A Guide to Common Jewelry Terms

A Guide to Common Jewelry Terms

Jewelry is a world of beauty, craftsmanship, and artistry. However, for those new to the world of jewelry, the terminology can sometimes be confusing. From different types of metals to gemstone cuts and settings, there's a lot to learn. In this guide, we'll break down some of the most common jewelry terms, helping you navigate the world of rings, necklaces, bracelets, and more with confidence.

1. Alloy

An alloy is a mixture of two or more metals, often used to create a more durable or affordable material. For example, rose gold is an alloy of gold and copper, while white gold is an alloy of gold and metals like nickel or palladium.

2. Carat

Carat is a unit of measurement for gemstones, representing its weight. One carat is equal to 200 milligrams. This term is commonly used for diamonds but applies to other gemstones as well.

3. Clarity

Clarity refers to the absence of inclusions or blemishes within a gemstone. Gemstones with high clarity are more valuable due to their rarity. The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) grades clarity on a scale from Flawless (no inclusions) to Included (visible inclusions).

4. Cut

The cut of a gemstone refers to its shape and faceting style, which greatly affects its brilliance and sparkle. Common cuts include round brilliant, princess, emerald, and pear. A well-cut gemstone reflects light beautifully.

5. Setting

The setting of a piece of jewelry refers to how the gemstones are held in place. Common settings include:

  • Prong: A setting with metal claws that hold the gemstone in place. This setting allows more light to enter the stone.

  • Bezel: The gemstone is surrounded by a metal rim that holds it in place. This setting offers more protection to the gemstone.

  • Pave: Small gemstones are set closely together, creating a "paved" appearance with minimal metal showing.

6. Hallmark

A hallmark is a stamp or mark on jewelry that indicates the metal's purity and the manufacturer's mark. For example, a "925" hallmark on silver jewelry indicates that it is 92.5% pure silver, known as sterling silver.

7. Karat

Karat (not to be confused with carat) is a measure of the purity of gold. Pure gold is 24 karats, but it's often alloyed with other metals for durability. For example, 18 karat gold is 75% pure gold (18/24), while 14 karat gold is 58.5% pure gold (14/24).

8. Patina

Patina refers to the natural tarnish or aging of metals like silver or brass over time. Some people appreciate the patina as it adds character to the piece, while others prefer to keep their jewelry polished and shiny.

9. Pendant

A pendant is a hanging ornament or charm often suspended from a chain, necklace, or bracelet. Pendants can feature gemstones, symbols, or other decorative elements.

10. Solitaire

A solitaire refers to a piece of jewelry, usually a ring, with a single, prominent gemstone as the centerpiece. This term is commonly associated with engagement rings featuring a single diamond.

11. Tarnish

Tarnish is the darkening or discoloration of metal surfaces due to oxidation. It's a natural process for metals like silver, copper, and brass. Regular cleaning and polishing can help prevent tarnish.

12. Vermeil

Vermeil (pronounced ver-may) is a type of gold-plating where a layer of gold is bonded to sterling silver. To be considered vermeil, the gold layer must be at least 2.5 microns thick.

13. Vintage

Vintage jewelry refers to pieces that are at least 20 years old but less than 100 years old. Anything over 100 years old is considered antique. Vintage jewelry often features unique designs and craftsmanship from different eras.

14. Cubic Zirconia (CZ)

Cubic zirconia is a synthetic gemstone made to resemble diamonds. It's an affordable alternative to diamonds and comes in various colors and cuts.

15. Filigree

Filigree is a delicate, intricate design made from twisted threads or thin wires of metal. It's often used in vintage or antique jewelry for ornate detailing.

16. Bail

A bail is a component, often a loop or metal finding, that attaches a pendant to a chain or necklace. It's an essential part of pendant jewelry.

17. Millegrain

Millegrain (pronounced mil-uh-grain) is a decorative technique where tiny beads of metal are applied along the edges of jewelry. It adds texture and detail to pieces, often seen in vintage and Art Deco jewelry.

18. Eternity Band

An eternity band is a type of ring with gemstones set all around the band in a continuous loop. It symbolizes eternal love and commitment, often used as wedding or anniversary bands.

19. Cabochon

A cabochon is a gemstone that has been shaped and polished into a smooth, rounded dome without facets. This cut highlights the stone's color and translucency.

20. Choker

A choker is a type of necklace that sits high on the neck, often around the collarbone. Chokers can be made from various materials and styles, from simple bands to elaborate designs.


Understanding these common jewelry terms can help you make informed decisions when shopping for jewelry or discussing custom designs with jewelers. From the cut and clarity of gemstones to the purity of metals and types of settings, each term plays a role in the beauty and craftsmanship of jewelry pieces. Whether you're exploring vintage treasures or selecting a modern solitaire, knowing these terms will enhance your appreciation for the artistry and history behind each piece of jewelry.

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