10 Tips For Working With An Independent Appraiser

[Ellie Thompson is president of Chicago Gem Lab Inc., an independent appraisal company serving trade professionals and consumers. The company specializes in identification, quality analysis and valuation of gemstones and jewelry.]

Jewelers and appraisers often maintain an interdependent — and sometimes contentious — relationship. Some may feel an appraiser is a jeweler’s worst enemy. Actually, an appraiser can be a jeweler’s most precious resource. Here are 10 tips that show why you’ll want to work with an independent appraiser and how to do it. Once you discover the ease and benefits, you’ll wonder why you didn’t take part in this valuable relationship sooner.

1. Information: Many independent appraisers are involved in local and national trade organizations and have contacts throughout the gemological industry. This gives them a broad network of information and resources. Getting to know an independent appraiser can provide you with new sources of untapped information.

2. Second opinion: An independent appraiser can offer a second opinion on your grading. If you previously sent your work to a national laboratory and waited three to six weeks for results, you’ll appreciate the time and money saved by using an appraiser’s services. Your customers will appreciate it too.

3. Identify unknown gems: Whether checking new or estate jewelry, an independent appraiser can be an excellent resource to identify unknown gemstones for jewelers without gemological know-how. An appraiser’s contacts at auction houses and other resale markets can provide additional alternatives when the time is right to sell.

4. Fair assessment: By recommending several independent appraisers, you can keep customers from taking your merchandise to a competitor who might undervalue it.

5. Build your business: Jewelers often must turn down appraisal work because of lack of time or appropriate expertise. Working with a skilled appraiser can build your reputation with your customers which, in turn, can lead to more customer referrals.

6. Expertise: When investigating appraisal services, deal with a professional who has been trained properly and who maintains industry standards. A properly qualified appraiser is a graduate gemologist from the Gemological Institute of America or an equivalent. The appraiser should have completed valuation science courses that include appraisal ethics, practice and methodology from the International Society of Appraisers or the American Society of Appraisers.

7. Equipment: A good appraiser has the proper tools. Visit the lab and make sure he or she uses state-of-the-art equipment, including microscopes, refractometers, scales and other appropriate gemological equipment, as well as a set of GIAmaster stones for use in grading diamonds. Ask the appraiser to explain the equipment and its uses and methodology.

8. Samples: Ask to see a sample appraisal, which should include:

  • A well-written and detailed description of the metal and gems, manufacturing techniques, condition and vintage. Diamonds should be graded in accordance with GIA standards.

  • A plot-diagram for any diamond above 0.5 carat to document identifying characteristics and condition.

  • Colored gemstone descriptions using a colored-stone grading system such GemDialogue or GIA’s Gem Set.

9. Pricing: To ensure that an appraiser is truly independent, prices should be based on a flat rate, sliding scale or hourly basis. To avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest, a fee should never be determined as a percentage of the value of the jewelry being appraised.

10. Be prepared: After choosing an appraiser, prepare the jewelry appropriately. Clean it, and be sure to give your client’s name and address to the appraiser so the information can be included in the appraisal. It’s always a good idea to set up an appointment with a busy appraiser to ensure you get the proper attention.