Over the summer, I took my own advice and divested a non-heat-treated sapphire and diamond cocktail ring, ca. '40s. A gift about twenty years ago, it did enjoy some giddy nights on the town. But now, it was no longer me and no one in my family was interested, so it languished in a vault.
Below, I was thinking about what to do; notice the ring does not really work with a marinière, let alone a FitBit bracelet!
|Fab but formal|
I decided to test the market.
Equipped with current appraisal from a highly-respected firm, I met with a prestigious jewelry auction house's appraiser, Mr. P. He admired the ring, then proposed a starting bid at one-sixth the appraised value. My heart sank; there was no way I was letting that ring go for so little.
An auction house is essentially interested in a sure sale. A low starting price attracts interest, and though the piece may sell for more, my check of the house's recent sales of large blue sapphires reported hammer prices near starting bids.
When I suggested his estimate was low, he questioned the accuracy of the appraisal, until I showed the signature: he had been the original appraiser, in a past job. He wanted me to have the sapphire unmounted and shipped to the GIA for a report (cost, at least $600). I did not find this request unreasonable, since the house has a worldwide clientele, but the very low estimate did not garner my cooperation.
Next stop: a carriage-trade antique jeweler who advertises his interest in buying estate fine jewelry. The owner made a wildly lowball offer.
Depressed by those meetings, I reconsidered a reno and built a file of ideas, collecting austere examples like the Helène de Taillac design at left.
I visited my longtime jeweler, Pam, to discuss the project, but breaking down the ring felt like cutting a silk charmeuse gown into gym shorts.
She too thought the auction house's estimate was low, and suggested I show the ring to Ms. M., a gemmologist whom she trusts, for her opinion.
That meeting was infused by a palpable frisson: Ms. M. adored the sapphire's velvety, cornflower depths and retro glamour. She asked my permission to take it to a New York gem lab for analysis (at her expense); after confirmation that it was indeed unheated, we negotiated a fair price, significantly more than the auction house's estimate, but a good deal for both parties.
Here are my tips about selling fine jewelry:
1. Before talking to potential buyers, get an appraisal from a credentialed appraiser who is well-regarded in the industry; if she suggests an accompanying gem lab report (e.g., GIA), have her arrange that. The appraisal value is replacement value, nearly always higher than the target selling price.
2. Research current prices for similar pieces sold by specialist jewelry auction houses (Sotheby's, Doyle, Christie's) and sites like First Dibs, not eBay. If you are selling at an auction outside a major city, and held by a lesser-known house, the price is usually lower.
For an important piece, think beyond your local market. The leading auction houses regularly hold client consultations in major cities; contact them to inquire.
Before booking an appointment, read the contract to learn exactly how they work and to calculate the net profit you could receive after costs such as commission, handling fees and taxes upon sale. This is not always on their web sites, so call ahead to request those details. You do not want their terms to be news after it's too late.
3. Value is determined by the material, but also by style, workmanship and maker (if signed). My ring's Hollywood Regency swank is hot now; a less-desirable piece that would be broken down for the materials will bring a lower price.
4. Toughen your skin, because you'll encounter buyers who think you are desperate or may denigrate the piece (or your intelligence), as a tactic. On the other hand, realize that sentimental value is relevant to you alone.
As in any negotiation, figure out your walk-away price and stick with it. I wasn't facing what auctioneers call "The 3 D's"—death, divorce or debt—so did not feel pressured to sell.
5. If you consign, factor in the consignor's share (which may run as high as 40 or 50 percent) and applicable taxes, and realize that the sale may take time or never happen. Check the consignee's insurance coverage.
6. Remember there are always more options, if you are not in a hurry. I might, for example, have donated the ring to a registered charity's auction and received a receipt to use as a tax credit.
7. Just like selling a house, luck plays its part. Ms. M. happened to love the ring, but what if she had not? Give luck time to show up. If you can, initiate the process before you feel any sense of urgency. Take your time, do your research, and realize what one person says, even if an expert, is only an opinion.
I felt a pang letting that opulent jewel go, because that combination of quality and size isn't coming into my life again! But it also felt right; there's a time to find another home for possessions not enjoyed day to day.
|Photo: Dorothée Rosen|
|I will wear it!|