“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
There are occasions during your life that you may need to know the value of something you own. Having your esteemed possessions appraised will help you make decisions about how to handle and care for these belongings. While you might want an appraisal just to satisfy your own curiosity of what something is worth compared to what you paid, most people obtain appraisals to document items for insurance purposes.
There are professional appraisers who can assess everything: real estate, jewelry, antiques, small businesses, corporations, cars, trucks, corporate assets, intellectual properties and even careers. But what exactly is an appraisal? Simply put, an ‘appraisal’ is a statement of value and the ‘appraiser’ is the person who provides this statement.
A jewelry appraisal is the qualified opinion of an expert in the field of gemology pertaining to the value of the piece described. It first requires an accurate representation of the item and its components (the gemstones and mountings), their identification, as well as qualitative grading against international industry standards. A proper jewelry appraisal should always be in writing and reflect the average cost you would have to pay to replace the item if lost or stolen.
A jewelry appraisal will include a detailed description of each item, including gemstone measurements, metal types and weight. It should also include explanatory notes on terms and abbreviations as well as the name and professional qualifications of the appraiser, association memberships, and importantly, the tools and techniques used to perform the appraisal. For example, using relative density to calculate a carat weight estimation of the gemstones set in the jewelry.
Visual inspection alone is not a reliable way to identify gemstones. If a ‘jeweler’ just looks at your jewelry then immediately starts rattling off a ‘verbal’ appraisal, it’s probably a good idea to make a hasty retreat. Also, how much you paid and where you purchased your jewelry has no bearing on the appraisal. If the appraiser is just curious, let them know at the end of the process.
One of the most common questions is, “who should appraise my jewelry?” Like hiring any professional, whether it is a plumber or a lawyer, you need to get a handle on their education, credentials, reputation and experience.
Basically, you need to appraise the appraiser! Start with basic questions like:
- How long have you been appraising? As in any field, experience is of vital importance.
- Do you have any experience appraising gemstones? Some gemstones are more common than others. Even if the appraiser is experienced, he might not feel comfortable appraising some of the more exotic varieties.
- Where were you trained? What are your professional qualifications? What professional associations do you belong to?
- How much do you charge? In our opinion, no trustworthy appraiser charges a percentage of the item’s valuation. It should always be a fixed fee based on time spent.
- Can you give me a reference?
- How long do you keep a record of appraisal?
- Do you utilize a modern, properly equipped gemological laboratory? (when necessary)
Often, the whole process of selecting an appraiser is made simple by the fact that your insurer only accepts appraisals from selected individuals. Always check with your insurance company before getting an appraisal. One of the biggest concerns from a seller’s perspective is the appraiser’s independence. While truly independent appraisers that do not buy or sell jewelry should be preferred, finding one in your local area is not always possible. In these cases, select an appraiser that is an appraiser first, rather than a salesperson who also appraises.
A jewelry appraiser should have access to gemological equipment, such as an electronic Diamond tester.
After the appraisal, you’ll receive a written report that is your proof of value. Appraisals sometimes also include an image of each item. Even if they don’t, it’s always clever to take photographs and catalog all of your jewelry. In the day and age of digital cameras, this is a piece of cake. Keep yours in a safe place, such as with friends, relatives or your lawyer.
It is also a very good idea to find out from your insurance company if your jewelry collection is covered by your household policy. Remember, it’s not just about your hard earned money, it’s also about protecting the ‘emotional value’ of what often is (or will become) a family heirloom.
Replacement value appraisals, commonly referred to as insurance appraisals, are designed to cover an individual in the event of loss of property. They are the cost to buy a new item of comparable quality in the retail market. These tend to result in higher valuations for jewelry because the market has fluctuating prices. As a result, updating an appraisal every three years is a good rule-of-thumb. This will ensure you are not paying too little or too much in premiums. It is also a good idea to ask your insurance company how often they recommend you update your appraisal, and about the coverage implications of outdated appraisals. It is the insurer’s obligation to replace a lost item with one of comparable quality, but please read your policy carefully. Some insurers replace lost items with new items, while others pay cash. You need to be sure what will happen if you make a claim. We all like surprises, but getting one after the trauma of loss is no fun. Avoid unpleasant surprises by asking questions, so you’re always prepared in advance.