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There’s costume jewelry that you can get by with wearing every day. There’s demi-fine jewelry you can dust off when you feel like dressing up. And then there’s fine jewelry, or pieces that come in carats ― and usually with a pretty high price tag.
As someone who owns more than 200 pieces of jewelry — I’ve been collecting since I was a teen — I’ve probably seen it all, from poorly glued-on gems to vintage items that still smell like old perfume. And I can confidently say that you want to spend a little more to get jewelry that’s made well and won’t break on you.
But when it comes to splurging on fine jewelry, you might be just as worried about the effects on the environment as you are about your wallet.
Diamonds and gold typically aren’t eco-friendly, which has luckily been changing in recent years thanks to the rise in more sustainable jewelry. (Millennials are “killing” the diamond industry, in addition to everything else they’ve been accused of killing off in the past decade.) Still, it’s important to know where your jewelry comes from.
In our list below, we highlight jewelry brands that have pieces that are mostly under $300 and use recycled metals, lab-grown diamonds and ethically sourced gemstones.
Check out these affordable and sustainable jewelry brands:
What To Know: Aurate was founded in 2015 in New York City, and that’s important for getting to know the brand — it has jewelry that’s been inspired by everything from the Brooklyn Bridge to doorknobs. Sustainability and ethics are a big part of its philosophy, too. The company uses ethically sourced and sustainably made metals and gems.
Prices ($ To $$$): $$
There are definitely more affordable pieces on its site, including a stacker ring with three diamonds for $300. But if you’ve got the urge to splurge, you’ll find big-ticket items like an X-shaped ring that’s covered in diamonds for $1,200 and a pear-shaped diamond pendant that’s just shy of $1,000.
What We’re Checking Out: There’s a $100 birthstone bezel chain ring for everyday wear (and there’s a matching necklace to go with it!), plus an ear cuff with a row of diamonds for $300 that we want to add to our jewelry boxes.
TL;DR: If you don’t want pieces that are too much or maximalist, Aurate offers lots of fine jewelry that’s simple and designed with an architectural angle, like its Diamond Brooklyn Bridge Ring. The brand has engraved jewelry so you can get pieces that make perfect gifts.
What To Know: New York City-based Catbird has been around since 2004. Catbird carries its own line of jewelry that’s made in the brand’s Brooklyn studio with ethically sourced diamonds. It also became famous for its — wait for it — permanent jewelry, which became something of a trend. You’ll find pieces from designers like Sofia Zakia and Anthony Lent here, along with a home and beauty section (featuring our favorite cake candle).
Most of Catbird’s in-house jewelry is under $300 (like a barely-there gold chain choker). But the brand also offers truly splurgy items, including a $1,200 jeweled UFO ring that spins (!) and these dangerous dagger earrings that are just under $4,000.
What We’re Checking Out: These gray and white pearl earrings that are $184, a minimalist gold long lariat necklace that’s $188, and a $185 rose-shaped stud with a diamond in the center (you can buy it as a single or a set).
TL;DR: Everything at Catbird is ethically sourced with conflict-free gold and diamonds. Some pieces are even made with recycled stones, too. The brand also gets brownie points for having beauty and home products, including a fun dinner roll lamp we can’t stop thinking about.
3. Common Era
What To Know: Common Era is a new addition to all the direct-to-consumer jewelry companies we’ve seen rise in recent years, like Mejuri and J.Hannah. The company, which was founded last year, is inspired by Greek mythology and modern minimalism. Most of its pieces are made of gold vermeil, a thick coating of gold over sterling silver. Common Era also uses conflict-free gems and recycled metals.
What We’re Checking Out: The brand’s probably best-known for its necklaces that feature legends like Artemis and Athena. We’re fans of everything in the Mythology Collection ― you can even take a quiz to find out which Greek goddess you are.
What To Know: Based in Los Angeles, J.Hannah has handmade jewelry that independent manufacturers create using gold, silver and stones that are either recycled or ethically sourced. The brand says the pieces are supposed to be sustainable in style, too, so that they can last a lifetime. J.Hannah also has its own line of nontoxic and cruelty-free nail polishes with shade names like “Chanterelle” and “Marzipan.”
Does the brand carry affordable pieces? Yes, including this “Baby Pendant” that comes in silver for $195 (FYI: prices depend on what metal you choose to go with) and a classic signet ring for $295. But the brand’s pricier pieces feel super special, like this Mabé pearl pendant that’s $820 and a class ring with a lavender flower that starts at $395.
What We’re Checking Out: We’re fans of this pearl signet ring that’s perfect for your pinky (and starts at $298) and a classic cigar ring for all the minimalists out there that starts at $225. Our favorite pricier pick has to go to these peach moonstone hoops, which start at $485.
TL;DR: J.Hannah might just be for you if you’re looking for one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry that you probably won’t see anyone else wearing. And the nail polish here is made for those who are “color-resistant,” which works for us since we consider black a color (it technically isn’t).
What To Know: Mejuri is probably one of the better-known direct-to-consumer jewelry companies. It has a focus on everyday fine jewelry, as opposed to the things you only wear on special occasions, and is known for ditching traditional markups. Mejuri shows what the estimated retail of a piece would be, similar to what Everlane does with clothes. The brand uses ethically sourced diamonds and cultured pearls.
The brand’s demi-fine jewelry (like its fan favorite Croissant Dôme Ring, which I own and love) is affordable, with most of the pieces costing less than $100. Mejuri’s fine jewelry is pretty on par with the prices we’ve seen already, including these mini diamond studs that are only $240.
TL;DR: There’s nothing “meh” about Mejuri — the brand offers demi-fine and fine jewelry, and has something for you regardless of whether you feel like spending less or splurging on pieces that aren’t too trendy.
What To Know: Vrai — French for “true” — is all about diamonds that are sustainably grown in the U.S. without a carbon footprint and no mining. Yes, you read that right — they’re grown (it’s a growing trend, too). Those diamonds are then cut and polished by the company’s craftsmen. Since Vrai does things in-house without middlemen, the brand says it doesn’t have the usual markups that often comes with fine jewelry. Of the brands in this guide, it’s probably your best bet for engagement rings that are sustainable, too.
The extra dollar sign rating is mostly for the brand’s more expensive engagement section, although you’ll still find cheaper options than you will at places like Tiffany & Co. You can find other fine jewelry that’s more affordable — like gold huggie hoops for $390 and diamond line studs for $360.
What We’re Checking Out: Our favorites include a bracelet with three diamonds on a chain that’s $255, a ring with a tiny diamond that comes in sizes 2 to 11, and $390 baguette diamond studs with a bezel setting.
TL;DR: Vrai’s probably your best pick for sustainable engagement rings, but there’s still lots of sparkle if you’re looking for finer pieces for your jewelry box.