goldsmiths • jewelers • gemologists

Getting an Appraisal: Part I
(Some Do’s and Don’ts)

By Richard W. Wise, G.G.

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) , The International Society of Appraisers (NSA) and The American Society of Appraisers (ASA): 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, 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.

Changing lighting environments have always been a problem for both buyers and sellers. You buy in one light, sell in another. Traditionally dealers who do extensive buying outside their offices have relied upon comparison stones, stones of well known color, which they carry or wear on buying trips.

I use two fixtures with twin four foot fluorescent lamps to give an overall daylight environment combined with several of the new Solux MR-16 4800K quartz halogen lamps in my own laboratory which doubles as a salesroom and consider this combination to be the closest possible to a true daylight environment. I use Duro-Test Vitalite in one fixture and Kollmorgen 6500K average daylight in the other. The use of the 6500K is to compensate for the 4800K Solux, to kick up the Kelvin temperature of the overall environment towards 5500K.

The combination of of daylight fluorescent with Solux works acceptably across the spectrum of gemstone colors. The fluorescents create an overall daylight environment and the Solux MR-16 provides the punch. This lighting temperature gives a balanced daylight color rendering when compared to New England north daylight. Several years ago, a German firm, System Eikhorst, introduced a lighting system based, in part, upon my recommendations. It includes both daylight fluorescent and Solux fixtures.

When making a purchasing decision it is important to identify the light source you are viewing the stone and to view the stone in as many lighting environments as can be found. Regardless of my geographic location at the time, I always compare each stone in daylight and 3200K incandescent to see how the stone reacts at both ends of the lighting spectrum.

If a consistent workable colored stone evaluation system is ever created, the lighting environment will of necessity be standardized. To achieve reproducible results, there are three variables; the observer, the gem observed and the lighting environment. The standardization of the lighting environment will remove one variable. This leaves one remaining variable, the observer. Either we must accept some nuances of subjectivity or build a gem grading robot replace to connoisseur’s eye and dictate our taste.