The Importance of Legitimate Gemological Appraisals
By Antoinette Matlins, PG
I got off the phone recently with a respected gemologist-appraiser in Phoenix, Ariz., whose very disappointed client was in his office when he called. The client had come to get an appraisal on four pieces of “ruby” jewelry she had purchased a few days earlier for approximately $10,000 (with sales tax included). She purchased them at an auction from a company called “Viceroy” that holds auctions around the country, usually at a hotel (this one was held at a Hilton hotel). The amount she bid was based on a “laboratory report and valuation” from a gem-testing laboratory in Los Angeles. She had gone online to research the laboratory and the auction firm, which showed an Atlanta, Ga., address—both appeared to be legitimate.
She was initially very excited, thinking she had purchased some lovely ruby jewelry for a fraction of the actual cost. Fortunately, she found a reliable appraiser who was able to verify what she had really bought; she learned she not only did not get a bargain, but that the “rubies” were not fine, genuine rubies at all, but rather, a manufactured product composed of large amounts of glass mixed with low-quality corundum (the mineral known as “ruby” when it occurs in a red color and has some degree of transparency). The Gemological Institute of America’s (GIA) Gem Testing Laboratory now identifies the material she purchased as a “manufactured product.” Other labs such as American Gemological Laboratories (New York) identify them as “composites” since they are composed of more than one material; in either case, they equate to imitations.
The client was further shocked to learn she had paid several times the actual retail value of the pieces. She could have gone to any jewelry store and purchased something comparable for much less. Apparently similar reports were provided with many other pieces being sold that day. Many mistakenly view these reports as evidence that the auction company is “going the extra mile” to document pieces so buyers can buy with confidence—certainly they gave her confidence about her purchase and its value!
In short, this woman was a victim of misrepresentation because she relied on an appraisal and laboratory report from a company that appeared legitimate. Initially, she couldn’t believe that the “gemologist” in Los Angeles made such a mistake in identification and had over-valued the pieces by so much. But then it became clear: not all appraisers or gem-testing labs are reliable. Anyone can obtain a business license as an “appraiser” and anyone can set up a business claiming to offer “gemological laboratory” services. This does not mean they are legitimate or a professional in the field.
An important lesson here: The term con man comes from the ability of such people to gain your CON-fidence!
In the end, the woman found out there may still be a chance to get her money back because she consulted an independent appraisal firm, and an independent appraiser who holds several highly respected appraisal and gemological credentials. This is the key to keeping the sparkle in gem and jewelry purchases, no matter where they have been purchased. It occurred to me that there are many people who don’t understand the reasons for an appraisal, and why checking out the credentials of the appraiser/laboratory is important. This is what has been on my mind since I got the call about this recent incident.
Seeking someone who is simply a “gemologist” is not enough! Without a better understanding of appraisals, gem-testing labs, and how to ensure they are reliable, the public is vulnerable to ploys such as this auction scam.
Whether you are buying a gem or piece of jewelry containing a lovely gem, getting a professional appraisal and keeping it updated is critical. An appraisal is necessary for four reasons: 1.) To verify the facts about the jewelry you have purchased (especially important with the abundance of new synthetic materials and treatments). 2.) To obtain adequate insurance to protect against theft, loss, or damage. 3.) To provide adequate information in order to legally claim jewelry recovered by the police. 4.) If items are lost or stolen, to provide sufficient information to make sure they are replaced with jewelry that actually is of comparable quality, if that is what your insurance policy provides.
Just having a gemological credential, however, does not qualify anyone to be a competent and reliable gemologist, nor does it indicate whether or not the holder of the credential is honest and trustworthy. I devote an entire chapter in my books explaining why it’s important to get an appraisal as well as the proper credentials to look for. I also provide a list of respected gem-testing laboratories. Had this woman known what appraisal credentials to look for on the report, and noticed their absence, she might have been much more cautious about making such costly purchases.
It takes years of experience to accurately identify some materials, which is why respected appraisal organizations require at least several years of experience. Knowing what your piece is and valuing it are not the same thing. The valuation of any gem or jewel is much more complicated than simply providing an insurance replacement value based on what you’ve paid for; it requires extensive additional training in order to comprehend the type of appraisal that is needed such as valuing something to be donated to a museum, valuing an estate that heirs wish to sell or estate planning factors, insurance company policies and requirements, as well as knowing the very specific details related to the gems and/or jewelry that must be on any professional appraisal. These details often seem like “Greek” to whomever is getting the appraisal, but they make all the difference should you ever need to make any type of claim.
There is also the ugly reality that there are more than a handful of gemologists, with GGs or other respected gemological titles, who are dishonest, and very often in collusion with disreputable people in the trade. Simply having a gemological title doesn’t ensure honesty or authenticity—there are many unreliable reports, signed by people with “legitimate” gemological diplomas, as the woman who purchased the “ruby” at auction found out. I’ve seen far too many “appraisals” and “lab reports” signed by gemologists, that are little more than fiction, and are simply marketing tools provided to enable the dishonest to sell gems and jewelry at inflated prices.
I recommend to all my readers, as well as my own clients, that they get independent verification of all the facts from someone who belongs to a respected appraisal organization—all of which require periodic retesting to ensure members are up-to-date on all gemological matters and that members adhere to strict standards of professional practice. Appraisal organizations also have review boards to deal with complaints against members thought to be violating ethical practices.
Here are a few reliable appraisal organizations that list appraisers with respected gemological credentials:
American Society of Appraisers
11107 Sunset Hills Rd, Suite 310
Reston, VA 20190
Tel.: 800-ASA-VALU or 800-272-8258 (US and Canada)
Accredited Gemologists Association
96 G-Force Services
3315 Juanita Street
San Diego, CA 92105
American Gem Society Laboratory
Hopefully you now better understand why it’s important to find someone with reliable gemological credentials, and how to proceed in finding someone to help you with any gem or jewelry need in order to prevent making costly mistakes! My advice is to avoid buying gems or jewelry from any traveling auction unless you have the assistance of a reliable gemologist!