One inexpensive option, is to use iron, steel,nickel or aluminum based metals with a gold plating over it. This is all the costume jewelry you'd find in any department store, even higher end ones. These cheap base metals are gray in color. Once the gold plating starts to wear, you see gray underneath. That's not tarnish, that is the gold plating chipping off and exposing the metal underneath. And often times it is a very low carat gold that is plated over the gray base metal.
Since these base metals are hard and not pliable, they are difficult to work with. Any chains you see will have open links (not soldered)...the chain often comes apart. Also, since these metals allow no flexibility, they are brittle and often break.
Plus, nickel is highly allergenic.
However, iron, steel and aluminum do not tarnish.
I ONLY use gold plated chain and findings with a SOLID brass core. It is about 5 times the cost of electroplated gold with the metals I mentioned previously. And, when possible, I can even guarantee the carat of gold that has been plated over my brass. Often it is a thick layer of 16K gold, guaranteed.
Since I hand wrap gemstones, particularly bib necklaces with each bead wrapped by hand, I would never be able to use iron or steel with gold plate over it. It wouldn't tarnish, but it would probably break the first couple of times you wore it, because the chain links wouldn't be soldered closed, and the wire would be brittle and break. Not to mention, it would be gray in 6 months just from the thin layer of gold wearing off and exposing the gray base metal underneath.
So since I use gold over a brass core, you may experience a bit of tarnish, depending on the ph of your skin. You can clean my jewelry with jewelry cleaner because I use gold plated brass. They always tell you not to dip your "costume" jewelry because it's all made with iron and steel and the gold would disappear after a few dips. If you're not using solid gold, gold plate will eventually begin to wear away.
Regular jewelry cleaner usually does the trick. Some people's skin ph occasionally causes heavy tarnish on sterling silver, gold, copper and brass. If this is the case with your piece of jewelry, you can use jewelry dip specifically for sterling silver. It's a little stronger and I find it works. well. You just hold the necklace by the stones, dip quickly, and rinse.
Basically, you clean it the same way you'd clean fine jewelry.
I used to be a jewelry "snob" so to speak. I would never be caught dead creating or wearing a piece of jewelry from anything other than sterling silver. But it's no fun. I just couldn't have fun creating some of the bolder, more extravagant pieces with sterling, it would just be too expensive to make or purchase.
So after 10 years of ONLY creating in sterling, I began researching quality alternatives.
My site for just sterling silver jewelry (and quite neglected at this point, I might add) is silverbucket.
Anyway, thank you for taking the time to read this! I take pride in my work, never skimping on quality to save a dollar. As far as "costume" jewelry, (I really don't like that term, lol) I will create your jewelry using the best supplies/metals available to me. Thank you!!!! -Tracy :) :) :)