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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Appraisals 103

If you read my last two posts on appraisals you should have noted that I said that appraisals are a legal document. If you go into a jewelry store and show a clerk a piece you own and ask what is this worth and they scribble something on a piece of paper, or even verbally state a value, that is in effect a legal document that could be used in a court of law in the event of a fight with an insurance company over value, or in the event of a fight between heirs. The problem is that someone who glances at something briefly and then gives you an on the spot value, but doesn't charge you anything, is doing you a disservice because the statement won't be accurate and is risking being dragged into court over it with no real backup for their statement of value.

If you want a legitimate appraisal you have to be willing to pay for it (although a point of sale insurance appraisal may be provided free by the jeweler you are purchasing the piece from). Fees for appraisers will vary but you should NOT work with anyone who charges by the value of the pieces appraised. This used to be common practice, although it isn't done as much anymore, but the problem with it is that it tends to be better for the appraiser to overvalue the jewelry because they get paid more. This type of fee is considered unethical by all appraisal organizations. Beyond that, however, some appraisers charge by the hour (I do), some will charge by the piece, and some may base a price on the entire collection they are dealing with. In general, you can assume that free appraisals (excluding point of sale insurance appraisals) are worth exactly what you paid for them: nothing.

Anyone can actually write up a jewelry appraisal. There are no licensing boards per se. There are various appraisal organizations which people can belong to and require their members to pass certain tests and while it is nice to get someone with this background it isn't actually critical. Assuming the jeweler doing your appraisal is a Graduate Gemologist (or the equivalent), has taken courses on appropriate appraisal practices and has a good grasp on the marketplace in general (not just what their store sells things for), you should be able to get a decent appraisal. I don't belong to any appraisal organizations (time constraints more than anything prohibit it, plus I'd rather be making jewelry than appraising it) but I do have my Graduate Gemologist degree from the Gemological Institute of America, I routinely take refresher courses in gemstone identification, and I have completed numerous courses on appraising over the years. Additionally I read a half dozen trade magazines every month, both for current information on appraisal practices and for pricing information. I also have been doing appraisals for long enough that I know when something is out of my range of expertise and I will refer people accordingly.

So when you go to get an appraisal I recommend the following:

1) Look for someone with the proper credentials

2) Look for someone who will take the time to do a proper appraisal. Grading diamonds properly takes some time. The proper identification of gemstones and metals takes time. The accurate write up of these things takes some time.

3)Do not use someone who has a vested interest in buying whatever is being appraised. If you have an antiques dealer buying an estate from you, they should NOT be the ones doing the appraisal (no matter what kind of appraisal). If the jeweler writes an appraisal for you and then makes an offer to buy the piece from you based on that, I would think long and hard about having another jeweler value it.

4) Work with someone you trust. If you don't feel good about leaving your merchandise with them don't use them.

5) Do expect your jewelry to come back looking a little different. Any appraiser worth working with has to thoroughly clean any items being appraised. Suddenly the big inclusion in the center of the diamond that you never saw before is readily apparent because the diamond is clean (possibly for the first time in decades).

It is helpful if you have old documentation on pieces to bring this along when you meet with an appraiser. A good appraiser won't use another appraiser's or a jeweler's statements to write up their own appraisal, but sometimes point of sale appraisals are helpful because they have accurate stone weights listed (something that is hard to get once a stone is set into a piece).
Hopefully this series will help anyone looking into appraising some of their jewelry.

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