Week 5 | 52 Weeks to Downsize and Minimalize | Jewelry Purge

Tips from Jewelry Designer Kate Cheng of S for Sparkle

Bella Organizing interviewed Kate Cheng, a San Francisco-based jewelry designer and owner of S for Sparkle, for tips on how to purge jewelry clutter. She also provides valuable insights on the different types of jewelry, authenticity, DIY cleaning and maintenance, and tips for choosing wearable gifts that won’t go to waste.


What are the different types of jewelry?

  • Fine Jewelry – includes diamonds, 14k and 18k gold, semi precious stones (ruby, diamond, sapphire, emerald, etc.) – It is usually bought for engagement rings, wedding bands, etc. Typical price range is $1000 & up.  Much of what you are paying for with “Fine” jewelry is mark-ups for transportation, marketing, sales, and commission costs.
  • Costume Jewelry – Typically not made of precious metals, but rather alloy-plated with gold or silver, which costs less to produce and in effect is more affordable to the general public. Costume jewelry is made with non-precious stones, and plastics. They are commonly mass-produced and found in malls, department stores, flea markets, and as “low-price” accessories available in popular big chain clothing stores.
  • Arts and Crafts Jewelry – Typically one of a kind pieces handmade by individual artists, and are harder to mass-produce because of its unique quality and style. Authentic metals and materials are often used, such as turquoise, rose quartz, crystal. Much less expensive then “Fine” jewelry, the same price or a little more expensive than costume jewelry, due to the higher quality materials and craftsmanship.

How does one tell the difference between “real” and “costume” jewelry?

Silver and Gold

When it comes to silver and gold, number stamps tell you if the piece you’re purchasing is made from “real” or “authentic” precious metal. For example, for silver, both” 925″ and “92.5” represent 925 parts per thousand – the higher this type of number is, the better, because that’s the amount of pure silver present. Here is a chart for gold quality:

Gold Quality Types

Caratage Fineness % Gold
14K or 14ct 585 58.5%
15K or 15ct 625 62.5%
18K or 18ct 750 75%
22K or 22ct 916 91.6%


Branded Costume Jewelry

Popular retail companies mark up the price of costume jewelry because you’re paying for the company’s branding, advertising, retail space, employee salaries and overhead…not because the materials are expensive or authentic. Costume jewelers usually don’t use precious metals or gemstones for the jewelry because they need a low price point to make a profit. Branded costume jewelry may have better resale value than non-branded costume jewelry, but not by much.

Should one donate or take the time to sell potentially valuable jewelry they no longer want?

Because of the time, energy, and shipping costs to sell jewelry, Kate only suggest selling or consigning jewelry made of precious metals and gemstones. Costume jewelry has low resale value, so you may just want to donate, or give it away to a friend or a young relative who will wear and appreciate it. An exception might be a rare vintage costume jewelry piece, which may have a higher resale value than a precious metal piece.

When it comes to selling precious metals, first do online research for the current price of that metal. Then ship or carry over your unwanted metal jewelry to a reputable precious metals buyer with great reviews. Be sure to read the fine print about how they do business.

Reputable online and storefront jewelry consignment shops are willing to do the time-consuming work for you, and they take a huge commission because of it, 50% on the average. Well-known companies to choose from include Poshmark, the Real Real…there are MANY to choose from.

With a little online price comparison research and a lot of DIY spirit, Kate suggests using EBay to make the most money back.

When is it time to discard a piece of jewelry you never wear? What about sentimental pieces, or broken jewelry that’s been hanging around for years?  

  • Purge anything you haven’t worn for more than two years. If you’ve been keeping a piece of jewelry only for it’s extreme sentimental value, store it somewhere other than with your daily jewelry, such as in a “memorabilia” box. Otherwise, let it go.
  • Let go of costume jewelry that has been broken for more than a year. You think you might want to repair it, but if you haven’t already, you likely won’t. Broken costume jewelry (and fine metals and gemstones you don’t care to sell) can be dropped off at a creative reuse center such as East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse (Oakland, CA) or SCRAP (San Francisco).
  • Fix-it kits and repair shops, are they worth it? For high value jewelry, yes. In this case, go back to where you bought it, as many high-end companies offer repair services. Broken costume jewelry that is sentimental, or that you love and wear every day, can be challenging to fix because matching parts have to be found and purchased. Jewelry repair can be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor for parts and labor, so it is a service not readily offered. Then again, the repair might be extremely simple. So if you love it, take it to a local jewelry repair shop where they can take a quick glance at it, give you an idea of how much it would cost to repair and if they can do it, and decide from there. Don’t just let your beloved broken jewelry lay around ignored…do something about it.

Jewelry care & display

  • Store precious metal jewelry in a small, airtight zip bag. Air damages platings and metals, and metals tarnish over time if exposed to oxygen. Use the kind of zip bags specifically made for jewelry.
  • Do-It-Yourself (DIY) using warm water, dish soap, and a toothbrush. A homemade way to clean dirt off precious metal jewelry is by filling a glass bowl with warm water and a lot of dish soap. Soak the jewelry for an hour. When the water cools, use a toothbrush and gently brush the dirt off. Rinse and pat the jewelry dry with a clean, absorbent cloth. Important: cleaning metals with mounted gemstones using warm water and dish soap will work fine, but avoid it with Opal. Opal is sensitive to heat and easy to scratch. Do research on your particular gems before partaking in any DIY cleaning.
  • Use warm water, soap, baking soda, and foil to remove tarnish from silver and gold. There is a magical chemical reaction, when silver touches foil, which whitens the metal. You can also use a silver cleaning cloth which you can purchase online at an etsy shop, or at a jewelry store. This also works for gold. Wipe off wet jewelry with a dry, absorbent towel and place in an airtight ziplock bag to keep it looking new for a long time. Warning: Don’t put water on plated jewelry! It can ruin and make it peel.
  • Display costume jewelry/seal and store precious metals and gemstones. Jewelry is art…nicely display costume jewelry in a drawer, on a dresser, on the wall, and especially on your body. Preserve precious metals and gemstones by storing them safely in airtight containers or clear ziplock bags when not wearing them. Be sure to put them in a place only you know about and where you can access them easily when you’re ready to show them off to the world.

It’s wasteful to give something to someone who doesn’t like it, yet often you want special occasion jewelry to be a surprise. What are “safe” tips for choosing jewelry gifts?

Gifting is such a personal experience; everybody is different. In the case of jewelry, if you’re unsure of what to give, I recommend starting with birthstones. If you don’t know where to start, find out the person’s birthday and their birthstone.

A great way to find out what someone likes is to pay special attention to the type of jewelry they wear every day. If the person is an avid social media user, you can also do research for clues on their Pinterest board.

If you’re on a budget or don’t want to take a chance paying a lot for something someone may not like, consider starting with affordable arts and crafts jewelry. The following is commonly ordered on my website, per the occasion:

For a limited time, Kate Cheng will provide Bella Organizing blog readers a complimentary jewelry repair consultation by email. Simply send clear photos of up to two pieces your broken jewelry – neatly lay it on a white printer paper background, preferably in natural day lighting, and make sure the photo is clearly focused so she can zoom in and see the detail – and she will provide complimentary suggestions on how it can be fixed. Email your photos to: info@sforsparkle.com

For more information about Kate and to see her jewelry designs, visit her website. Thank you, Kate!

Kate Cheng is a San Francisco-based jewelry designer and owner of S for Sparkle, an independent company that specializes in simple, handcrafted jewelry made of high quality material.