When someone dies and leaves you jewelry, there may be sentimental value attached to it. You may be entrusted to safeguard family heirlooms for future generations or expected to divide items for the estate of the deceased. Perhaps you want to hold onto the gems as keepsakes. Alternatively, the jewelry may have been left to you as a valuable resource that can help with, say, the down payment on your first home. 

Regardless of what you choose to do with inherited jewelry, your number-one priority should be to determine its value. One reason: Knowing the value can help you make sure the pieces are insured for the proper amount. (For more, see A Quick Guide on How to Insure Jewelry and Making Sure Your Jewelry Is Insured.) That means getting a professional appraisal. Here’s how to go about doing that.

It’s Old – Is It Worth More? 

Possibly the most common question that comes up is: “Does jewelry acquire more value because it’s old?”

That depends. The age of a piece can affect its value in one of two ways. It can either become a collector’s item, or it can fall out of style – in which case its value may diminish. Other factors such as today’s stone and precious metal prices, quality of workmanship and the particular manufacturer or designer may increase or lower the current value (see Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend, But Which Color?) Don’t dismiss costume jewelry; some pieces can be worth more than you might think.

Given the number of variables at play, it takes a skilled and qualified professional to provide the most accurate valuation.

Determining Who Is Qualified

Your goal is to find a qualified appraiser. The problem: Pretty much anyone can claim to be a qualified personal property valuer, as there are no federal or state regulatory agencies attesting to appraisal certification. Therefore, it’s up to you to determine whether or not an appraiser is fit to evaluate your inherited items. That involves more than heading to the nearest jewelry retailer since simply working in the industry doesn’t qualify an individual as an appraiser. What’s more, most jewelry retailers don’t have their own gem lab or the instruments required to properly examine a stone and determine its quality. 

There are, however, a number of industry bodies that self-regulate based on their own membership qualifications and standards. You can easily locate an appraiser in your area by visiting any of the websites below or contacting them directly.

Aside from having a recognized qualification, the appraiser should also be a graduate gemologist (GG) of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). Having a gemological degree means that an individual can identify and grade gem materials. (However, it does not, in itself, provide the training required to become a jewelry appraiser.) The appraiser should also have a strong background in the jewelry market.

Elements of an Appraisal

A competent appraisal, according to the American Society of Appraisers, should:

  • State clearly the purpose that the appraisal was performed to fulfill (insurance coverage, estate distribution, etc.)
  • Specify and define the type of value provided (replacement cost, fair market value, marketable cash value, etc.)
  • Specify the effective date of the appraisal
  • State any circumstances that limited the performance of the appraisal
  • Describe the jewelry in the detail appropriate to the type of appraisal
  • Include images of the jewelry (except when it has been lost or destroyed)
  • Explain the procedures used to arrive at a value
  • Be signed by the appraiser with contact information provided
  • Describe the qualifications of the appraiser 

The Bottom Line

Obtaining a valuation for inherited heirlooms requires a highly qualified professional. To find a certified appraiser in your area, contact a relevant industry body and consider asking potential appraisers, “What qualifies you to value my property?” Be prepared to pay a premium given the specialist training and equipment required for the job. Costs can range from $85 per item to $175 per hour or more, depending on the items and nature of the appraisal. And given that the prices of precious metals tend to fluctuate dramatically, appraisals should be carried out every few years. For more, see Evaluating an Heirloom.

If you are considering selling your inherited jewelry, see How to Cash In Your Heirlooms.