Auction and Jewelry 101: In the Loupe

Auction professionals need the right tools if they want to identify jewelry correctly.

By Nancy Rigdon, contributor

Auctioneers specializing in areas outside jewelry can run into challenges when jewelry enters an auction.

Fortunately, Kimberly Douglass, GPPA, has poured her 20-plus years of experience in jewelry appraisals, cataloging and consultations into breaking down the ins-and-outs of jewelry identification for all Auctioneers.

Douglass pointed to sorting as a critical task in determining whether you have valuable jewelry on your hands.

“Sorting is the big confusion with a lot of Auctioneers. They get a massive pile of all this tangled jewelry, [and] don’t want to spend two hours untangling it if it’s worth just $5.
"But, [they] don’t know where to start,” said Douglass, who holds a Graduate Gemologist degree from the Gemological Institute of America. “To start, if you see beaded, string necklaces, keep them tangled, throw them in a box. But, if you see a broach, you’ll want to do your homework.”

Additionally, Douglass recommended examining the following aspects:

- Quality of make/workmanship – “Look at the finish, not only the frontside but the backside too,” Douglass stressed. If you flip it over and see a lot of ornate detail, you may have a piece of fine jewelry.”

- Stone settings – If it just looks like a piece of flat metal that’s been bent over, then most likely it’s costume jewelry. If you see the stones glued in, that’s a big clue that, again, it’s costume jewelry.

- Metal/materials used – Pay attention to if it’s made out of gold, platinum, metal or something else.

- Condition of metal – The condition of a piece is important for value.

- Maker’s name – Don’t overlook this key detail that can significantly affect value.

Before diving into jewelry identification, Douglass advised Auctioneers to equip themselves with the essential tools.

“If you don’t get anything else, get yourself a loupe,” she said. This magnifying glass is made for examining jewelry. Other tools she recommends include a diamond tester, watch knife, diamond gauge and gold testing kit.

The following categories also serve as essential information for jewelry identification.

Jewelry 101: Cataloging

- Douglass offered several cataloging tips:

- Use “accent diamond” or “melee” vs “diamond chip”

- Use the word “approximate” when using calculated weights

- Gold should be expressed in penny weight

- Silver should be expressed in ounces

- Platinum should be expressed in grams or penny weight

- Use the information on reputable certificates

- Get accurate descriptions of stones – it is impossible to sight ID all gemstones

Jewelry 101: Time Periods

With the time period of an item playing into identification, Douglass offered this guide:

- Georgian, 1698-1837

- Victorian, 1837-1901

- Early Victorian, 1837-1860

- Mid Victorian, 1860-1885

- Late Victorian, 1885-1901

- Arts & Crafts, 1890

- Art Nouveau, 1895-1915

- Edwardian, 1901-1914

- Art deco, 1920-1930

- Retro, 1940-1950

- Modern, 1950-1960

Jewelry 101: Diamonds

If a diamond is over four carats or is smaller yet high-quality, Douglass recommended ordering a diamond grading report from GIA (Gemology Institute of America) so you know exactly what you have. The report differs from an appraisal in that it won’t determine value. Rather, it’s an evaluation of the physical attributes of the stone itself. You can expect the report to focus on “the four C’s” of diamonds: cut, clarity, color, carat.

Jewelry 101: Gemstones

“Don’t assume the identify of a gemstone,” Douglass cautions. To assist in finding the identify, she offers the following rules of thumb:

- Green stones – could be an emerald, tourmaline, demantoid garnet, green zircon, green spinel, or glass

- Blue stones – could be spinel, zircon, glass, blue sapphire, diamond, topaz, or aquamarine

- Remember: carat refers to weight, not size.

Jewelry 101: Cleaning

When considering whether to clean the jewelry, Douglass says to ask the following three questions:

1. Do you know what it is? Higher end jewelry should be cleaned.
2. What is its condition? Be careful cleaning delicate jewelry.
3. Is it worth your time to clean? Weigh value against cleaning time and cost.

Jewelry 101: Advertising

Once you’ve determined what you have and the value, effective promotion of your items is key.

“A pet peeve of mine is when the ad says the auction has jewelry – and that’s it. It’s like saying, ‘I have china, glass and furniture, period,’” Douglass said. “You really need to give more information. Use details and photos.”

Ensure your items look their best with quality photography. While there are many variables involved in the result, Douglass says it’s important not to overlook one key aspect – the background of your item. Go light with the background, she says. For instance, she uses a tan background.

“If the background is dark, it tends to give too much of a shine or reflection,” she said.

This article was an excerpt from a presentation given at the 2016 NAA International Auctioneers Conference and Show. Want even more tips regarding this topic? NAA members can access the full audio of this presentation and many others in the NAA Knowledge Center.