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;