By Richard Alan
Mystery… It’s something an appraiser of fine jewelry such as myself comes across now and then. The mystery is the document I am reading, a professional appraisal that is supposed to describe the piece of jewelry in my hand in every detail, but what I am reading in no way describes anything.
An appraisal dated December 14th 1965, from John Doe Jewelers, One ladies gold diamond ring……. $2,500.00 Huh? I don’t know of any insurance company of this day and age that would even consider accepting this appraisal. It’s like describing a car as… one automobile containing four wheels…. $30,000
The bad news is the customer lost the ring and even though she has been paying for protection for decades against loss the insurance company refuses to settle because of the incredibly vague appraisal from the 60’s. It is not an unusual situation. First of all the horse has left the barn, so to say. I cannot appraise what no longer is in her possession, beside it being unethical to appraise what one cannot see or possess, that even her description of the beloved ring prevents me from putting a current real time price of replacement. If that were the case anyone could tell any appraiser they own the crown jewels in the Tower of London and then claim they were stolen.
So the question is what is an appraisal for fine jewelry? An appraisal is an opinion performed on a piece of jewelry or gemstone that the appraiser physically holds in his hand and analyzes with the authentic tools of his trade that allow him to describe the authenticity, quality of gemstone, measurements, approximate carat weight, design and most importantly, the value of the item.
There are several reasons for a current and valid appraisal, one is for insurance reasons. The document dictates the exact cost of replacing a valuable item. Another reason is for the use of estate settlements. The passing of a family member which can be traumatic enough, is made more difficult if the loved one’s valuable jewelry hasn’t been appraised recently. Who’s to know what’s expensive and what is not?
Last reason is “a need to know” the true value, call it a second opinion after the fact. A touchy subject I mentioned in my last article.
A proper appraisal should be precise and easily describe the piece in question so even a layperson can understand what is printed on the appraisal. For example… One of my average appraisals.
1.) One ladies 14 karat yellow gold diamond and sapphire finger ring, consisting of a center round brilliant cut white diamond measuring 8.00mm.x 3.60mm. The approximate carat weight is 1.56 carats the diamond is H color and SI1 clarity is an ideal cut with excellent scintillation. The flanking two (2) round cut Burmese blue sapphires measure as follows… right sapphire measures 6.50mm. x 3.90mm. Weighing approx. 1.10 carats medium blue in color, slight banding in color, eye clean. The second sapphire measures 6.54mm. x 4.10mm.weighing approx.. 1.24 carats and is a perfect color and clarity match to the before mentioned sapphire. The three gemstones are set in a traditional four prong three stone mounting in heavy 14kt. yellow gold the ring is a size seven (7) and the complete ring weighs 7.9 grams.
Retail replacement value…$18,650.00
Now there are many appraisers out there that may say my rendition is not totally precise such as table dimensions and facet angles, specific gravity etc. etc. My reasons for the simplicity is the tried and true, I use the K.I.S.S. system ( Keep it simple stupid). And don’t forget when a gemstone is mounted it is near impossible to assess the exact weight while in the setting and removal of the gem to confirm exactness is not advised in the industry. Clear and concise is a good appraisal.
Creating and appraising jewelry for over forty years I was only challenged once on my opinion about an appraisal from one insurance company who wanted even the tiniest diamonds in a 74 multi-stone micro-diamond ring individually graded and priced, which is totally ridiculous. And a couple of times for not meeting the insurance criteria by insisting that I must be a full blown registered and certified graduate gemologist. I guess being a practicing goldsmith who purveys in precious gemstones and makes the entire piece of jewelry by hand in his own workshop on a daily basis has no comprehension on what it takes to put aprice on a piece of jewelry.
I can assure you there is no law that an appraiser of fine jewelry must be a gemologist. You can expect to pay a lot more for that appraisal if he or she is a registered gemologist, all to simply satisfy an insurance company’s criteria that will later make you jump through flaming hoops and walk over burning coals before you get that deserving settlement check.
There is no doubt that anyone reading this can imagine the before mentioned diamond and sapphire ring vividly in their minds. It would be no problem for anyone picking that ring out of a jewelry box with fifty other items in it. I have seen vague examples and reams of paper describing a single stone ring, besides being confusing. It’s a waste of time and paper.
Also the costs for a professional appraisal can vary, Some jewelers can charge $100.00 and up per article. I knew of one jeweler, who charged a percentage of the total appraisal. He’s no longer in business, no wonder?
My rate is on average $150.00 for one to three articles and $40.00 for every article after that. I secretly shopped around and found I was one of the most reasonable in the area. It may sound like a lot of money, but a lot of time is used measuring and analyzing to come up with current prices. A two carat diamond that was purchased for $2,500 in 1960 can be worth $20,000 or more today, or the couple could have paid $2,000 for a piece of faceted glass, it has happened.
Bringing in old receipts or old appraisals can be helpful and can save me or any other appraiser a lot of time and that can save you money especially if the weights and gem descriptions are valid and agreeable with the jewelry in question. One thing I look for is overpriced or underpriced appraisals.
There is no sense in paying exorbitant monthly or yearly premium payments on an article(s) that is worth many thousands less than its supposed value, or the pain and anguish of having a valuable under appraised diamond come up missing and the insurance check is thousands of dollars shy of the current replacement value of exactly the quality diamond you lost. Remember the two carat diamond I mentioned above purchased for $2,500 in 65’? If lost, they would only get a check for $2,500 not $20,000, because they never updated the old appraisal. Good luck finding a nice two carat diamond for that money. $2,500.00 won’t even buy a decent ¾ carat today.
Another thing I try to catch is over–blown or downright deceitful appraisals. These can come from foreign countries or even the nearby Caribbean islands. It is not uncommon to see incorrect gemstone weights and stone qualities or descriptions put down in writing that are meant to deliberately swindle a naive buyer.
Many years ago a customer brought in expensive jewelry pieces that were supposedly created by the famous artist Salvatore Dali. Everything and I mean everything was in beautifully handmade wooden and satin display boxes with page after page of certified documents proving the pieces were authentic.
So I was asked “What are they worth?” Quite honestly I have never feasted my eyes on anything quite like it. But something didn’t seem right! I called several of my compatriots in Boston and the Big Apple and was told to be careful there were a lot of “Dali” fakes around. The jewelry was of fairly good quality but was it actually created by the master himself? On further investigation I found an obscure address on one of the documents located in Madrid, Spain and eventually contacted the shop. Not only was it purchased from them in the 1980’s but they still manufactured some of the pieces today! Sort of interesting considering Salvatore Dali has been deceased since 1989. The results of my investigation were that they were “authorized” to “reproduce” Mr. Dali’s works but nowhere were those facts mentioned in the documents, and who exactly “authorized” them?
A bit misleading wouldn’t you say? The actual value was around $10,000 not hundreds of thousands of dollars as the owners anticipated the jewelry would be worth.
Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith/appraiser and owner of the Harbor Goldsmith and welcomes your questions about “all that glitters” and please note that all appraisals require appointments. 239-394-9275 firstname.lastname@example.org
“A proper appraisal should be precise and easily describe the piece in question so even a layperson can understand what is printed on the appraisal.”