I buy stones according to color because my customers are more concerned with the look (Will this match my sweater?) than the pedigree (Is this garnet A-grade?). For this necklace I could pay top dollar for flawless, earthy green briolettes (A-grade peridot, for example) but I chose cubic zirconia to go with the fall mix of citrine, rhodolite garnet, and smoky quartz. And if a stone has a small inclusion it's not like the Gem Police are going to be up in your grill examining as one might, say, an engagement solitaire. So while this may not be a necklace passed down for generations, it does have the color and wear of real gold and the weight of real stones. (Ever have the full-on Monet experience at big retailers? It looks beautiful until you hold it and realize the beads are plastic.)
I have previously drawn the line at gold-plated components because they're generally cheap looking anyway, and because of the thin layer of gold they'll tarnish much sooner. But lately I've put a lot of work sourcing components to get the look of high-karat gold without the pedigree, as with this laurel wreath. It is matte 16K gold-plated brass and, while I know it's not going to wear as tough as gold-fill, it's in a low-traffic setting (pendant) and a heckuva lot less expensive than solid 18K gold. And that sweet little bee in the necklace above is vermeil -- 18K over sterling silver -- so it also has intrinsic value without the price tag of solid gold. Again, these may not become estate pieces, but that also means you don't have to love them forever. (I love yummy soft leather handbags but I never buy them because then I'd feel obligated to carry/repair/love the same bag until I'm 60, and I'm too fickle for that.) So for $39 you get the actual color of high-karat gold along with real citrine and garnet in rich tones for fall on a gold-filled chain.
These pieces (N791, N806) are used for illustrative purposes, but may still be available at Simply Charming Boutique.