Part 1 Jewelry Tips: How to shop rings

Close-up of rings on all fingers

Rings can create so much style. That is how my obsession started. I was not wearing any rings for years, and then about a year ago I started noticing rings on other people, especially artsy women. My mother always taught us that you can dress up or dress down the same outfit by simply changing up your accessories and make-up. Additionally, now I’ve observed how much personal style jewelry can give you.

Previously, my collection of rings was mostly from high school, and many only fit on my pinky. I made room in my jewelry box by giving away rings to my nieces. According to one of my nephews, moms are embarrassing, but aunts are not. And so it went. I had not bought jewelry for myself since becoming a mother, but did receive some very cool necklaces and earrings, mostly from my very classy mom. But rings are trickier to give as a gift- primarily because they have to fit. I had an opportunity to start clean slated and develop my own style. Along the way, I learned a lot and found that friends and family were asking me for my advice and opinion. What could be better for a blog topic!

Get your fingers measured

If it’s been a while since you have stopped in a jeweler’s shop, start there. Get your fingers measured by a professional. They will do it for free. Trace your hands onto a sheet of paper or take a photo of both your hands. Then write or comment on your drawing/photo to record the size of all your fingers—all of them. Even if you think you’ll never wear a ring on your thumb or pinky, do it anyway. Include a note if you were cold or warm when measuring. My hands were cold when I did this, so for example, if a certain finger measured as a size 7, I wrote the range as 7-7.5 in my drawing.

Notebook showing finger size and ring notes

Develop your style

It will take a while to figure out what style you want. If you already have a ring you love, start there and evaluate why you like it. For me it was a small white enamel ring I got in Italy many years ago. It helps if you start with an idea but keep your mind open as you search.

The enamel ring that started the obsession

Above: the ring on the right is the small Italian enamel ring. Bronze and copper stacking rings by Alari Design.

In Part 2, I will go into more detail on style next post.

Tips on searching

I did my searching on Etsy where you can discover a wide variety of styles and find out what strikes you. Nothing beats in-person ring shopping if you have the time and inclination. I don’t. However, there are tips I’d like to share with you. Etsy is not what it used to be.

It is disappointing how the algorithm doesn’t promote loyalty and favors commoditizing. For example, after looking at rings, you will be shown similar styles. There will be strikingly similar rings for a fraction of the price. But don’t be tempted—the quality is just not there.  I also discovered cheap knockoffs of artisan-designed work, which is highly destructive to the artists who are trying to make a living off their unique, well-made pieces. So, here is what to do: make sure you use the search filters and select shops located in the USA. Better yet, try searches within your own city. This doesn’t necessarily mean it was made in the USA, but it does filter out most of the cheap and undercutting goods.

Take note of the option to choose vintage. What I love about vintage rings is the high quality for a reasonable price, especially if you can find rings made before 1990 or so. A great Etsy shop to check out for vintage jewelry is MiscELENAeous, based in San Francisco, CA. She has a wide selection at reasonable prices–– not the cheapest, not the most expensive. What I appreciate about her shop is that the pieces are all vetted for quality, they are cleaned, polished if requested, well photographed, and include measurements and weights.

Another Etsy shop with consistently high quality and a top notch selection is Working 925 Jewelry, based in Seattle WA. Leah also has great photography and thorough descriptions. Her prices are higher, but sometimes ya just gotta go for it. The pieces I got there are favorites of mine.

You can find less pricey vintage rings, but you will have to read the descriptions carefully. Pay attention to the weight for rings as that will tell you a lot about the quality. The numbers didn’t mean much to me at first, but if you make a point to take notice, you will get the hang of it. See the diamond in the rough, so to speak. Some sellers don’t clean or polish before photographing. Though some of the vintage finds I bought arrived dirty and/or tarnished, they cleaned up beautifully to become favorites.

For a basic clean for most materials, use distilled water with a drop or two of dish soap. Gently clean with an old toothbrush and dry gently with a cloth. There are jewelry polishing cloths which are great to have on hand. For a deeper DIY clean or polishing, you will need to know what your jewelry is made of. There are great online tutorials for polishing, once you know what you are cleaning.

While shopping vintage is the most earth-friendly, you may not always find the style you are looking for. For newly made rings, read the description. Look for transparency. Some shop owners design the rings and have them made off-shore. Some are made by hand, and some are made-to-order. Unfortunately, Etsy doesn’t cater to value-based shopping. There are no eco-friendly search categories. However, you can use the search bar to put in the term that matters to you.

Relevant search terms to get the ideas going:

  • Made in USA
  • Handcrafted in USA
  • Ethically / sustainably sourced
  • Recycled
  • Eco-friendly

Packaging is hard to search for.  The above searches may yield shops that are all about being eco-friendly. My favorite is The Honu Shirt Company from Lakewood, CA. The packaging was all recyclable—in fact they use the same packaging supplier that I do! (EcoEnclose) They are everything I love in a sustainable boutique, and they donate funds to save the sea turtles to boot. I love their larimar rings.

Off-line, ask other people about the great jewelry they are wearing. This can help you find shops and artisans in your area.

Coming soon...

Now that we’ve covered the how, next post I’ll dive into what. Read tips catered for petite women and ideas on building your own personal style. Stay tuned for Part 2!

List of Etsy shops where I purchased the rings in the cover photo. Left to right:

  • (Vintage cloisonné I've had since the 1990's)
  • Working 925 Jewelry, vintage
  • Retro River Relics, vintage
  • Legends Silver, new
  • Devlin VIntage Jewelry, vintage
  • Honu Shirt Company, new
  • Jewels by Miki Namiki, new
  • Vintage 925 Collector, vintage