Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Getting an Appraisal; Some Do’s and Don’ts


Gems: Grading the Crème de la Crème, Part IV

By Richard W. Wise, G.G.

©2006

In the last three posts on this subject I discussed some of the rare characteristics that make certain gemstones so valuable. Value is naturally of great interest to the gem connoisseur/collector. How does a collector determine if he is paying the right price? In other words how does one go about establishing the value of one of a kind, ultra-fine gems?

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.

Familiarity is easy enough to establish. If ruby is the gem at issue, go to the jeweler and ask to see his rubies. If he stutters and stammers and suggests he can have anything you want in the store in a matter of days, move on. If he doesn’t stock the stone, he doesn’t know the stone.

Watch out for the low-ball…

If the potential appraiser’s first statement, after you show him the gem and tell him what you paid is, “you paid way to much for that stone.” Run like hell! Why, because I guarantee that the next words out of his mouth will be: “I could have gotten you a similar stone much cheaper.” These are not statements made by a disinterested professional they are what they sound like, the words of a jealous competitor. The practice is so common it even has a name; low-balling. Some jewelers low-ball because they believe if they can discredit the competition, they will get the business. What actually happens is that the client becomes distrustful and the whole profession is discredited. If a low-ball raises a question in your mind; call the person’s bluff: “Ok, show me a better one, cheaper!.” Usually that will end it. Recently a client of mine went one better, he asked to be shown a comparable stone and agreed to buy it if the dealer came up with one. He still has my stone and is yet to see a match.

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. 12

Evaluating 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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Charles Lewton-Brain, Orchid

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4 comments:

WWJDthrume said...

Another great article. I recently took my gem collection to be appraised. I have a wide variety of colored gemstones with no diamonds. The appraiser specialized in diamonds. It became apparent to this amateur rockhound that next time I bring stones to be appraised I need to have the appraiser be very familiar with the stones I am having appraised. The time, energy, and expense that went into having the appraisals done could have been better spent if I had read your article first and taken it's words to heart. Thanks (anonymous)

ali716 said...

Dear Mr. Wise,

I am somewhat of a layman and I am studding for my GIA to get my G.G. I HAVE ONLY STARTED MY INTRODUCTION TO COLORED GEMSTONES AND I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN ENSPIRED BY YOUR WORK. I HAVE BEEN CONDENPLATING ON YOUR QUESTION ON THE PRECIOUS GEMSTONE QUERIE. I guess that I started the race a little late in life. I am 40 years old and am looking for more in my life than just a job without meaning. The ironic thing is that my passion is colored stones. I will just make this question something that will haunt me for a while.

I will continue to research the question but by the time I find the answer It will probably be to late for the hopes of having a signed copy of your book. This will not stop me from finding the true answer on my own. It has been haunting me in my sleep.

MY ANSWER SEEM TO BE MISSING SOMETHING PARAMOUNT. I HAVE BEEN RESEARCHING THE QEUSTION AND ALTHOUGH I AM STUMPED. IT IS SOMEWHAT DISCOURAGING THAT SOME OF YOUR READIERS ARE RIDICULING ME FOR TRYING. I AM AWARE THAT MOST OF THE READERS ARE MUCH MORE EDUCATED THAN I. I THOUGHT THAT I DID A FAIR JOB OF DEFINING THE QUESTION. IT DOES NOT BOTHER ME THOUGH I AM PROUD OF MYSELF FOR THE ATTEMPT.

ALWAYS YOUR FAITHFUL READER.
ALICE GRIM
LITTLEDIEGO@AOL.COM

Jewelry Appraisal NYC said...

Its really an great article on Appraisals, and you highlighted the Do's and don'ts in detail. Thanks for sharing

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