Gems: Grading the Crème de la Crème, Part IV
First let’s establish what you don’t do. Don’t take the stone to your local jeweler even if he is a graduate gemologist unless he stocks comparable qualities of the gem in question. Most local jewelers know colorless diamonds but few have a working knowledge of colored gemstones. As with any sort of appraisal, the prospective appraiser should have a thorough day-to-day familiarity with the gem to be appraised.
The next possibility is a professional appraiser. Over the past two decades gem and jewelry appraisal has become professionalized. There are three major appraisal organizations: The National Association of Jewelry Appraisers (NAJA) http://najaappraisers.com/ , The International Society of Appraisers (NSA) http://isa-appraisers.org/ and The American Society of Appraisers (ASA): http://appraisers.org/. These organizations have standards of education and codes of ethics to protect the client. In addition they use methodologies that provide some assurance of accuracy. However, I think the same standard applies. Does the appraiser have experience with the gem in question?
How often have I been asked for a: “Just off the top of your head, I won’t hold you to it” appraisal? An appraisal is worth what you pay for it. A good appraisal takes time and time is money. Jewelers who give out this sort of verbal appraisal are doing neither their client nor their profession any good. Courts in some jurisdictions have held that a free appraisal is worth just what you paid for it…nothing! And, by the way if you are a professional you may be “held to it” in a court of law. Jewelers are not the only ones who do this sort of thing, professionals do not always act professionally. May I offer a cautionary tale?
Take me out to the ballpark…About two months ago I sold an extraordinary 3.30 carat Burma Ruby (pictured) The client, rightly concerned with value, wanted the gem appraised. He asked me if I could recommend and appraiser and aside from the ethical problem of the seller making such a recommendation I had a tough time thinking of anyone other than a wholesale dealer specializing in rubies with experience enough to do it and wholesalers do not know the retail market. To aid the client I obtained an American Gemological Laboratory full quality report. The AGL report graded all aspects of the gem and issued an overall quality grade. I highly recommend this report for important gems. It provides one objective basis to begin the valuing process. (see the report at www.rwwise.com, click gallery, gemstones, ruby)
The client then contacted a professional member of one of the organizations listed above and asked the appraiser for a ballpark estimate and faxed the AGL report to the appraiser. Without ever seeing the gemstone, this appraiser gave the client a “ballpark” price that was so ridiculously low that the client, who had been looking for a ruby for several months realized the price was absurd and decided he needed another appraiser.
How could any professional appraise a gemstone without examining it? You’ve got me! In the case of this so-called professional, he hit a foul ball. Luckily, the client knew more than the appraiser otherwise I might have lost the sale.
The client then asked two well known gemologists, Richard Drucker and Stuart Robertson of Gem World International publisher of The Guide, a wholesale gemstone price guide, to do an appraisal. In a subsequent article in Gem Market News written on appraising this ruby here is what Mssrs. Drucker and Robertson said this stone:
“Pricing this ruby was a challenge…The color was at the top of the spectrum…”
“we looked for comparables…Rubies of this caliber cannot be priced by the cost method and only market data will suffice…”
“…This becomes a gem for the collector’s category and that is an important lesson in pricing. The stone is an example of a gem that grades above The Guide’s extra fine category.”
Gem Market News, Vol. 25, No. 5, September, October 2006, p. 12Evaluating an ultra-fine gem is difficult because, as Drucker says, you must find comparable stones and if you can’t find comparables you are like a tight rope walker dressed in his underwear balanced on a high wire working without a net. In the end, Drucker & Robertson, after consulting a number of dealers, appraised the stone for substantially more than the client paid and several times the price suggested by Mr.ballpark the professional appraiser.
To sum up, if you want a gem, any gem, appraised. Find a professional with demonstrated familiarity with the gemstone. Check the credentials of local jewelers by checking what they have in their inventory. If they don’t stock the stone, they don’t know the stone. Choose a disinterested professional and pay the price. Don’t expect something for nothing, get a signed document and watch out for foul balls and low inside drives.
Interested in reading more about real life adventures and secrets of the gem trade? Follow me on gem buying adventures in the exotic entrepots of Burma and East Africa. Visit the gem fields of Austrailia and Brazil's famous Capao mine. 120 photographs including some of the world's most famous gems. Consider my book: Secrets Of The Gem Trade, The Connoisseur's Guide To Precious Gemstones.
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