All Jewelry Appraisals (and Appraisers) Are Not Alike (FAQs)

Aren't all jewelry appraisals just a matter of opinion?

A good jewelry appraisal is an informed, objective opinion of value, but there is still a deep distrust of jewelry appraising. This is because, for most of history, it occupied a position alongside free coffee and gift-wrapping in a jewelry store's array of amenities. Only since the early 1980's has it joined the world of professional appraising, gaining entry as a sub-discipline of personal property appraising. This kind of property has subjective value to the owner, as well as market value, so people tend to believe it cannot be valued objectively. For many years, it wasn't. A jeweler would simply calculate his price to sell an item, add in a "feel-good" factor to please a buyer, and call the result a value. While there is an element of (informed) opinion to it, jewelry appraising has come a long way towards joining the other disciplines (real property, machinery and technical specialities, business valuation, and others) in practicing the methodologies (and ethics) of valuation science. Mostly as a result of this trend, fewer jewelry stores offer appraisals than they used to.

So how do you determine how much something is worth?

The values in my appraisals are ultimately based on sales data for similar items, which I obtain in several ways: directly, from appraisal clients' sales receipts and oral statements; by monitoring retail prices in print advertisements and online; and by researching sales results at national and regional auction houses. Although I pay attention to the pricing patterns I see in my own work as a liquidator, a consignment shop, and a broker of new jewelry, I do not assume they apply to all kinds of items, in all situations for which people need jewelry appraisals. To be a good appraiser is to be a good researcher (and then a writer of good reports.) For instance, sometimes it's relevant to research an item's current wholesale market cost, and that's often easier to do than to document accomplished retail sales, especially for diamonds, because of the existence of an accepted grading standard and trade data bases. For many colored gemstones and items of finished jewelry, talking to dealers who buy and sell and other jewelry appraisers who have seen similar pieces is absolutely essential.

How should I shop for a jewelry appraiser?

Credentials aren't everything, but they're something  when you're choosing a jewelry appraiser. One thing you'll notice is that jewelry stores don't emphasize appraising anymore. In fact, many of them don't offer it at all, except in the loose sense of providing insurance descriptions for items they sell. Providing professional appraisal services requires learning valuation principles, both the methods and the ethics that make it a profession, and ongoing effort to keep up with gem and jewelry markets. One must become a connoisseur to be a professional. The best groups do this through university-level education and the requirement for ongoing education leading to recertification. The only groups that function as professional societies (offering training and recertification) are the American Gem Society, the American Society of Appraisers, the Appraisers Association of America, the International Society of Appraisers, and the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers.

What do you do that not all jewelry appraisers are educated to do?

Value is only value in a certain place, at a certain time, to particular buyers and sellers. So the first question a good appraiser should ask is, "Why do you need a jewelry appraisal?" Is it to insure what you just bought, or to find out if you got a good deal, or to sell the item? Or is it to fairly divide jewelry among heirs? Or pay federal estate tax? Does the situation involve divorce or other kinds of litigation? Then there are the many possible needs that businesses, charitable groups, law firms, banks and governmental entities can have for jewelry appraisals. In each of these categories, my job is to consider who the usual buyers and sellers are, given the specific situation and any applicable legal definitions of value, for the jewelry under appraisal. That establishes the right market to research. That's the first job to do.

After that, some of the nuts and bolts run like this: clean the jewelry, inspect its condition, advise about any needed repairs, identify the materials (both gemstones and metals), measure and estimate gemstone weights based on volumetric formulas, grade gemstones using quality scales that are set out in detail for you in the finished report (including information about color, clarity and cutting); determine if any gemstone treatments are present and, if so, how they affect value, and render a plot (that is, a diagram) of the clarity characteristics of diamonds weighing more than 0.50 carat; measure the dimensions of the jewelry, and study and describe how they were made (cast, die-struck or hand-made, for instance), research trademarks, examine items for age and style that would contribute to value (such as Victorian, Edwardian or Art Deco); photograph the jewelry; and finally, write a cover letter that gives a summary of the total situation, including the context of the value, keeping the reason for the appraisal in mind, such as independent retail store, on-line diamond seller, national retail chain, second-hand retail ("antique") store, auction; and explains what specific efforts were made to find out information on which the value conclusion is based and the degree to which it can relied upon.

All of this means that my appraisals meet the standards of the American Society of Appraisers. They also conform to the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP), which are promulgated by the Appraisal Foundation, a quasi-governmental entity that was founded in 1989 to enforce compliance with appraisal standards in federally related transactions.

Are there any other aspects to your work that I won't find elsewhere?

Yes, my approach is highly personal, and personalized to a degree you will not find anywhere else. For instance, in finding out why you want a jewelry item appraised, I might discover that you don't need an appraisal. You might obtain adequate sales information from a seller to insure an item. You might have several items, some of which are already covered under a general homeowners' policy. Perhaps you are thinking of selling an item or keeping it. In either of these last cases, we might turn to consultation, for which I charge $75 per half hour, instead of formal written appraisals. If you do decide to insure your jewelry, I suggest you become familiar with its terms of settlement in case of loss, the better to know how to protect the items you value the most. As I hope you begin to see, the most important thing I do at first is to explain thoroughly how I would approach your situation, including what it will cost you, before you incur any expense.

What do you charge for appraisals? How long does it take?

My minimum charges are $90 for the first item, $70 for the second, and $50 for each additional item. But because they are tailored to each person's situation, they will vary according to several things, all of which may increase or decrease cost, based on how much time I must spend to do a competent, credible job. They include: complexity or simplicity of the item itself, its rarity, the number of items, the nature of the assignment (legal uses are more time-consuming), and rush assignments or those done outside my office. I am happy to appraise your jewelry while you watch. (This must be done by appointment.) When there are several items, clients often choose to leave them, usually for a week or less. In these cases, I take whatever time is necessary to show you some absolutely identifying characteristic about your jewelry under the microscope, and give you the opportunity to view them again when you pick them up.