May 232015
The blind leading the blind?

The blind leading the blind?

There are more and more adverts for on-line jewellery appraising popping up in most countries and an every increasing amount of businesses offering this service. These websites are being found  by consumers who surf the web searching for a Jewellery Appraiser.  Are these places a good option for the consumer? I do not believe that they are.  Whilst I can appreciate that the perceived convenience and low cost can be attractive, it is important that the public understand the risks that they are running in using an appraisal service that has not actually examined the item being appraised.

The online jewellery appraisals are performed by having the jewellery owner upload photographs of their items and then complete a form outlining the details of the item they are wanting appraised. You are not required to have your jewellery leave your possession. In other words, these websites rely on the consumer to provide all the details of the item that are then plugged into a computer program which then calculates a value to put into a document for the consumer.  The consumer signs a disclaimer taking the responsibility for accuracy off the company and putting it back on the consumer. Is this appraising? The Merriam-Webster definition of appraisal is: “the act of judging the value, condition, or importance of something.” That can be done from an image if nothing else is left. Appraisers and adjusters do it from time to time in appraisals based on hypothetical facts. An accepted example of this would be after loss or theft where no appraisal or documents were available before the loss.  There are no laws in most countries, concerning jewellery appraising, but there are generally accepted standards and procedures that qualified professional appraisers adhere to worldwide and the procedures used by the on-line services are not consistent with these practices.

Are these so-called jewellery appraisals giving consumers the protection they deserve? Do they also protect insurance companies from possible fraud? No, is the answer to both these questions. Let us look at the creditable approach to having jewellery appraised. It has been discussed before but these are the factors that need to be considered before engaging a Jewellery Appraiser:

  • Are the people doing my jewellery appraisal qualified gemmologists, trained in identifying gemstones (natural or synthetic, treated or not treated, composites)?
  • Are they trained in identifying metals used in jewellery?
  • Are they trained in grading the stones for size, clarity, colour and cut?
  • Have they been educated in valuation science?
  • Are they creditable and ethical?
  • Are they transparent in telling you about their background and experience?

Can a photograph provide the detailed information necessary to accurately perform an appraisal? Virtually never! This practice is only recommended when an item can no longer be made available for a physical inspection such as after a theft. Being able to identify and grade stones and metals and correctly identify the method of construction is an essential aspect of the appraisal process and can only be done if the person is looking at the item and has the knowledge to know what they are seeing. A photograph cannot do this.  You may say  ”but I know I have a ½ carat diamond in white gold engagement ring”. Do you know positively that it is white gold and of what grade? or could it be platinum? There may be a stamped mark inside the ring which tells you what the item is claimed to be,  but these are not always accurate.  A qualified appraiser will test the metal in their hands,  but an online appraiser  relies on what they are told and this could be far from the truth.

A typical photograph that a consumer might take of their ring.

A typical photograph that a consumer might take of their jewellery before sending to an online appraisal service.

What is the quality of the diamond? A ½ carat round brilliant cut of E colour, Ideal cut and VVS1 clarity is going to be valued quite different from a ½ carat round brilliant cut diamond of G colour, very good cut and VS2 clarity. You also could not tell if the stone fluoresces or where the inclusions might be located from looking at a photo. Can you tell from this picture what the colour is? The cut? The size (carat weight)? Do you know from this picture if this is in fact a diamond? Or is it a moissanite? Or maybe a cubic zirconia? Or a zircon? Or a white sapphire?

Do you understand my concern now and why I insist that this is not a job that can be done accurately on-line? A major concern is how these appraisals leave the consumer unprotected if they use the appraisal for any reason. What do I mean by use? There are reasons to have appraisals carried out on your jewellery and at some point, somewhere, somehow a consumer is going to use the appraisal for perhaps one of the following reasons: insurance, probate, divorce settlement, selling, buying, to name just a few. They believe that they can use the appraisal for whatever they wish as the item is worth $$$. After all they have a jewellery appraisal document to prove it.

Scenario 1: The gemstone was appraised as a diamond (from client’s notes to the online appraiser) and sold on Kijjii or somewhere similar but when taken to a credited appraiser it is a CZ or maybe it’s a moissanite.

Scenario 2: It was appraised as a natural ruby but after sale discovered it was a glass filled composite ruby.

Not all jewellery appraisals are created equal.

Not all jewellery appraisals are created equal.

All of these can put the consumer at risk.   All appraisals are done for different reasons and when a good appraiser discerns the appropriate reason for the appraisal then the valuation can be done correctly. This reason is then stated on the appraisal. Granted, most of these on-line appraisals are not done for insurance purpose, but do they specify that to the consumer. Does the consumer know this is not the value they are being given? Most Insurance companies will insist that the appraisal for your jewellery is done by someone who has proper credentials and has had the jewellery in their hands for examination.

The other concern and reason for bringing this before the consumer is the damage that these online appraisals due to the jewellery appraisal profession as a whole. They allow the confusion surrounding jewellery appraisals to continue. As a fellow appraiser in the UK Adrian Smith FGA notes, “There is a popular misconception that appraisals are carried out ‘like on the Antiques Road Show’. The hours of examining the items, researching the facts and compiling the information for broadcasting are not shown, as it would make for poor entertainment. The viewer merely sees the result of the work, not the work itself”

The Association of Independent Jewellery Valuers was formed to establish a group of ethical independent Jewellery Appraisers/Valuers worldwide. Like me, my colleagues in the AIJV are very concerned about the damage these companies may do, not only to our consumers whom we strive to help, but also to the jewellery industry as a whole. Unfortunately, all of these online appraisals encourage the misconception that a jewellery appraisal is little more than a guess that requires virtually no time to complete. In fact the professional AIJV appraiser has invested in the education necessary to establish the qualifications and expertise needed to accurately prepare your appraisal, a document that we can be proud of and one that will serve our clients well. An accurate valuation is not something that can be accomplished from a digital image.

The most unfortunate part of this on-line valuation business model is that ultimately the consumer will lose and end up having to pay the price. Protect yourself from this type of appraising. Make sure you find an appraiser who has both credentials and ethics and truly cares about you and your jewellery.

The opinions of professionals and the experiences of consumers are invited in the comments below.

Karen Howard, FCGmA, RMV, CAP(CJA)
KC Appraisals, Canada
Member of the Association of Independent Jewellery Valuers

Acknowledgements – Thanks to Adrian Smith FIRV, FGA and Stuart M. Robertson GG for their help and input into this article.  Thanks also to my fellow AIJV  appraisers/valuers who care about their clients and this industry enough to want to continue to try to improve it.

Disclaimer – The AIJV blog is authored by a selection of AIJV members and guests specifically to be able present many different viewpoints on a large variety of subjects. The opinions expressed by the authors are not necessarily those of the AIJV.


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Karen Howard

Karen Howard is the principal of KC Appraisals, an AIJV member in Guelph, Canada. Karen has been a tutor for the Canadian Gemmological Association since 1990 and a past member of their Board of Directors. Karen's own Blog can be found here: Karen Howard est le manager de KC évaluations et membre de l'AIJV à Guelph au Canada. Elle enseigne pour l'Association canadienne de gemmologie depuis 1990 et est ancien membre de leur conseil d'administration. Son Blog se trouve ici:

  11 Responses to “Online Jewellery Appraising – For better or worse?”

  1. Hear hear Karen.
    This Online Jewellery Valuation concept undermines the very foundations of appraisal science, and in so doing exposes consumers to risks and also brings our profession into disrepute.
    In my opinion, sooner or later, the owner of the valued item(s) will take an action of one form or another based on the valuation supplied. It is the outcomes of these actions that are the real concern.

  2. An excellent article which points out that sight-unseen valuations are not worth the considerable risk. The purpose of jewellery insurance is to protect precious property. These “valuations” could contribute to a substantial financial loss.

  3. Well written Karen, these companies that offer online valuations such as you mentioned are only cheapening our profession. It makes a mockery of the time, care and dedication we put into valuing each piece, not to mention research and the personal service that we offer. This is a shameful practice. Thank you for highlighting the details to the public.

  4. Finally, the danger is that this can result in the customer believing that anybody can improvise the work of a certified appraiser. Making an appraisal with only the aforementioned criteria is an aberration, disrespectful to the consumer who in the end loses money.

  5. Well done Karen. You have said it so well don’t think I can really add anything.

  6. Well done Karen a really good blog and well written. Highlighting the potential pitfalls to prospective valuation clients by not having appraisal work carried out by a fully qualified independent jewellery valuer.

  7. Karen, well written and thanks for raising this issue, more & more we expect to find solutions and answers online. However, an online valuation is, if tested by a skeptical insurance assessor or worse still in court, going to turn out to be a very porous document, with very little likelihood of supporting and validating an otherwise genuine insurance claim.

  8. Good work Karen. Some of these sites are nothing more than online diamond or jewellery calculators with no human input at all and should never be allowed to be marketed as “appraisals” or “valuations” or “valuer reports”.

  9. Well said Karen, I remember almost choking at Dragons Den when they agreed to invest in a similar idea, finding emails in my inbox advertising such things was horrifying. I’m glad you have pointed out the perils & pitfalls of “by the numbers” so called appraisers.

  10. Karen very well written, hopefully the word gets around that you need to contact a professional valuer to have your jewellery appraised in a correct and professional manner and obviously expect to pay a fair price for this service.

  11. Thanks Karan, Your this blog is very informative and useful….

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