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Online Jewellery Appraising - For better or worse?

Karen Howard reviews the pitfalls of using an online jewellery appraisal service

Blindfolded man
The blind leading the blind?

There are more and more adverts for on-line jewellery appraising popping up in most countries and an every increasing amount of businesses offering this service. These websites are being found by consumers who surf the web searching for a Jewellery Appraiser. Are these places a good option for the consumer?

I do not believe that they are.

Whilst I can appreciate that the perceived convenience and low cost can be attractive, it is important that the public understand the risks that they are running in using an appraisal service that has not actually examined the item being appraised.

The online jewellery appraisals are performed by having the jewellery-owner upload photographs of their items and then complete a form outlining the details of the item they are wanting appraised. You are not required to have your jewellery leave your possession. In other words, these websites rely on the consumer to provide all the details of the item that are then plugged into a computer program which then calculates a value to put into a document for the consumer. The consumer signs a disclaimer taking the responsibility for accuracy off the company and putting it back on the consumer. Is this appraising? The Merriam-Webster definition of appraisal is: ‘the act of judging the value, condition, or importance of something.’ That can be done from an image if nothing else is left. Appraisers and adjusters do it from time to time in appraisals based on hypothetical facts. An accepted example of this would be after loss or theft where no appraisal or documents were available before the loss. There are no laws in most countries, concerning jewellery appraising, but there are generally accepted standards and procedures that qualified professional appraisers adhere to worldwide and the procedures used by the on-line services are not consistent with these practices.

Are these so-called jewellery appraisals giving consumers the protection they deserve? Do they also protect insurance companies from possible fraud? No, is the answer to both these questions. Let us look at the creditable approach to having jewellery appraised. It has been discussed before but these are the factors that need to be considered before engaging a Jewellery Appraiser:

  • Are the people doing my jewellery appraisal qualified gemmologists, trained in identifying gemstones (natural or synthetic, treated or not treated, composites)?
  • Are they trained in identifying metals used in jewellery?
  • Are they trained in grading the stones for weight, clarity, colour and cut?
  • Have they been educated in valuation science?
  • Are they creditable and ethical?
  • Are they transparent in telling you about their background and experience?

Can a photograph provide the detailed information necessary to accurately perform an appraisal? Virtually never! This practice is only recommended when an item can no longer be made available for a physical inspection such as after a theft. Being able to identify and grade stones and metals and correctly identify the method of construction is an essential aspect of the appraisal process and can only be done if the person is looking at the item and has the knowledge to know what they are seeing. A photograph cannot do this. You may say ‘But I know I have a 1/2 carat diamond in white gold engagement ring’. Do you know positively that it is white gold and of what grade? or could it be platinum? There may be a stamped mark inside the ring which tells you what the item is claimed to be, but these are not always accurate. A qualified appraiser will test the metal in their hands, but an online appraiser relies on what they are told and this could be far from the truth.

A diamond ring
A typical photograph that a consumer might take of their jewellery before sending to an online appraisal service.

What is the quality of the diamond? A 1/2 carat round brilliant cut of E colour, Ideal cut and VVS1 clarity is going to be valued quite different from a 1/2 carat round brilliant cut diamond of G colour, very good cut and VS2 clarity. You also could not tell if the stone fluoresces or where the inclusions might be located from looking at a photo. Can you tell from this picture what the colour is? The cut? The size (carat weight)? Do you know from this picture if this is in fact a diamond? Or is it a moissanite? Or maybe a cubic zirconia? Or a zircon? Or a white sapphire?

Do you understand my concern now and why I insist that this is not a job that can be done accurately on-line? A major concern is how these appraisals leave the consumer unprotected if they use the appraisal for any reason. What do I mean by use? There are reasons to have appraisals carried out on your jewellery and at some point, somewhere, somehow a consumer is going to use the appraisal for perhaps one of the following reasons: insurance, probate, divorce settlement, selling, buying, to name just a few. They believe that they can use the appraisal for whatever they wish as the item is worth $$$. After all they have a jewellery appraisal document to prove it.

Scenario 1:

The gemstone was appraised as a diamond (from client's notes to the online appraiser) and sold on Kijjii or somewhere similar but when taken to a credited appraiser it is a Cubic Zirconia or maybe it's a moissanite.

Scenario 2:

It was appraised as a natural ruby but after sale discovered it was a glass filled composite ruby.

Insurance Claim rejected
Not all jewellery appraisals are created equal.

All of these can put the consumer at risk. All appraisals are done for different reasons and when a good appraiser discerns the appropriate reason for the appraisal then the valuation can be done correctly. This reason is then stated on the appraisal. Granted, most of these on-line appraisals are not done for insurance purpose, but do they specify that to the consumer. Does the consumer know this is not the value they are being given? Most Insurance companies will insist that the appraisal for your jewellery is done by someone who has proper credentials and has had the jewellery in their hands for examination.

The other concern and reason for bringing this before the consumer is the damage that these online appraisals due to the jewellery appraisal profession as a whole. They allow the confusion surrounding jewellery appraisals to continue. As a fellow appraiser in the UK Adrian Smith FGA notes, ‘There is a popular misconception that appraisals are carried out 'like on the Antiques Road Show'. The hours of examining the items, researching the facts and compiling the information for broadcasting are not shown, as it would make for poor entertainment. The viewer merely sees the result of the work, not the work itself’

The Association of Independent Jewellery Valuers was formed to establish a group of ethical independent Jewellery Appraisers/Valuers worldwide. Like me, my colleagues in the AIJV are very concerned about the damage these companies may do, not only to our consumers whom we strive to help, but also to the jewellery industry as a whole. Unfortunately, all of these online appraisals encourage the misconception that a jewellery appraisal is little more than a guess that requires virtually no time to complete. In fact the professional AIJV appraiser has invested in the education necessary to establish the qualifications and expertise needed to accurately prepare your appraisal, a document that we can be proud of and one that will serve our clients well. An accurate valuation is not something that can be accomplished from a digital image.

The most unfortunate part of this on-line valuation business model is that ultimately the consumer will lose and end up having to pay the price. Protect yourself from this type of appraising. Make sure you find an appraiser who has both credentials and ethics and truly cares about you and your jewellery.

AddendumJune 2020

I felt that I needed to add to this article as we are reopening businesses after Covid. The world as we knew it has changed and some ways of doing business will change also. Having said that, I still believe that the best jewellery appraisal is one done where items are seen by a qualified appraiser such as the AIJV member. However, I can see that people who may need to have appraisals done, that are in the higher risk group, do not want to venture into offices and are not comfortable with curbside drop-off. In this case, the use of Virtual appraising may be the answer to have a qualified appraiser do the appraisal.

Any qualified appraiser who agrees to do this, I believe will treat them similar to the hypothetical appraisal mentioned in article with some slight differences. The use of photos and receipts or documents would be used until such time as the appraiser and client can safely meet for the appraiser to do their job more accurately. In any documentation given to client it could be stated that the value is only valid until such time as the item is examined and both details and value are confirmed by the appraiser. Therefore, there may be a difference between virtual appraisal and appraisal after examination.

I reiterate that for me, the most accurate jewellery appraisal is done by a qualified appraiser after close examination of the jewellery and not from the photos.

Jewellery Appraiser and Educator

Author

  • Karen Howard, FCGMa, RMV, CAP-CJA
  • Educator, Appraiser
  • Guelph, Canada
  • KC Appraisals

Topics

  • Appraisal Theory (primary)
  • Jewellery

Intended Audience

  • Consumers (primary)
  • Appraisal Students
  • Appraisal Academics

Content

  • June 2020
  • 6 mins reading time
  • Dale-Chall readability level:
    Easily understood by an average College Student
  • 9 mins speaking time
  • 0 Comments

About the Author

Karen Howard - Jewellery and Gem Educator

Karen Howard, FCGMa, RMV, CAP-CJA

Karen M. Howard has over 30 years gemmological experience and has been a jewellery appraiser for nearly 20 years. Her principal role now is one of an Educator. Her company, The Language of Gems provides gemmological training ... and inspiration, to enthusiasts, retail store staff and gemmology students. Karen is a Past Director and Tutor of the Canadian Gemmological Association.

 
Karen Howard - Jewellery Appraiser

KC Appraisals

Guelph, Ontario

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Consumer advice can be found in the Consumer Resources section, this contains information to assist the jewellery-buying public, for example: Types of Jewelry Appraisals and Jewelry Trade Asociations etc.