Appraising a precious ring
People come to our jewelry store Orlando to shop for fine engagement rings and special-occasion jewelry like anniversaries, quinceñeras, graduations, career milestones, etc. Some clients come in with something to trade and ask us to perform an appraisal. Being a family store with a long history in the making of jewelry pieces, we are very comfortable offering our informed opinion on the value of the jewelry they bring in.
But how do we establish a fair and reliable value for what they want to trade? What criteria guide our judgment? Could an appraisal be disputed, or would another expert jeweler validate it? All these are good questions to ask. It is essential for the people who bring us an heirloom piece, to which they are often very emotionally attached, to be sure they have not received less money than what they could be offered in another jewelry store like ours.
To simplify, we will only address the appraisal of rings here, and we will not discuss the review of diamonds as this is an entirely different topic. A call is different from a brooch, a pendant, or a pair of earrings, and we will only discuss the criteria for appraisal of a call.
There are three criteria on which we base our appraisal.
1st criterion: Assessing the metal of the band
The type of metal used in the band (the circle you place on your finger) significantly affects the ring’s value. We will first determine whether it is made of gold (and its karat), platinum, or another metal.
If it’s gold, we must test it to ascertain its purity level: 24k, 18k, and 14k. If it is platinum, this is another scale.
Gold prices are tracked in terms of pure gold, which is 24K gold. The cost of 18K, 14K, or any other karat gold is calculated as a percentage of the current 24K gold price. For example, 18K gold is 75% pure gold (because 18/24 equals 0.75): its value would be approximately 75% of the current 24K gold price. Similarly, 14K gold is 58.3% pure gold, so its value would be about 58.3% of the current 24K gold price.
We use the market prices of gold and the weight of the band to determine the value of the gold contained in the ring band.
Platinum is another precious metal used to make rings. The platinum used in jewelry differs from that traded on the commodities market. The latter is pure and contains alloy metals to increase its hardness and durability.
Pure platinum is a relatively soft metal. It is durable and resistant to tarnish, but it can scratch easily. Jewelers add other metals to their creations to make them suitable for everyday wear.
The percentage of platinum in the alloy determines its quality and is usually indicated by a mark on the jewelry:
- 950 Platinum: Considered high-quality platinum, it contains 95% pure platinum and 5% other metals, usually ruthenium or cobalt. This alloy maintains the prestige and hypoallergenic properties of the base metal while improving its resistance to scratches.
- 900 Platinum: Also known as 900 Plat or Plat 900, it contains 90% platinum and 10% other metals. It’s slightly less pure but still of high quality.
- 850 Platinum: Contains 85% platinum and 15% other metals. It’s less common but still considered “jewelry platinum.”
Unlike gold, which can vary significantly in purity (from 10K to 24K), platinum jewelry is usually relatively high in purity. This is, partly, why platinum has hypoallergenic properties: the jewelry contains fewer non-precious metals that could trigger allergic reactions.
Again, we will use market prices and weight to determine the value of the band.
2nd criterion: Examining the details of the ring
Beyond the band and the gemstones mounted on the ring, we look at the style and period of the ring and the quality of craftsmanship.
If the ring features are diamonds or gems, these are graded separately using the scales of the GIA.
We will not elaborate on the value of gemstones in this article but continue to focus on the band itself and how beautifully executed it is. Style is everything in jewelry, so the style of the ring will play a big part in determining its value.
What are the period and styles that traditionally fetch high dollars?
- Georgian (1714-1837): Jewelry from this period is rare and highly sought after. Handcrafted with intricate detail, Georgian jewelry often features precious gemstones, pearls, and gold. However, gems and stones weren’t cut in the same way back then, so their value will also depend on what the market bears.
- Victorian (1837-1901): Victorian jewelry is known for its sentimental and romantic motifs, including hearts, bows, and flowers. Early Victorian pieces can be pretty valuable due to their age and craftsmanship.
- Art Nouveau (1890-1910): Known for its intricate designs inspired by natural forms, Art Nouveau jewelry is often valued for its creativity and craftsmanship. This style often incorporated semi-precious stones, enamel work, and glass. In the last few years, Art Nouveau has seen a rise in popularity which may be reflected in the level of the appraisal.
- Edwardian (1901-1915): Characterized by light, delicate designs and extensive use of platinum and diamonds, Edwardian jewelry is often sought for its elegance and refinement. The Edwardian style has a stable “following.”
- Art Deco (1920-1935): Famous for its geometric designs, bold colors, and lavish ornamentation, Art Deco jewelry is often highly prized.
- Retro (1935-1950): Characterized by bold, chunky designs and a preference for rose gold, Retro jewelry is often seen as a bridge between the elegant Art Deco period and the more straightforward methods of the mid-20th century. This is a type of style that we often see in the heirloom pieces that are brought to us for appraisal.
Are there periods in jewelry-making history that would not fetch a high value?
Yes. Generally speaking, mass-produced jewelry from the late 20th century is not valuable due to its abundance and lack of craftsmanship.
Minimalist designs and heavy use of gold plating often characterize jewelry from the 1980s and 1990s. Gold plating has very little value.
However, some jewelry pieces can command a higher price on the market when they are made and signed by renowned jewelers or feature high-quality gemstones.
3rd criterion: Provenance
The origin and history of your ring will impact its value. For instance, the name will bump up the appraisal if you bought your ring from Cartier or Tiffany (and you have the proper documentation).
Similarly, some jewelry pieces may be appraised much higher when they have celebrity or historical connections. Imagine if you could document that a famous gangster or a rockstar wore your ring!
There are famous examples in the recent history of jewels that were auctioned at high prices because they had a unique provenance, and for some, also high-value craftsmanship and precious stones.
Here are a few fun examples:
- Elizabeth Taylor’s diamond ring: This ring was given to the famous actress by her husband, Richard Burton, in 1968. It features an Asscher cut diamond that weighs 33.19 carats and is a D color, a potentially flawless piece. The ring sold for $8.8 million at a Christie’s auction in 2011.
- Wallis Simpson’s panther bracelet: Not a ring, but a noteworthy piece of jewelry. Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor and wife of Prince Edward, who, before he abdicated the throne in 1936, was King Edward VIII. Wallis Simpson owned a diamond, onyx, and platinum panther bracelet sold at a Sotheby’s auction in 2010 for $12.4 million.
- Bonnie Parker’s engagement ring: A ring that belonged to Bonnie Parker (of Bonnie and Clyde) was sold at auction in 2015. The ring is designed with three diamonds in a 14K gold band. It is believed to have been given to Parker by Clyde Barrow. The auction fetched $21,875.
- Marilyn Monroe’s eternity band: A diamond eternity band that once belonged to Marilyn Monroe was auctioned off for $772,500 in 2016. The platinum band, set with 35 baguette-cut diamonds, was a gift from husband Joe DiMaggio.
- Princess Diana’s engagement ring now belongs to Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge. It features a 12-carat oval blue Ceylon sapphire surrounded by a halo of 14 solitaire diamonds. It is estimated to be worth $500,000. A lovely wedding gift!
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