The Intelligent Consumer: You're gonna reap what you faux

Buy ersatz glamour with the Iradj Moini brooch, pounds 278, costume jewellery with class
THERE IS a thin line between the tacky and the fab in the glittering world of costume jewellery. If you are willing to spend a bit of money to look suitably outrageous, it's worth knowing what to look for. Surprisingly expensive for something which has absolutely no intrinsic value, the price of costume jewellery is dictated by desirability of design, quality of workmanship and materials, and, as always, the name on the label. For an expert opinion, I showed Vivienne Becker, jewellery editor of Harpers & Queen, three pieces from Butler & Wilson (a company which spotted the market in faux adornment back in 1968): a crystal choker, pounds 278 (typical of B & W's in-house style) a vintage Fifties Stanley Hagler necklace and earrings set, pounds 898, and a butterfly brooch, pounds 278, handmade by New York designer Iradj Moini.

"It's extremely difficult to find 'cheap' costume jewellery," Becker explains, "although it's always worth keeping an eye open at markets and antique fairs." Given that all jewellery, even costume, requires a substantial outlay, B & W is a good place to start: "Their pieces are visually exciting and designed to create maximum impact. You know you'll always look and feel like a million dollars wearing their creations because they know what's right for the moment."

B & W's choker is made from Austrian Swarovski crystal, the world's largest producers of high-quality, cut-crystal stones. A cascade of rainbow-coloured sparkle, this is God's gift to the magpie and once adorned, sends the wearer into dreams of Cinderella's night at the ball. A closer look at the underside of the choker, however, reveals an unattractive, cheap-looking base metal. Superficially magnificent for a special occasion certainly, but definitely a case of style over substance. In comparison, the Stanley Hagler is immediately superior in craftsmanship, made with burnished gilt filigree metalwork and hundreds of tiny glass seed pearls. "If I had the money I would go for the Hagler because it's such a collectable item," Becker explains. "It is very difficult to find such exquisite handiwork today. Although the choker looks great, you'd eventually want to update the design, whereas a classic piece you can wear again and again."

The beautiful Iradj Moini brooch (made of rhodium-coated metal and coloured crystals and glass stones) is the same price as the choker and would also seem to be a wiser purchase. "Nowadays people are becoming more precious about quality and design and would rather spend money on a one-off piece that's original and that can be re-sold than something that will go out of fashion," says Becker.

But let's face it. This is the stuff of fantasy, a taste that most of us cannot afford to indulge. If it all seems a touch impractical for the average Saturday night out, what about something sensible from a conventional jeweller. Olivia Wainwright of Boodle & Dunthorne is confident in her preference for the genuine article. For around pounds 800, you could buy a 25- point diamond pendant, while pounds 250 might fetch a string of small cultured pearls. Where costume jewellery will corrode over time through contact with cleaning materials, perfume and natural body oils, the real McCoy will never lose its beauty. "If you want something that will stand the test of time both in style and quality, real jewellery is far better value for money," says Wainwright. So it would seem that, if you can't afford diamonds, understated pearls turn out to be a girl's best friend - but then again, who needs friends when you're wearing your princess-for-a- night diamante choker?

Butler & Wilson enquiries: 0171 352 3045