Old or antique jewelry is fascinating to own and wear. Whether part of a costume ensemble or an elegant toilette for a special occasion, a pearl necklace or a diamond bracelet can make you feel like a million dollars. But how can you tell the actual worth of a piece?

The first thing to do is collect known information about the item’s history. Record the facts that you can obtain from family members. For example, did Grandma buy her beautiful ring or receive it as a wedding gift? What is the estimated date of its creation or purchase? Who made the piece? Where was it made? Of which substances is it composed?

What is the anecdotal value? In other words, what do family members believe it to be worth, or what was told of it from one generation to another? Make note of any stories about the piece that might indicate processes that could have affected it, like a house fire or basement flood where it was stored.

This information can help a professional appraiser make an accurate assessment of the piece. A visit to such a person may be your next step. Check the yellow pages to find a trustworthy jeweler who serves as an appraiser in your area, and telephone first to find out if your piece can be evaluated, and at what cost. Many jewelers provide this service, but avoid those that charge fees based on the item’s value, or they could inflate the value to get a higher fee.

Many jewelers receive no formal training in conducting professional appraisals, but there are credentials that can be obtained, so you may want to ask for these in your quest for an appraiser for your jewelry. The Gemological Institute of America provides training and certification in gemology, or the study of jewelry value. Many organizations offer appraisal science training, the next step beyond a gemologist certification. There are no uniform standards for jewelry appraisal in the United States, so find out which training your appraiser has received.

Typically, an appraiser looks at the traditional four c’s: cut, color, clarity, and carat weight. A photograph of your jewelry may be taken for the record, especially if you want the appraisal for insurance or divorce reasons. Ask to watch while the appraisal is conducted so the piece never leaves your sight. A written evaluation may be presented with the photograph upon completion of the examination.

The piece may be measured, weighed, and described in detail. Gemstones, if any, will be identified, weighed, graded, and measured. The metal portion, if any, will be assessed on quality and condition. Ask the appraiser to explain the grading system that will be used.

Keep your written evaluation in a bank vault, a safety deposit box, or a home safe. If anything happens to the jewelry, your appraisal record will determine its value and insurance reimbursement or replacement. Appraisals can be made for vintage or modern jewelry of value, so review your possessions to see if appraisals may be needed. Knowing what your jewelry is worth can help you take good care of it and receive adequate compensation if the piece is lost or stolen.

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