If you inherit jewelry, there may be sentimental value attached to it. You might be entrusted to safeguard family heirlooms for future generations, or you may be expected to divide them up for the deceased's estate. 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.

Of course, just because a piece is old doesn't necessarily mean it's precious in a financial sense. It might be a coveted collector’s item today, or it may have fallen out of style, diminishing its worth. Other factors, such as today’s gemstone and precious metal prices, quality of artistry, and the particular manufacturer or designer, will also figure into its value.

Regardless of what you plan to do with the inherited jewelry, one of your priorities should be to determine its value, in part so you can insure it for the proper amount, if necessary. That means getting a professional appraisal.

Key Takeaways

  • If you've inherited potentially valuable jewelry, one of your priorities should be having it appraised.
  • To find an appraiser, contact one or more of the significant associations that require their members to meet specific standards and adhere to a code of ethics.
  • Because gems and precious metals can fluctuate in value, consider having the jewelry reappraised every few years.

How to Find a Jewelry Appraiser

Pretty much anyone can claim to be a jewelry appraiser, whether they own a jewelry store or not. There are no federal or state licensing requirements the way there are for real estate appraisers. So it’s primarily on you to determine whether an appraiser is equipped to evaluate your inherited items.

That involves more than heading to the nearest jewelry store since merely working in the industry doesn’t qualify an individual as an appraiser. What’s more, most jewelry retailers don’t have their gem lab or the instruments required to examine a stone and properly determine its quality. For example, a ring appraisal may call for an appraiser who is familiar with diamonds.

However, several industry groups require their members to meet certain qualifications and adhere to a code of ethics. You can locate an appraiser in your area by visiting the following websites, listed here in alphabetical order:

Besides 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. An appraiser should also be knowledgeable about the current jewelry market.

Never dismiss costume jewelry; some pieces are worth more than you might think.

What to Expect From a Jewelry Appraisal

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

  • Clearly state the kind of value being determined, such as fair market value (used for tax purposes), the replacement value (for insurance coverage), or liquidation value (for bankruptcy or business dissolution).
  • Describe the property being valued.
  • Detail the procedures used to arrive at the estimate, such as an analysis of comparable sales.
  • Specify the qualifications of the appraiser.
  • Include the appraiser's signature.

When appraising jewelry, the appraiser should clearly state whether the value being determined is fair market value, replacement value, or liquidation value.

Jewelry Appraisals FAQs

How do I find a reputable jewelry appraiser?

Start by asking your friends and family who they have used in the past. Visit the websites of the American Society of Appraisers or the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers to find out about appraisers in your area.

How much does it cost to have jewelry appraised?

It depends on the appraiser. It could be anywhere from $50 up to $150 per item.

Do jewelers do free appraisals?

Yes, but not always. If you know a local and reputable jeweler, they might offer an appraisal of your piece for free, especially if they think you will sell it to them. High-end auction houses, for example, like Southby's, offer a free appraisal estimate. If you think your jewelry is extremely valuable, you can contact this Southby's. You send them a photograph along with any other information about your jewelry. However, this is just a free estimate.

How do I know if my vintage jewelry is valuable?

You get it appraised by a reputable appraiser with experience in vintage pieces.

How do you get antique jewelry appraised?

Suppose you have strong reason to believe that your antique jewelry is valuable. In that case, you might try getting it appraised by a high-end auction house, like Sotheby's. Conversely, you could search on the Better Business Bureau to find reputable antique jewelry appraisers.

The Bottom Line

Putting a value on inherited heirlooms requires a qualified professional. To find an appraiser in your area, contact one of the major industry associations listed above for names. Don't hesitate to ask potential appraisers, “What qualifies you to value this type of jewelry.”

Be prepared to pay a premium given the specialist training and equipment required for the job. Costs can range from about $50 to $75 per item, or $50 to $150 or more per hour, depending on the appraisal's items. And given that the prices of precious metals tend to fluctuate dramatically, appraisals should be carried out every few years to keep your insurance coverage up to date. Should you decide to sell your inherited jewelry, knowing its value will help you obtain a fair price for it.