Friday, November 14, 2008

Appraisals Gone Wild

Paula's two strands of pearls. One strand of 9-10 mm white, and a strand of 10-11 mm pastel.One of the most enjoyable things about writing this blog are the emails I’ve been receiving. Some are good (I love your blog), some are nasty (how dare you, you son of a bitch), some are just down-right interesting (guess what my jeweler said?).

About a week ago I received this email from a gal named Paula in Atlanta, a follower of this blog. She is, of course, a pearl lover.

“Dear Professor,
I have a question and I trust your word completely. I have a stand of 11-12 mm peach freshwaters I had restrung and appraised. The appraiser said there is no such thing as a natural pastel freshwater pearl. She says they are ALL immediately bleached after arrival to the factory and that would remove all color on ANY pearl. Now,
Fred Ward and everyone else in the world says there are such things as natural pastel freshwaters-peach, lavender etc. Is my appraiser clueless or right? I just paid her $120.00 for her to tell me this. She wasn't saying only my strand was enhanced, she was insistent that all freshwater pastel pearls are dyed. She said the rose overtoned whites are the most valuable and that may be true but the rest of what she was saying are at odds with everything I have been reading. She said if the pastel pearls weren't enhanced they would be worth "a million." Please help.”

My response was not one of real astonishment. Paula was dealing with an appraiser that doesn’t know squat about pearls. Well, maybe she knows something, but her knowledge certainly isn’t worth $120 a pop! No such thing as natural-color pastel freshwater pearls, eh? Could she be confusing freshies with akoya? A pastel strand of pearls worth a million? I better get over to China quick, buy some pearls and offer her a good deal. You know, just $100,000 or so! Gotta do it quick before somebody schools her on pearl basics!

Paula and I corresponded back and forth about this, me explicating the ins and outs of pearls and pearl colors and Paula becoming more and more dissatisfied with her appraiser.

It turns out this was the second strand Paula had taken to this appraiser. The first strand was an off-round to semi-baroque, 9-10 mm freshwater white with good luster. A decent piece - nothing to write home about - it probably cost someone about $150 in China. But the appraisal was for a mindboggling $8000 retail! Appraiser, what are you smokin’!? It turns out that Paula had argued against the appraisal, knowing it was laughably high, even the owner of the jewelry store hesitated. But the appraiser stood firm. This was the number her Drucker program was spittin’ out, so damn it, it must be right!

When Paula went back to get her appraisal for the 11-12 mm pastel strand, the valuation was a bit more in line - about $2100-retail for the strand. But the appraiser had described the piece as a low-luster strand, and had obviously input faulty intelligence into that super-appraiser program.

As you can see quite clearly in the photo, the luster of the pastel strand is pretty damn close to the luster of the white. Maybe a tad bit less, but that pastel is no string of chalk. Calling one high luster and the other low is a bit of a stretch.

What is clear by looking at the photos is that the pastel strand is unmistakably more costly than the white. It ain’t worth $8000, but the white isn’t worth $2000. Now I have never used Drucker’s appraising program, but either it sucks, the problem is with the user, or the appraiser was simply pulling numbers out of her ass.

Paula finally got this appraiser to talk to her on the phone and you can imagine she was not in the best mood. She got just a wee-bit defensive. She is an expert!

What this all indubitably comes down to is education. Ten years ago, Paula would not have questioned her appraiser. She has, after all, the credentials! But Paula is a 21st century consumer. She does her own, independent research – on the Internet. I think it is about time that any appraiser that wants to save face in front of a customer does the same thing.


Slraep said...

Hey, professor, what exactly do you mean by writing "that's like you or I teaching a class on astrophysics" ?? Speak for yourself! I can teach a class on astrophysics!!! So you didn't mean me right? Good. I thought so. Apology accepted. Geez.

As for crummy appraisers, anyone and everyone in the jewel trade has come across a few of these. I once had a guy tell me that my strand of gem grade 9-10mm peach Chinese freshwaters were worth $200 bucks max. He said he could find me dozens of them at that price, if I wanted. I said, "heck, YES". It's been two years now and there's not even a hint of him being able to get me one of those necklaces at that price. Just one! Even half of one! I bet this particular appraiser suffers from some lasting effect of solar retinopathy diagnosed when he was in grade school after he had stared at the sun for a good 15 minutes too long.

I guess for some appraisers, knowing their pearls really IS like rocket science.

Mike said...

I bet you can, Splraep. You've done more than look up, your heads up in them;)

You know what is more difficult than finding a good pearl appraiser? Finding a shitty one that will admit they aren't qualified to appraise pearls.

One of 100 jewelers may expertly understand pearls.

One of 100 jewelry appraisers would refuse to appraise a strand of pearls because they know they are not qualified.

One of 100 appraisals would accurately describe the pearls and give a good market evaluation.

99 of 100 would make shit up.

JShepherd said...

Freshwater pearls are the worst when it comes to third-party appraisals, especially if the pearls are round. The most common "mistake" I have heard back from our customers is that they have been appraised as akoya. Many folks who have been in the business a long time and deal primarily in stones know freshwater pearls for what they used to be, not what they are today.

The worst appraisers are the jewelers trying to sell the customers on something of their own. They will say things like a strand of Tahitian pearls is dyed (happened once) or pull something else out of thin air, then turn around and offer the customer something else.

Things have changed over the last decade, however. Now customers can do their own research just like Paula did, and realize when their appraiser doesn't know a natural-color freshwater pearl from a ping-pong ball.

Pêcheur de Perles said...

Ping-pong? I'm sure you didn't mean to hurt the feelings of table tennis players around here.

Mike, would you like to help me out?
So one of 100 jewelers does
understand pearls (99 left), one is not qualified (98 left), another one accurately describes the pearls (97 left), and still 99 "make shit up". ???

Slraep said...

Hi Pecheur de Perles,

I missed that one! You could definitely teach a math class. I would sign up!

Heheheh, The Pearl Professor missed that one too.

The Pearl Professor said...

Oh you mathematicians! I didn't miss anything, but two wrongs just don't make a right. Three wrongs show a trend.

A jeweler is not an appraiser.

One appraiser admits to being unqualified to appraise pearls.

One appraisal (of the 99) are accurate.

The other 98 made shit up!

slraep said...

the pearl professor said.....

"a jeweller is not an appraiser"

Nice try, but.....Why not? Some jewellers are more than just appraisers, they are gemmologists that have even taken the GIA pearl course. And since when can a jeweller not also be an appraiser?

Oh alright, Pearl Professor, don't feel left out. I would sign up for a course you gave too. Just not an astrophysics one, by your own advice.

And, Professor, for a further test of your smarts, can you tell me if this sentence written by Mike, which is directed at me, is a compliment or an insult? Don't let the winky-face throw you off.

"I bet you can, Splraep. You've done more than look up, your heads up in them;)"

The Pearl Professor said...

Jewelers are not all appraisers and they are not all gemologists. Many jewelers would not claim to be appraisers, although some may be both. There is a real distinction between the two.

It looks like Mike is ribbing you. I have to look at the wink to read the emotion behind the comment!

Slraep said...

the pearl professor said...

"Jewelers are not all appraisers and they are not all gemologists. Many jewelers would not claim to be appraisers, although some may be both. There is a real distinction between the two."

O-K-A-Y. You have confused me enough into agreeing! (ya know I love you, Pearl Professor dude, right?)

"It looks like Mike is ribbing you. I have to look at the wink to read the emotion behind the comment!"

I can take a ribbing. Winky, wink back, Mike.

Z.E. said...

Collectors' pearls are an entirely different animal
from what appraisers have ever seen. Actually, the same goes for collectors' gemstónes too. My hubby once bought a Kashmir sapphire (2ct) and several of the local jewelers swore up and down that it must be a synthetc. It really wasn't. However it took a long time to find a gemologist who really knew what is what and was qualified to certify it.

Anonymous said...

A two carat Kasmiri sapphire! Wow. Where did your "hubby" buy THAT? eBay? Alpha Imports? Thaigem? A garage sale? Or maybe he found it growing on a tree!!

Z.E. said...

Already when it comes to fine sapphires you may have to start picking and choosing your experts. My husband once also had a very fine Australian sapphire identified as flux grown by two "graduate gemologists."

JudithT. said...

I don't believe you are really Zeide Erskine.

Anonymous said...

So now in addition to being an expert on pearls, you are an expert on gemstones too??? Heaven help us.

Z.E. said...

I know my gemstones in a way most gemologists don't. Here in California you can count yourself lucky if they know their diamonds including the fancy colors. Most of them only know whites and are totally lost if they don't have DeBeers lasered in the girdle.

As far as pearls go, you have to learn the ropes yourself. Anything beyond that is put up or shut up.

Z.E. said...

Jewelers have no clue how to tell pearl quality except by roundness and designer clasp and there are no high-grade freshwater pearls out there. At the same time every little corner shop has Tahitians, South Seas, and akoyas galore. If they are so rare and freshwaters so common, how is this disparity explained? Pearls really need some standards.

JudithT. said...

Now I believe you are Zeide Erskine.

Jacky Franks said...

I would think that would be a problem when a jewelry store appraises their own items for sale.