In the past few years, a new crop of fine jewelry start-ups have popped up, shaking up an industry that can feel intimidating to outsiders, and demystifying the process of buying diamonds, gemstones, and precious metals. These companies offer high-end pieces at below-retail pricing, using the same direct-to-consumer model we’ve seen “disrupt” industries like mattresses, bedding, and cookware. But can you trust them? Even without the retail markup, diamond earrings and solid-gold earrings are still big-ticket items, and you’d be right to be a bit wary of ordering them online. To help you separate the pure from the plated, we decided to try them for ourselves.
Strategist writers and editors each requested a necklace and pair of earrings from one of ten direct-to-consumer brands and wore them everywhere they went — work, parties, hot yoga classes — for two weeks straight. We considered the jewelry’s quality (are the pieces sturdy or flimsy-feeling?), comfort and practicality (are the earrings too heavy for all-day wear? Is the necklace clasp impossible to fasten on your own?), and style, as well as the brands’ policies for shipping, returns, and custom orders. Since most of the pieces are giftable (whether it’s for an anniversary or Valentine’s Day) we also evaluated the packaging to see if the boxes, bags, or pouches these items arrived in were the kinds of things we’d be happy to receive.
Ultimately, we recommend all of the brands below. But there are slight differences among them that might make one a better choice for you — like if you like blinged-out styles more than basic ones (or vice versa), or if you prefer the environmental friendliness of lab-grown diamonds. To help you chose, we broke the brands into groups: best for everyday pieces, best for a wide range of price points, best for high-quality diamonds, best for trying before you buy, best for lab-grown diamonds, best for a variety of styles, best for custom jewelry, best for solid gold, best for bold, blingy pieces, and best for high-end gold pieces. With selections ranging from $50 gold-plated hoop earrings to $1,000 diamond tennis bracelets, we’re sure you can find the right piece for you (or them) among the bunch.
A quick note: Since some of these brands sell diamonds, it might be helpful to review the Gemological Institute of America’s terminology for rating a diamond’s color and clarity, so you’ll know what we mean when we start throwing around terms like G color or VS2 clarity.
Mejuri: Best for everyday pieces
Tester: Lauren Ro, writer
About the brand: The Canadian-based Mejuri partners with manufacturers from all over the world to make fine, handcrafted jewelry in small quantities for everyday wear. The company claims to use only “high-quality” and “enduring materials,” like 14-karat gold, sterling silver, and gold vermeil (18-karat gold layered on sterling silver), along with ethically sourced diamonds and gemstones. The selection includes simple, classic designs, like hoop earrings and chain necklaces, and the company even offers engagement and wedding rings for women and men. Jewelry can be purchased online or at one of their four locations in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Toronto.
What we think: As someone who doesn’t wear much jewelry beyond a wedding ring and earrings for special occasions, I appreciate how truly “everyday” Mejuri’s offerings are — and how well its prices reflect that philosophy. I got the croissant dôme hoops because I liked their rounded, spiral-ridge design and sculptural feel. They’re made from gold vermeil, a material that I’d never tried before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But they are surprisingly solid, despite the fact that they’re carved out on the inside. Being hollow also keeps them from feeling heavy in my ears. They aren’t irritating, which is rare for me, as someone with sensitive ears who doesn’t wear earrings every day. Style-wise, they’re a little on the flashy side for my taste, but I would definitely reach for them on days I wanted to make a statement.
For the necklace, I chose the Boyfriend Bold Chain, a 14-karat solid-gold chain made of delicate, narrow rectangular links. I love the way it looks on — casual but still noticeable. The clasp is a bit tricky to operate, simultaneously too small and too thick. I would have preferred a round clasp with a longer tab and a larger connecting hole, but since the chain is adjustable (up to 18 inches), I could have theoretically connected the clasp to one of the links instead. Still, it wasn’t a deal-breaker. And even though the chain feels and looks airy, it is sturdy. My son, who’s nearly 1, yanked on it hard a couple of times, and I never worried that he’d actually break it or rip it off my neck.
The pieces arrived nicely packaged, inside a small, white cardboard box with Mejuri branding that was itself contained within a white drawstring pouch.
The fine print: For orders above $100, Mejuri offers free shipping or a $5 flat rate for express shipping. For orders below $100, expedited shipping is a flat rate of $10, or $15 for express shipping. Mejuri also ships internationally, and returns are free within 30 days.
TL;DR: Mejuri sells fine jewelry in a variety of classic and more surprising styles made from quality materials for less than what you’d typically pay at a traditional retailer.
Stone and Strand: Best for a wide range of price points
Note: This style is sold as a single earring.
Tester: Alexis Swerdloff, Strategist editor
About the brand: One of the earlier DTC jewelry lines (it was founded by a Wharton grad in 2012), Stone and Strand uses “the same places Fifth Avenue brands do” to create its delicate jewelry ranging from $24 for a tiny bar earring to $3,200 for a diamond-studded tennis necklace. To help you navigate its many offerings Stone and Strand divides things up into different in-house brands. For instance, there’s Piercings Y’all, a collection of studs catering to those with multiple holes; Eclipse is jewelry made from natural freshwater pearls; and Pointe A is all gemstone-specific. S&S’s (all conflict-free) diamond selection is particularly impressive (the $1,100 cigar band is a stunner, as is this $245 clustered diamond ring), and there’s a special section devoted to wedding and engagement rings. While the Late Shift features “notice-me” jewelry like this gold suspender earring, the lion’s share of offerings are classic, everyday, not-particularly-statement-making pieces.
What We Think: I picked out two things to test from Stone and Strand’s XYZ collection (“gorgeous, dainty, low-key pieces you’ll hardly ever take off”): two huggie hoops at $70 a pop, and this 14k solid-gold choker chain that goes for $120. The earrings were slightly thicker than your classic huggie hoop — they felt unobtrusive without completely blending into the background. I got multiple compliments on how “expensive” they looked, and a friend likened them to something Angela Chase might have worn. The chain gives off the slightest sparkle (almost as if its studded with eensy-weensy diamonds) and, like the earrings, it’s basic-but-special-feeling-enough to wear every day. I showered and slept with both for several weeks, and the necklace (which came with a warning: “Please note that this chain is extremely delicate and should be worn with care”) withstood multiple not-gentle tugs from my curious toddler. I could have done without some of the site’s empty-feeling female empowerment-y language (I had a hard time parsing its theory about Good Girls), and the iridescent packing envelope felt more Glossier than fine jewelry.
Fine Print: Stone and Strand offers free two-day shipping, and a 100-day return policy (the $7 handling charge is on the customer, though). Repairs are free within 100 days, and Stone and Strand offers repairs (at a cost) for the entire lifetime of a product. Custom engraving is offered on most items for $25.
TL;DR: Dainty and delicate jewelry that’s not going to win any awards for creative innovation, but is (relatively) inexpensive and very well-made.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of our Stone and Strand review noted that we tried to get in touch with a publicist multiple times to find out where the jewelry was sourced from — and heard nothing back. Turns out there was an email mix-up and they were not ignoring us! According to a spokesperson, all Stone and Strand jewelry is sourced from the Diamond District in New York as well as additional factories overseas.
Noémie: Best for high-quality diamonds
Tester: Karen Iorio Adelson, senior writer
About the brand: By selling directly to consumers and using its own production houses in Los Angeles and Bangkok, Noémie claims to streamline the manufacturing process and pass savings onto the customers by eliminating the traditional retail markup. If you want to see the jewelry in person, you can make an appointment at Noémie’s Soho office, but otherwise everything is available only online. The brand’s selection includes simple takes on classic styles (like a diamond tennis bracelet and huggie hoop earrings) with a sprinkling of the less predictable (like a pink sapphire eternity band and their signature elephant pendant), all made from solid 18-karat gold (in yellow, rose, white, or black) with conflict-free diamonds that are guaranteed to a meet a minimum standard of F/G for color and VS for clarity.
What we think: Like most of the brand’s classic styles, the necklace and earrings I chose are simple enough for everyday use, and I had no issue wearing them for two weeks straight. The stud earrings are bright and shiny, and I appreciate that the posts have two small notches so the backings wouldn’t slide off. Some earrings bother my lobes, and I feel the need to take them off at the end of the day, but these didn’t even bother me when I slept.
The necklace is the real stunner, though, and earned me plenty of compliments. It’s comprised of five diamonds — a square in the center surrounded by four marquise diamonds — that look like a larger single stone. The chain passes through a round gold pendant that the diamonds hover within, giving the “dancing” effect in the name. Between this small motion and the many facets of the small diamonds, the necklace constantly catches and reflects light for lots of shine. The clasp feels sturdy and secure, and I like how the chain is long enough to layer over a crew-neck sweater.
Each piece arrived in its own (very giftable) oversize blue box tied with a blue ribbon. The necklace came with a small felt pouch that could easily be used to store it in a jewelry box or for travel. Since both pieces feature diamonds, a grading report from the International Gemological Institute was included for each, detailing the size, color, and clarity of the stones, which all matched the descriptions on the website.
The fine print: Noémie offers free shipping on all orders and free returns within 30 days. They offer a small selection of wedding bands and engagement rings (some featuring lab-grown diamonds) and will create custom designs on request.
TL;DR: Noémie sells fine jewelry in classic styles (as well as a few more unique pieces) with quality materials and real diamonds for less than you’d pay at a traditional retailer.
Verlas: Best for trying before you buy
Tester: Hilary Reid, writer
About the brand: Verlas is a New York–based DTC jewelry company that specializes in diamond necklaces, earrings, rings, and bracelets, all of which are produced overseas. Similar to Noémie, Verlas claims to offer transparent pricing (if you want to see the breakdown, each item page on the website has a chart showing raw material, labor, and warehouse and duties costs) without traditional retail markups. The brand does not have a showroom, but they do offer a 15-day Try-at-Home program where you can request three replica pieces — made of brass and cubic zirconia — to try before committing to a purchase. The service requires a $99 refundable deposit, and shipping is free both ways.
What we think: I tend to wear jewelry that’s pretty understated (the same small gold hoops and silver necklace almost every day), so I was worried that the pieces might be too glitzy. But the Verlas items are elegant and lovely, and truly easy to wear for two weeks. The studs are substantial without being too flashy, and feel very secure with their sturdy two-notch posts. (Almost too secure, actually. The backings are quite large and give the studs a slightly clunky feel — but at least there’s no concern that you’ll lose them during a workout.)
The necklace, which has 11 small diamonds set in an 18k white-gold chain, is something I could easily imagine wearing all the time. It’s a delicate piece that caught a lot of light — so much so that when I wore it to a party and took off my coat, two of my friends immediately asked, What is that? The chain is 16-inches long, but can be fastened at a shorter length for more versatility. I liked the shorter length with button-downs and open-neck blouses, and the longer length worked well with crew necks and turtlenecks. My only complaint is that the hardware feels slightly disproportionate to the piece — in this case, the clasp looks a little skimpy, though it still feels secure.
Both items came in black microfiber boxes, which were fine, but not particularly memorable. They came with an identification report from the International Gemological Institute detailing the shape, cut, color, and clarity of the pieces. The clarity on both pieces is SI, but Verlas also offers VS diamonds at a higher price. The color of the stones in both pieces is graded H-I which, in diamond speak, is pretty good.
The fine print: Verlas offers 30 days for returns and 60 days for Verlas credits. Customers can opt into the five-year “Verlas Care” warranty program for between $99 and $299 (depending on the value of the jewelry), which covers cleaning, repairs, resizing, and complimentary upgrades — meaning that you can trade in a smaller piece and apply the value toward a larger piece with a price 50 percent or higher in value than your original item.
TL;DR: Verlas sells diamond pieces in classic and versatile designs — think hoops and studs, circle and heart pendants, engagement rings in traditional styles, and a tennis bracelet — at a lower price than you would find at a typical jewelry store. And if you’re unsure what style you want, you can try replica pieces at home first.
Vrai: Best for lab-grown diamonds
Tester: Maxine Builder, managing editor
About the brand: Vrai was founded in 2014 as Vrai & Oro, and in 2017, the start-up became part of Diamond Foundry, a company that forges man-made diamonds at a carbon-neutral, solar-powered facility in San Francisco. (You can see how they make diamonds, a process that involves putting carbon and a thin slice of an existing diamond in a plasma reactor that’s as hot as the surface of the sun, here.) Vrai incorporates the stones made at the Diamond Foundry into their jewelry. And though it sounds like a science experiment, according to the Federal Trade Commission, man-made diamonds are technically and legally considered “real.” So by using them, along with all-recycled solid gold, Vrai is able to ensure that their jewelry is ethically sourced and sustainable, and customers can shop for jewelry without worrying about the environmental or human impact of mining.
What we think: Even though I knew that all the diamonds in Vrai’s fine jewelry are graded G-J color and VS2+ clarity, I was still surprised by how clear, vibrant, and just-about-flawless they looked when I opened the box. Both are from the solitaire-set and had 0.50-karat stones (you can choose the size in quarter-karat increments from 0.25 and 1.0). The solid-gold chain on the necklace is beautifully thin and delicate — so delicate that I immediately tangled it while taking it out of the box. Luckily my co-worker Hilary was there to unravel it with no trouble or visible damage.
That’s actually a pretty good summary of what it was like wearing Vrai’s jewelry for two weeks: I am hard on jewelry, and over the testing period I wore the necklace and earrings through six (very sweaty) hot yoga classes, one extra-long gym session, and plenty of showers. Not only did the jewelry stay out of my way during all that activity, with no itching or irritation, but each piece looks just as good after two weeks as it did straight out of the box. Although the classic solitaire setting is a little subtle for my taste, I loved wearing them to add a bit of extra sparkle to any occasion. Really, the innovation from Vrai isn’t super-trendy jewelry. It’s the beautiful, bright, sustainably made diamonds, which certainly shined throughout this process — and made me curious about Vrai’s even bigger, bolder stones.
The fine print: Vrai accepts returns of in-stock jewelry, including made-to-order pieces, within 30 days of delivery for a full refund. Items can also be automatically exchanged within 30 days for the same item in a different color or size, provided the price remains the same. Vrai offers complimentary standard delivery (5–7 business days) for all orders in the United States, and complimentary two-day shipping on made-to-order engagement and wedding jewelry. However, there’s no testing of jewelry before buying and no physical stores.
TL;DR: A trustworthy pick if you’re looking for simple, classic diamond and gold jewelry that’s designed to last — but don’t want to worry about the ethics of buying classic diamond and gold jewelry.
Aurate: Best for a variety of styles
Tester: Liza Corsillo, writer
About the brand: Aurate designs and makes all of their jewelry in New York City and sells directly to customers, so there are no crazy markups or costly import taxes baked into the prices you pay. Each necklace, ring, bracelet, and pair of earrings is produced using ethically sourced and sustainably made 14k gold, 18k gold, or 14k gold-plated vermeil. The company has four retail locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Washington, D.C., where you can try things on. Or you can try them at home for free and keep (and pay for) what you like. Each piece in their broad range of styles — from everyday basics like gold hoops and pearl studs to more unique pieces like Art Deco fan rings and collar necklaces — is made to order, but they do carry some limited stock to cut down on delivery time. For every piece of jewelry purchased, Aurate donates a book to a charter-school network in Philadelphia.
What we think: I genuinely like 99 percent of the jewelry Aurate sells, so it took awhile for me to pick just one pair of earrings and a necklace. In the end, I chose two somewhat basic pieces, knowing they would fit in with the jewelry I already own: a pair of medium hoops and a gold necklace with a small pearl-drop pendant. Both arrived in a few days, housed in a beautiful teal-green box that included two suede-like pouches for storage and traveling.
I was immediately struck by how lightweight the hoops felt in my hand. Once they were on my ears, I couldn’t feel them at all. Part of me loves this, because heavy earrings can start to hurt after hours of wear. But the lightness also feels somehow contradictory to the fact that they are 14k solid gold — and it makes me nervous that I might easily lose one. Over the two weeks of testing, I did notice a small but annoying design flaw: Because the hoops don’t form a complete circle and attach with a stud rather than a clasp, my hair kept weaving its way into the center of each one. I’m sure this wouldn’t happen to everyone, but for me it meant that I had to fiddle with them in the morning and every time I put my hair up or took it down.
The necklace, however, was perfect. I was nervous it would skew a little old, as pearls often do, but this perfectly round and tiny pearl, barely bigger than a peppercorn, doesn’t feel stuffy at all. In fact, a friend referred to it as a clitoris, which made me blush but confirmed that it’s definitely not boring. This Aurate necklace comes on an 18-inch chain with an extra jump ring (a second loop you can hook the clasp to) at 15 inches. For me, the longer length lays about an inch below the top of a crew-neck T-shirt but isn’t long enough to get tangled if I choose to sleep in it. I also wore my engagement ring on it while at yoga with no issues at all. Overall, I am happy with both pieces. At $220 to the hoops’ $400, I think the necklace is a better value —and it definitely got me more compliments.
The fine print: Aurate offers a lifetime guarantee on all of their jewelry, plus free shipping and returns for up to 30 days after purchase. (Engraved pieces are final sale.) All of the company’s jewelry is made to order by seventh-generation craftsmen in New York City. Their larger pearls are ethically sourced from the South Sea with the highest quality AAA-grade, and the smaller Akoya-style pearls are from Japan. Their conflict-free white diamonds are graded SI or above for clarity, and D to J for color. They offer both wedding bands and engagement rings plus a home try-on program that lets you borrow five pieces of jewelry for a week based on your answers to their online quiz with no commitment to buy.
TL;DR: Aurate sells solid-gold and extra-thick vermeil jewelry in a wide range of styles, with diamonds, pearls, and semiprecious stones. Everything is made locally in New York for less than you would pay at a traditional retailer.
GLDN: Best for custom jewelry
Tester: Jenna Milliner-Waddell, junior writer
About the brand: GLDN sells handmade, customizable jewelry (think classic hoops and dainty pendants). Every piece is made to order, so naturally they’re all a little different. The company caters to many tastes and price points by allowing shoppers to choose the material their jewelry is made out of — everything from sterling silver to gold fill to rose-gold fill to solid gold. Bracelets and necklaces come in multiple lengths, and you can even get certain pieces inscribed with your own handwriting. The company also donates 10 percent of their annual profits to charities, including the Global Fund for Women, National Immigration Law Center, and She Should Run.
What we think: I tested the Davina Earring and the Sun Necklace, both in 14k gold fill. Based on the photos in the listing, the earrings were smaller and less chunky than I expected, but that ended up being a good thing for daily wear (especially for two weeks straight). They do vary slightly from each other, which makes sense considering they are handmade, but it isn’t so much as to be noticeable. In my ear they are incredibly lightweight and attractive. The earrings come with two backs, a traditional one and a rubber one, and I chose the traditional one since that always seems to feel more secure. I slept in them and worked out in them, and never once did I find them uncomfortable. The only thing that bothers me is how even the slightest movement causes the bottom loop to flip and catch upside down, changing the look of the earring.
The necklace has fewer details, but I enjoyed it just as much. I never wear necklaces, so I appreciated that this one was virtually weightless. The site has a very helpful sizing guide, which I used to choose the 20-inch chain length. That made the necklace hit right at the top of my cleavage without falling in it. It’s long enough to layer with a shorter necklace, but I wore it by itself most days, and it looked perfect on its own. The clasp is also easy enough to take on and off even with my long, almond-shaped nails. Big plus. After a week of wear it did seem to have a tiny bit of dullness, but after using the included care guide and polishing cloth it shined right back up. The boxes the jewelry come in are pretty minimal, but attractive enough that you could give them as gifts.
The fine print: Because each piece is handmade, standard U.S. shipping could take up to 12 days for a made-to-order pair of earrings. If you don’t want to customize anything, you can shop their last-minute gift section for premade items that ship next next day. You can return your unworn item within 30 days, exchange it within 90, and get free repairs within the first six months.
TL;DR: GLDN offers handmade, custom jewelry in modern styles at an affordable price. Just be ready to wait a bit to receive it.
Kinn Studio: Best for solid gold
Tester: Chloe Anello, junior writer
About the brand: Kinn believes that jewelry should last a lifetime, so the company uses high-end materials and timeless designs to create what they call “modern heirlooms.” Although the jewelry tends to be minimalist, there are enough unique elements to distinguish the pieces (like these baroque pearl earrings or hoops with a raised edge) from what you might pick up at a department store. Each item is made from 14k solid-gold in L.A. and sourced from fair-trade factories and laborers. Responsible Jewellery Council also certified Kinn as a responsibly sourced brand for using ethical and traceable factories and mines for their jewelry.
What we think: Because my ears were poorly pierced with a gun, I’ve never been able to find earrings I am comfortable wearing for longer than an hour. Somehow that wasn’t the case with these. Kinn’s earrings are the first in probably a decade that didn’t bother me. After putting them in, I forgot I was wearing them until after I showered that night. I even slept in them without any trouble. They stayed in for two straight weeks with no irritation. They’re simple enough to match everything, and they stand out just enough to get compliments. One other factor I liked: At my desk, I wear over-the-ear headphones, which typically are not earring-friendly, but these cling to my earlobes and have such a low-profile clasp that I can actually leave them on while I listen to music.
The necklace has a similar versatility, in that it looks great on its own but can easily be layered with something else. There’s a subtle herringbone pattern that makes it a bit more unique than a simple gold chain, and it looks high-end — not like something I could’ve picked up at Urban Outfitters. It lays flat, but the best part is the clasp in the back, which doesn’t creep around to the front after a few hours of wear. Even when I slept in it, somehow I always woke up to it laying exactly how it should. I also liked the teal box and matching velvet pouch both pieces came in.
The fine print: While the company doesn’t have brick-and-mortar stores, they do offer weekend appointments to try pieces on in their L.A. studio. Shipping is free when you spend more than $150 (which is easy to do), and you have 30 days to return any unworn jewelry. However, any customized or engraved orders are final sale and cannot be returned.
TL;DR: Kinn offers modern, timeless designs (and earrings that don’t irritate even the most sensitive of lobes) with the highest-quality gold from local and ethical sources for much less than you’d pay at a typical department store.