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The neutral zone: What makes an independent appraiser independent?

By Carole C. Richbourg

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What exactly does it mean to be an independent appraiser? Does independent mean better? Does it mean neutral? If you own a jewellery store that offers appraisal services, can you be truly independent when it involves a purchase made at your store? Likewise, can an independent appraiser (as in unaffiliated with a jewellery store) broker a client’s jewellery and remain impartial? 

This is a hotly debated topic in the jewellery appraisal industry. Some say no—to be truly independent, an appraiser cannot be in the business of brokering their own client’s jewellery. Others, particularly jewellery stores offering appraisal services, say yes. Buying and selling jewellery shouldn’t preclude them from being objective when acting as an appraiser. Which side has the stronger argument? 

What’s the purpose of your visit?

Well-made and with a fine centre sapphire, this ring is a good example of a piece that will do much better in the estate department of a fine jewellery store.
Well-made and with a fine centre sapphire, this ring is a good example of a piece that will do much better in the estate department of a fine jewellery store.

As an independent appraiser who also helps clients sell their unwanted jewellery, I am on the ‘yes’ side of the question. More often than not, I find there is no conflict. When clients inquire about an appraisal, the first question I ask is why they need one. Most of the time, it is to obtain insurance coverage, but occasionally it is because the client has purchased jewellery or a watch from a non-traditional source (i.e. Internet auction or private party) and they want to know whether they’ve paid a fair price. Other times it is because they have inherited jewellery and they don’t know whether it is ‘real’ or not. To put it in the words of one of my clients, “My brothers and I just need to separate the junk from the ‘good stuff,’ and we don’t know the first thing about jewellery.”

The market turmoil of 2008 and the rapidly rising gold prices that followed changed the jewellery landscape. People started going to their jewellers with Ziploc bags filled with broken jewellery to cash in on the gold rush. Slick commercials blaring on late-night TV urged folks to pack their unwanted gold into an envelope and ship it off to be turned into “cold hard cash.” I found more and more people asking for appraisals to see what their old jewellery was worth just so they could sell it. 

For these kinds of requests, I learned to suggest to the client that maybe they didn’t need an appraisal at all, but rather a consultation with an unbiased jewellery professional who could advise them on exactly what they had and the best way to sell it. 

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