Appraising Antique Jewelry

With jewelry, “antique” means over one hundred years old. People often ask me how I know. The first give away is the cut of the stone. Stone cuts have evolved and over time, become more and more refined and some might think, more beautiful. With reading and experience, you become familiar with the evolution of stone cutting. Antique jewelry often includes stones that are asymmetrical, incompletely polished and “lumpy, bumpy.”

Methods of manufacturing have changed as well. The older the jewelry, the more likely it is to be handmade. This is not a hard and fast rule, but a pretty good generalization. If you think about it, when antique jewelry was made, we barely had electricity.

In the modern era, almost all jewelry is mass produced and looks machine made. They are cast or die struck and assembled. These may be organic looking, or geometric or they may be antique reproductions. As an appraiser, I need to know my stuff. I need to be able to separate an original antique from a modern reproduction. Whatever history a client can give me on a piece will help me more accurately appraise it and determine if it is indeed an antique.

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Valuing Gemstones

lab-appraisal-kimI wonder if people understand how I come up with appraisal values. I do more than guess at them. Most appraisers do. We should have a clear understanding of gemology, the science of first identifying, then grading gemstones. 

Every gemstone has a set of value factors. The most commonly known set of value factors is the diamond’s 4 C’s. These are cut, clarity, color and carat weight. Almost anyone who has ever purchased a fine diamond is familiar with them. Jewelry appraisers live and breathe these value factors. As one factor decreases, so does the value of the diamond.

Colored stones have some of the same value factors. Appraisers consider clarity, cut, carat weight and color, just as in diamonds. However, with colored stones there are also other factors including phenomena, like a cat’s eye or color change or adularescence.

Appraising colored stone jewelry is more nuanced than appraising diamonds. Consider color for a moment. An emerald is not just green. It may be yellowish green, which would reduce the value. Or it may be bluish green, which would increase the value. If the emerald is too light or too dark, the appraiser reduces the value. If the emerald has gray in it, that too reduces the value of the emerald.

Clarity grades in colored stones are different for each colored stone. For example, sapphires are expected to be eye clean. The appraiser should reduce the value for a sapphire with visible inclusions. On the other hand, the emerald is expected to have some visible inclusions. Moonstone is expected to be translucent. Lapis is expected to be solid. The appraiser should know how to grade for clarity in each of the different colored stones.

Quality of the cut is more important for diamonds than colored stones. Diamonds are cut for maximum brilliance these days. Colored stones are still often cut to maximize carat weight. There are exceptions. Some stone cutters create exceptionally beautiful gemstones by cutting for maximum color, clarity, liveliness and luster. Again, it is the job of the jewelry appraiser to recognize these exceptional gems and value them appropriately.

Pearls have their own value factors. These are size, shape, color, luster, surface quality, nacre quality and for a strand, we add matching. It makes sense that these value factors are so different from the others discussed above because pearls are an organic gemstone. I took a separate class at the GIA to learn how to grade pearls. I’m very happy I did because I appraise pearls frequently.

This is a short explanation about how the appraiser considers value factors when writing jewelry appraisals. If you have any specific questions, give me a call. I enjoy being the jewelry expert!!

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Jewelry Investments

jewelry investment necklaceHave you ever bought a piece of jewelry thinking that it was a good investment? I have! The price of jewelry does tend to go up with time, but that’s new jewelry. Once you’ve purchased an item, it’s used jewelry. You can call it vintage or pre-owned, but still, there are few buyers for used jewelry. Think about how many times you’ve gone out shopping for used jewelry. I’ve never said to my best friend, “come on Tish, let’s go look at other people’s old jewelry. It’ll be so much fun!”But for most of us, if we did buy something pre-owned, we’d expect a great bargain.

Think of it like buying a car. You’ve heard about the value of the car dropping $1000 just for driving it off the parking lot. Sadly, jewelry is like that too.

Now if you buy a Rolls Royce or a Bentley, that’s different. Cars like that will hold value, usually. So it is with jewelry. If you must invest in jewelry, find something that is unique, desirable and extremely rare and of the highest quality available. Think one of a kind necklace from Van Cleef and Arpels. Or choose a 15 carat diamond with high color and high clarity. These types of items will always be so rare that there will be a market for them.

You can use this information to your advantage! Used jewelry can be purchased for a song! Always wanted a diamond tennis bracelet? Look for it on the secondary market; e-bay, Craig’s list or consignment stores. Or go to an auction and let the gorgeous piece find you. Many jewelry stores have sections for vintage and antique jewelry. But there may not be super huge  bargains there.

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OMG! They Switched My Diamond!

diamond rabbit photoThis doesn’t look like my diamond! When this thought first jumps into your head, you get that queasy feeling like when you can’t find your credit card. Your stomach drops into your knees, your heart rises to fill your throat, and you think, “My life as I know it is over.”

This is a bad feeling. Chances are you just picked up your ring, (which was only going to get sized) from the jewelry store that afternoon. As you wear the ring, you notice that the diamond seems different. Maybe the familiar black spot is gone. Maybe it seems a little smaller, or just not as white. You don’t want to think these bad things about your jeweler. But then you are convinced. This is not your diamond!

What can be done? Who can you call? This is when many people discover that independent jewelry appraisers exist, and maybe they’re a good thing. But I diverge….

Women like to take care of these problems as soon as possible. This is when I get the jewelry emergency phone call, usually on a Saturday evening. The appointment is set up for 7 am Monday morning.

Arriving a few minutes early, the grieving diamond owner shows me her diamond ring, which is normally accompanied by an old appraisal. I am to look at the diamond and see if it matches the old appraisal. I look at the diamond under my microscope. I probably clean it, then look again. I compare it to diamonds I have for color grading. I measure the stone. Then I examine the old appraisal. I look under the microscope once again. I give the news. The diamond matches the old appraisal (within a grade here or there).

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The History of the Diamond Engagement Ring

kim-diamondSometimes rituals are so entrenched in a culture that people hardly question where the traditions come from. This is not the case with the diamond engagement ring. Many people think it is a custom imposed upon us by DeBeers, the giant diamond monopoly. This powerful empire devised a marketing scheme that was so compelling, it bent our minds into believing that the diamond engagement ring is the only possible way for two people in love to begin a life together. There may be some truth in that. But I believe the custom is much more complex.

The earliest record of a diamond engagement ring being given is a letter dated July 30, 1477. On that date, Dr. Wilhelm Moroltinger wrote a letter to Archduke (later Emperor) Maximilian, just before his betrothal to Mary of Burgundy, daughter of Charles the Bold. In that letter he states, “At the betrothal your Grace must have a ring set with a diamond and also a gold ring. Moreover, in the morning your Grace must bestow upon the bride some costly jewels.”

I am certain that DeBeers did not exist in 1477. Therefore, the giant company held no sway over those people. The wealthy of that time devised the notion of a diamond engagement ring because of the beauty of the diamond itself.

Let’s examine more recent diamond engagement ring history. Before 1870, diamonds were found scattered throughout the world, but mostly in Brazil and India. In 1870, diamonds were discovered in South Africa and the quantities were like nothing before. The early diamond rush included thousands of diggers and thousands of connected plots of land. As the plots got deeper and became more dangerous or unprofitable, individual lots were sold off. Several people vied for control of the diamond rich land by buying up these lots. Finally, in 1880, Cecil Rhodes triumphed and established the DeBeers Mining Company in South Africa.

Now there was a large supply of diamonds. Happily, diamond engagement rings became commonplace at the start of the new century here in the United States and in many parts of Europe.

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