Clear As Mud

Recently, I had to get my jewelry reappraised for a new insurance carrier. My most recent appraisals were two years old, so I couldn’t add a rider on the spot. The agent told me to “just run over to the mall at lunch and pop into any jewelry store and get them to do an appraisal while you wait.”

My diamond ring—the piece I was most concerned about losing—has a pear-shape center stone that is partially, but not entirely, tension-set sideways in platinum. It’s not a one-of-a-kind design, but because my stone is larger and longer than the ones the designer typically uses, he had to build a special setting. The fact that he is an international award-winning designer adds additional cachet and value to the ring.

I explained to her that a proper appraisal of any ring, and particularly a custom-made ring, could not possibly be obtained in a matter of minutes. She replied, “Yes, it can. Everyone does it.”

I was horrified. I said, “Then ‘everyone’ must be giving you bogus appraisals.”

She said, “Well, I can only go by what I’m given.”

When I repeated the exchange to senior editor Gary Roskin, he replied, “Yep. That’s what usually happens.”

Gary, a G.G., FGA, and the author of this month’s cover story about the criticisms of the J-BAR appraisal course, explained that the less specific an appraisal is, the easier it is for the insurer to replace it economically. That’s because if the stones are similar in size, shape, and color, and the setting is similar in weight and fundamental design, it can be presented as a fair replacement—even if it doesn’t look like the original. The more detailed the appraisal, the more work the insurer has to do to replace the item.

Clearly there is a need for a set of minimum—and uniform—rules for performing jewelry appraisals. The Jewelers Vigilance Committee deserves praise for its efforts to establish a baseline. While some of the criticisms lobbed at it are valid and should be addressed, political muck makes it hard to identify which are about protecting the consumer’s interest vs. protecting the complainer’s interests.

If Cecilia Gardner had assembled a committee composed of one delegate from each of the appraisal organizations and associations who have a vested interest in ethical behavior, do you think the J-BAR course would exist? My guess is no.

I think this would be a good approach since all points could be heard, debated, and resolved, with the resulting document being, if not ideal, at least acceptable to all. But after years of observing appraisal politics, I doubt such a committee could even agree on the objective of the course, let alone its contents.

I can’t blame Cecilia for creating J-BAR without negotiating a political minefield. And it’s understandable that some appraisal experts felt snubbed. But until members of the appraisal community who currently won’t work together are willing to put aside egos and semantics and cooperate to achieve the ultimate goal of building consumer trust, J-BAR will be just another document that only its authors support.

I’m lucky. I know better than to trust a quick lunchtime appraisal. Unfortunately, most consumers don’t. And when an incomplete appraisal backfires, public trust of jewelers falls another notch, creating more grist for the appraisal mill. But the one who suffers most is you.

hschupak@reedbusiness.com