Sorting Your Jewelry Box

Wendy Adeler Hall is using this video to talk about sorting jewelry. She knows what she’s talking about: her family owns Adeler Jewelers in Great Falls, Virginia, right outside of Washington DC. The family has been custom designers of fine jewelry since 1975.

Did you know that you should take an annual inventory of your jewelry box? You should, and you’re checking for cleanliness, wear-ability, and safety.

Assessing those three factors—wear-ability, security, and cleanliness—is essential for fine and costume jewelry alike. You want to adequately store the pieces that are precious, and if everything isn’t fitting just right in your box, you may choose an alternate location for your costume pieces.


So to get started you’ll need a jewelry mat. If you don’t have a mat, then you can use a towel; the point here is to protect your jewelry from hard surfaces; you don’t want it bouncing off a table! You’ll also want to have a magnifying glass on hand. What Hall uses (and is used throughout the industry) is a 10-power loupe. This is, by the way, a great tool to have for many other applications besides jewelry: if you collect coins or stamps, for example, or need to look at fine sewing or anything really that needs to be magnified; this is the tool for you. The important thing is to have something that both lights the piece and magnifies it.

So now you want to sort your pieces. If you’re unclear as to whether a piece is fine jewelry or costume jewelry, you want to look for a stamp inside the piece to indicate its value. Fine jewelers don’t want to impact the design of a piece, so they’re very discreet about stamping their work; but the stamp will be there, you just have to look for it.


Here are the stamps you’re looking for: start with 18k (which means 18 carat, the most commonly used in the U.S.). You may also find 750 stamped inside or on the part of the clasp; this also indicates that it’s 18 carat (it’s the European way of marking it).

Another marking you’re going to find is 14 carat. That will be marked by a 14k or by 585. You may also find that there is a trademark of some sort which will indicate which jeweler made that piece.

Some costume jewelry can fool you at first glance. How can you tell the difference? Well, if you look closely at a costume jewelry piece you’ll see that something that may look like gemstones are actually not mounted with prongs but glued into the piece. They also won’t be stamped on the back with any indicator of a precious metal.

Sometimes costume jewelry combines a non-precious metal with a genuine gemstone. You’ll notice the discoloration of the metal and you can also observe that none of the links are soldered.

Still, you may want to start a third jewelry category, for pieces that contain genuine gemstones and non-precious metals. One piece that she shows by way of example is gold-filled. It is stamped on the reverse of the pin, but it actually does have a natural stone.

Sorting it

So now that you have your jewelry sorted into fine jewelry, costume jewelry, and the third semi category, what you want to do is keep your precious jewelry inside zip-lock bags or even better in the pouches that the jeweler can give to you. Why? To make sure that they don’t get scratched and that none of the gemstones nick against each other.

In the case of beads, here’s a quick test: you’ll find that beads made out of glass or plastic tend to be warmer to the touch than beads that are actual minerals!