How to Distribute Heirlooms
Video: Inherited Jewelry - What to Save, What to Sell
My family has inherited my grandmother's jewelry collection that contains both costume and real items. We need some tips on how to figure out what is worth keeping and what is not. Thank you.
Jerusha in Chicago
Find a Reputable Jeweler
The best way to handle this is to take the entire jewelry collection to a jeweler that specializes in appraisals. There will be a charge for this, but it sure beats throwing out a valuable piece of jewelry because you can't tell the difference between real gems and paste.
He will go through the collection and tell you the amount that each piece of jewelry is worth. Don't be disappointed if almost all of it is costume jewelry. After all, isn't it the fact that the jewelry belonged to your Grandmother more important?
Just look in the phone book under "Jewelers" and see which ones advertise that they do appraisals. You can even take the collection to a second jeweler (which I would do) and get a second opinion on its value. It's worth spending the money.
If time is on your side, one of the ways that you can discover the value of things is to use the Internet. By entering a description of the item into a search engine, you are able to find a host of websites that have similar, even identical items.
I personally eliminate searching items that are listed on online auction venues, as they do not always represent values accurately. While these tend to be the automatic places that most of us think to go to identify value, one will find, on close inspection, that a lucky individual will get an escalated amount while others, who put the same item up for auction at a later date, will get few bids. Therefore, I limit my research to get factual values and descriptions.
There are many jewelry stores that advertise their "vintage" jewelry on their website, complete with pictures, histories and prices. I was once asked to do an evaluation on a ceramic cookie jar. The person pricing the item thought she might get $20 for it. I found a business online that had the very same item on their website. It also gave a brief history of the item and its maker. I did some further research on the company online and at the public library and concluded that the item was a legitimate collectible and possibly rare. In its condition, it could have sold for over $264. It does take a little bit of time and work, but it's absolutely worth it.
Consider Each and Every Piece
Any reputable jeweler should be able to give you a written insurance appraisal of your jewelry. When I inherited a few pieces from my mom, I took the whole lot to our local jeweler, who made up an itemized list of the items in front of me. The jeweler gave me a copy of that list and kept a copy. In a few days time, I got back the jewelry plus his copy that had the value amounts written in. Amazingly, it was the clunky 1950s plastic jewelry that was the most valuable. It was made out of a plastic that is very fragile and collectable. Therefore, be sure to take every piece in for your appraisal. My jeweler did this at no cost to me.
Check with the Local Auction Houses
Where I live, the auction houses have a free morning appraisal session a few times a month. Take your collection, stand in line, and get a free appraisal. If you have unique and valuable pieces, it's likely they will offer to sell them for you, but there's no obligation
Your problem is quite common. You definitely need a professional appraiser to look at everything. As a part-time job here in Phoenix, I work with a jewelry appraiser. Generally, he charges a minimal fee to look through everything and decide which items need further investigation.
Being that you live in Chicago, I'm sure you can find a licensed appraiser. I suggest someone registered with the American Gem Society. Whomever you use, make sure they are licensed in jewelry appraisals. There are also different types of appraisals. It sounds like you need a resale value rather than a replacement value appraisal.
Also, even though a piece may be considered "costume jewelry," don't assume it holds no value. For instance, Art Deco pieces bring a high resale value.
Start Research at the Library
- Get books from the library on collectible jewelry. Pull out pieces from your collection that look like or are very similar to those in the books and categorize them.
- Take snapshots and spend a day visiting antique/collectible stores. Turn this information search into a cool day out! Note any prices you find on displayed jewelry on the back of your picture. This is a great way to develop an "eye" for value and quality.
- Look for signed pieces first. Anything with a company or artist name will be the most identifiable. This can be hard to spot, so look with a magnifying glass.
- If it looks good, the workmanship is probably good. Even costume jewelry is worth taking a second look at.
- Check Internet auction and antique sites. Prices are not necessarily accurate, but identification usually is. Print pages that show pieces like yours for reference.
Basically, separate the pieces with really nice workmanship from those without. If it's in its original box, keep it that way. If it's signed, there's a market for it. If not signed, look for similar pieces in antique/collectible stores. Never throw out anything until you check! You'd be amazed at what's out there and what's collectible at the moment. If it's a fad, strike while the iron is hot! Value at more than what you think and watch the real collector scramble! If you do decided to get a professional appraisal, remember to have it done in bulk. Bulk appraisals are less than individual ones for one or two pieces.
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