewelry tends to break far more easily than fine jewelry…again, because the materials are less forgiving, the assembly is less durable, and the mass-production labor all make breakage more likely.

The average piece of costume jewelry has a two-year lifespan. Since the median costume jewelry repair is $90, many pieces literally become trash. More for the landfill. <sigh>

That’s right—all those little “not real” necklaces, bracelets, and earrings you pick up at clothing stores, gift shops, trinket shops, and lifestyle stores add up! None of those stores have jewelers to perform necessary repairs, nor do very many of the manufacturers back their product.

But $611 puts a shopper in range for one or more pieces of fine jewelry. You know--things that will last, because they won’t break so easily, and when they do break, they are more readily and less expensively repaired. A piece that can truly become a “personal classic,” because it sticks around long enough (and keeps its original color!) to become one.

I have witnessed women in Alara donning footwear or a handbag with pricetags surpassing that amount. Yet they, too, will balk about buying a piece of fine jewelry exceeding $300. They say: “I should ask my husband (partner, boyfriend, father, etc.) to get it for me.

So I must ask again…

Why, if female self-purchasers have $611 to spend on costume jewelry, don’t they spend it on fine jewelry instead?

The first nationwide marketing effort aimed at the female self-purchase market occurred in the late 1980s, so this has been a long time coming.

Despite women having greater dominion over their finances since the 80s, and regardless of exactly how healthy those finances are, women to great extent today believe all kinds of expensive goods are completely fine to purchase for themselves. Except fine jewelry.

It remains the one thing that women believe should be given to them as a gift – often to celebrate relationship milestones.

They share with me how their self-gifted fine jewelry pieces can serve as a touchstone during challenging times—with the positive emotions of a past success serving to diminish the negativity of the current moment. It seems a power we should not be denying ourselves.

So, as Alara celebrates “March is Just Me” month, we are hoping to encourage women to hold off on those costume jewelry purchases, and invest in a piece of fine jewelry. Our contribution to this endeavor is a month-long “Buy One Get One ½ Off” promotion of all non-bridal jewelry designed by our female designers (including yours truly). For more details, please visit: March is Just Me Month 

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