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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Vacation Time

First of all the new turquoise and diamond earrings I posted a picture of in my last post have sold already. It seems if you want my new stuff you have to jump on it quickly. So here is a picture of a new sapphire ring. Unfortunately (despite the fact that I didn't take the picture), the sapphire didn't read well in this shot. (Okay addendendum on 7/1---This is a new version of the picture---color reads a bit better but it's still prettier than this.) I can assure you that it looks a whole lot better in real life. So look at the design and imagine a really stunning, beautiful dark blue sapphire in it.

I am taking a muchly needed vacation for 10 days starting on July 6. Hopefully it will provide some refreshment for my creative spirit (I'm going to the Vineyard for part of it). I should come back with a lot of ideas for waves. Wait a minute, I already do waves in my jewelry. Oh well. I'll find some inspiration somewhere. This will be my final posting until I return.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

How About Some Feedback

I know that some people out there are actually reading my blog because I routinely get customers in who said they read it. But honestly guys, I'd really love some feedback. Any and all comments are appreciated. Is there something you've found helpful? Is there a posting you hated? Is there something you'd like me to write about? Is there something you don't want me to write about? Would you like to see more pictures of something? Please let me know. And become a follower too! By the way I also can be found on Facebook and I have a fan page for my store as well. Join up and become a fan!

Pictured above are some new 18k gold, turquoise and diamond earrings.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mokume Gane

I've spent some time recently looking over some other jeweler's blogs and once again had my feelings reinforced about what I don't want my blog to become. Almost universally, they are discussions of a piece recently made, usually with pictures of the work in progress. Now this is all well and good. I'm sure that a lot of people are intrigued by how jewelry is made and it's great self promotion to show what goes into making the items we produce as jewelers. But generally speaking, it's not the direction I like to go in. I prefer to talk about my MOTIVATION for making a piece. I also like to talk about subjects that I think will help my customers buy any piece of jewelry (not just mine). But today I'm going to throw all that out the window and talk about one of the techniques I use to actually make some of my pieces. Why? Because I said I would in my last posting.

Mokume gane is a Japanese metal layering technique that has been used for thousands of years in making both jewelry and ornamental objects. Mokume means woodgrain and gane means metal so the description is woodgrain metal. That is exactly what a lot of it can look like. It used to be that almost all mokume gane work was done with a variety of less expensive metals, copper, silver and a number of oddball alloys that the Japanese had developed. More recently it has been done with precious metals. There are some jewelers who specialize in mokume gane and do some absolutely stunning things with it. They have taken the technique to whole new levels. Using ovens to carefully bond their metals together over long periods of time, they have come up with some new ways of using mokume and a variety of new looks for it. With modern advances in technology, their ability to produce perfect billets of mixed metals to work with is impressive.

However I don't want to spend my entire life doing one process. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons I can please so many different types of customers is because I work in a variety of styles. While some of my work is immediately recognizable as mine, a lot of it is just nice jewelry. And that's what I like to do. I'd be bored to tears if all I did was one particular technique. So I leave that for the other jewelers who specialize in it, but I do have a particular mokume that I enjoy making and that I produce routinely.

Basically what you do in mokume gane is create a piece of metal with a large number of layers of different colors of metal and then peel away parts of it to see the layers underneath. I do this by starting with a piece of my special 22k yellow gold mix and a piece of the 18k palladium white gold I use. I've found these two metals fuse together better than some others, given the conditions I'm working in. I then fuse the two layers together using my torch in a process in which I heat the two metals until they are almost liquid and they actually fuse together. Then I cut the piece in half and fuse them again. I do this until I get either 16 layers or 32 layers of metal. This metal is then rolled down (in a mill) until it is fairly thin. I then take a dapping die (a small tool I use with a hammer that has a ball on the end) and punch out a series of rows of holes (they don't go all the way through) in the metal. The piece is then flipped over and ground off on the top. This allows the different layers to show through.

I really enjoy making mokume gane because it involves a lot of torch work (I admit, I have somewhat of a fascination with working with a lot of fire) and it is just generally fun for me to do. It's technically advanced (trying to get the metal to fuse properly with a torch is tricky---most mokume today is produced in controlled ovens), it's always a little different and I can do some neat things with the results.

In the three ring picture only the top ring is mokume gane. That is a 32 layer mix. The earrings are a 16 layer mix.

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.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Appraisals 102

Okay so let's say that you've been buying jewelry over the years and never had an appraisal for any of it, but you've just started working with a new insurance company for your homeowners policy and they tell you they want an appraisal of your jewelry to cover it properly. This again requires a retail replacement value appraisal. An appraiser should use the same general approach in valuation as I described in the last posting but prices should be updated to reflect current metal and stone values. In the case of gold and platinum, the prices are up so it might be possible to have a value assigned to a particular item that is, in fact, higher than what was paid for the piece. In the case of diamonds, it is possible that the price will be lower as the RETAIL price of diamonds has dropped over the last 5-7 years. Some consideration of the condition of the jewelry has to be taken into account as well. In the case of a piece with missing stones, or with a lot of metal worn off, it really isn't up to the insurance company to replace a lost or stolen item with a new, perfect condition piece. All of these factors should be taken into account when valuing these pieces. Other factors on older pieces (are they collectibles?, were they made by a known--now dead---artist?, etc.) should also be taken into consideration. In the case of items that are collectibles the values should be based on similar items that are being offered for sale to the general public.

The most important thing to remember however about insurance replacement appraisals is that the values shown will have absolutely no relationship to what you might be able to sell the pieces for. As such, these appraisals should NEVER be used to help make a sale to a private individual, nor will they help you in the least if you take your jewelry to a jeweler to sell it. So if you want to sell your jewelry you do NOT want an insurance replacement value appraisal. And, conversely, if you are buying jewelry from a friend, or from an online used jewelry site, you should not use a retail replacement value appraisal as a starting point for price negotiations.

Estate appraisals are a different type of appraisal that is used, obviously, when estates are being settled. It can also be called a fair market value appraisal, and can be a more accurate representation of what a piece might sell for privately. Fair market appraisals have to reflect a price for what the piece might actually sell for, if there are no time constraints, between a willing seller and buyer, given the condition of the piece at the time. Now in some cases, on badly worn pieces, this could be the actual scrap value. It also could be a value close to what an antiques dealer might pay for the goods at the time (a good reason not to have the dealer do the appraisal themselves). It is helpful for people who have an estate to settle in terms of financial liability (estate taxes, etc.) and it can be helpful in the event that a jewelry collection is being split up among heirs (something I get people in for routinely). It's rare that I see collections with a value that will actually impact taxes (most of those tend to go to auction houses) but it is helpful if you want to equitably split up some jewelry (or assign a buyout price for one portion of the value, i.e.--mom only left one diamond but there are two daughters; one gets the diamond and pays the other the fair market value of half of the diamond).

The values in estate appraisals will be much lower than in insurance replacement value appraisals, but they may still not reflect what you would actually receive from the sale of old jewelry for scrap since there often will be more value than just the metal and stone content. Additionally, a fair market value appraisal valuation must take into consideration the phrase I used earlier: "if there are no time constraints". If you go into a place to sell your jewelry for scrap there is, effectively, a time constraint. You want to sell and you want to sell now. That always lowers the value.

The last type of appraisal I'm going to briefly discuss is a relatively new one on the scene (well at least in that they previously were used exceedingly rarely), which is one that is supposed to reflect the value of what you would get currently if you did go in to sell your jewelry because the price of gold is so high (or just because you need the money). The idea is to get an independent valuation so that when you go to the scrap buyers you will have a reasonable idea of what to expect. This sounds like a great idea except there are two problems. The first is that any legitimate appraiser charges for their time. If you pay out half of what your scrap is worth to find out what you're going to get for it, it's pretty much a waste of money. Now if you have hundreds of pieces of varying karats of gold with a lot of different stones in them, it might (and I say might because your cost for the appraisal will be much larger given the quantities of items) be worthwhile. But the real problem is that by the next day the value is already moot as gold prices fluctuate daily (especially these days). The second problem is that it doesn't matter what ANYONE writes on an appraisal. If no buyer is willing to pay you more than $100 for a piece then that is what it's worth even if an appraiser thinks you should get $150. So if you are selling (and I discussed this a bit earlier in my posts on selling gold), the best thing to do is simply go to three or four different places (or if you have a family jeweler you trust go to them) and see what they offer you. Then take the largest offer.
On my next posting I'll talk about finding an appraiser, what you should expect from them, and what they will need from you.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Appraisals 101

The subject of appraisals seems to be coming up a lot lately so let me write a post or two on this issue for those of you in need of some advice. First of all you need to understand that there are different types of appraisals for jewelry. The most common type is an insurance appraisal. This is an appraisal that will describe a piece and give the cost to actually replace the piece described at a retail store in the event of a loss or theft. The next most common type is a fair market value appraisal. This is commonly used in estate valuations and should reflect the amount the piece would sell for if offered for sale in its current condition. Lately some appraisers have been offering an appraisal that would reflect what should be a reasonable price to assume receiving if you scrapped the piece/s. There are a number of other types of appraisals (donation, IRS related, etc.) but most people aren't going to be concerned with these.

What most people don't realize, even many jewelers who think they can scribble something on a piece of paper and that that constitutes an appraisal, is that an appraisal is a legal document. It can be used in a court of law. As such, those doing the appraisals have to follow some guidelines (although many don't) about establishing value for the items.

An insurance appraisal on a new purchase, sometimes also known as a point of sale appraisal, is the most important type of appraisal for most people to be aware of. This appraisal should reflect what it would cost to replace the same item in the event of a loss. This is the type of appraisal that most insurance companies will want to write a policy to cover your jewels. Except in rare instances, such as when there is a true sale on the piece (not like in the department store sales where everything is on sale 350 days of the year), or errors were made in pricing (I sometimes have this issue on custom work, if I under quote a job and realize afterwards that if I do it again I will HAVE to charge more), insurance appraisals should not show values higher than what was actually paid for a piece (this presumes it's a new piece you've just bought).

Unfortunately for a long time jewelers used to sell people something for $1000 but then tell the customers, oh well the real price would be $2000 so I'll write you up an appraisal for $2000 and you should insure it for that amount. This was bad in a myriad of ways. First of all, they did it to make you think you were getting a deal, when in fact, if you went back the next day for the same thing, you'd pay the same price. Secondly, you would then pay insurance on $2000 rather than the $1000 that would actually be paid for the piece, enriching the insurance companies but not anyone else. In fact many insurance companies have deals with retail jewelers in which they pay far less than the retail price (the real retail price of $1000 not $2000) in exchange for sending the jewelers a huge amount of business. So all of this time you've been paying an insurance rate on $2000 when the insurance company may only pay out $6-800. Good for them, but not so good for you. So if you purchase something for $1000 that is what the appraisal should say. And if you're purchasing from some company that claims that their jewelry will appraise for double or more of the price paid, in fact they are making a false, unethical, claim. If an appraiser were to value the piece at double what you paid for it, knowing that you could go back to the same location and buy the same thing for the same price, then they shouldn't be calling themselves appraisers.

Now mind you, some of appraising is subjective in nature. It can also vary depending on the area you are in. A custom made piece from a jeweler in the boondocks of North Dakota is going to cost less than from someone like me in an area where my costs are much higher. So values will vary. Different appraisers use different formulas as well. And there are a number of things like diamond grading that have some very subjective issues around them. One appraiser (or even a diamond grading lab) may see a VS2 stone and another may think it is an SI1 stone. That can sometimes make a huge difference in price. However a retail replacement value appraisal should reflect a value that is fairly accurate of what it would cost, in that specific area, to replace a piece at a similar venue to where it was purchased. In the case of custom work, unique designs, or designer jewelry, the value should reflect what that piece would actually go for. It is illegal to copy designs so a David Yurman piece, or a Daniel Spirer piece for that matter, should be valued at what it would cost to replace a piece made by that actual company/person not at what it would cost to have someone else steal the design and duplicate it. Things like branded diamonds also need to be recognized for what they are. A Royal Asscher cut diamond, actually cut by the House of Asscher, will carry a higher price tag then a diamond cut to the same shape by any old cutter. The same goes for the Lazare Diamonds that I sell.

My next post will be on insurance replacement appraisals on items that were not recently purchased and, if possible, on fair market value appraisals (although that might have to wait for a third posting). The earrings pictured above are a 16 layer mokume gane in 22k gold and 18k palladium white gold with a .10 ct. ideal cut, "E" color, VS clarity diamond in each earring. A proper appraisal would have to show the price it would cost to buy these from me as this is one of my designs.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Marquis Diamond Custom Ring

The pictures here (mine and I apologize for the quality) are of a ring I just completed for a customer. I broke all of my own rules on it. First of all, I'm not a big fan of marquis shaped diamonds (which used to be called navette shaped for you history buffs out there)but I do routinely have customers come in who own them and want me to do something different with them and I'm always happy to accomodate them. In this case she was looking for something fairly streamlined and geometric, but she had also seen an ad for some pendants that had marquis stones (not diamonds) set with only two prongs holding them in and she wanted the end prongs to actually come out of the band itself, or perhaps a better way of saying it is that she wanted them to actually be created from the band. Of course I went into a long discourse on why there shouldn't be only two prongs. It's not enough protection against loss, leaves the diamonds more subject to breakage, etc.

However, sometimes when I actually get into making a piece up, I realize things are going to be different than I thought. After I got the seat and the general shaping of the band together I realized that four prongs on the side were going to take away from the streamlined simplicity of the band. I also realized that the band was so incredibly chunky to begin with that if I could actually make prongs out of it to hold the dismond, they would be so substantial that security in the setting wasn't an issue. Also because of the way I built the seat for the stone, even though the sides were exposed, they weren't hanging out in the middle of open air to be whacked anytime the customer moved her hand.

So I made an executive decision to leave them off and finish up the ring with only the two prongs. It took me close to 2 hours to set the stone (usually I can do a stone setting in about 10 minutes) because I had to hammer set (use a hammer and chisel to push the metal down onto the stone) the stone in place, something that with a marquis with long pointy ends that are just dying to break off when you look at them crosseyed, is extremely dangerous. But both the stone, and my now sweaty self, managed to survive intact and I think the ring came out quite nicely. It's not one of my usually more detailed pieces, but I think it came out pretty cool looking and the customer seemed thrilled.
My pt assistant Jason cleaned up my pictures a bit and so they're not quite so bad. My apologies for the red wax showing though.