How to Authenticate High Value Fine Jewelry
When it comes to authenticating high value fine jewelry pieces, it takes a special kind of expert — someone well versed not only in appraising the nuances of gemstones and metals, but also deeply knowledgeable about the the history of art, design and fine jewelry houses. Our Fine Jewelry & Watches Team Lead, Adriana Krakowski is just that sort of expert. With a Master’s Degree in Modern Art, Connoisseurship and the History of the Art Market from Christie’s Education in New York City, a Graduate Gemologist diploma from the Gemological Institute of America, and 14 years of experience in the industry, her skills are as carefully honed as the gems she regularly inspects.
We asked her to guide us through her process for authenticating and pricing the most valuable pieces that make their way into The RealReal’s vault. “There are several factors to look at in determining the value of an individual item,” Krakowski says. “A true jewelry expert is able to understand a piece from many different perspectives and know when it is appropriate to apply value that is over and above the cost of the metal and stones. I observe all elements of the piece and then think about how successful it is as a whole — is it an iconic example of the period or brand and how does that translate to the current market? The sum of its parts is so much more than the tangible materials,” she explains. Read on to learn about the steps she takes to value and authenticate fine jewelry.
1. Designer Signatures & Hallmarks
“Hallmarks are the official stamps that identify the metal type, purity and sometimes region of a piece,” says Krakowski. “They help determine whether the piece is actually antique or vintage and whether it was crafted in an area that coincides with the designer in question. For example, a Cartier piece stamped with an eagle head hallmark indicates that the item was made in France.”
When scrutinizing designer signatures, Krakowski looks for “the quality of the engraving and whether it is consistent with other examples that are known to be authentic.” She adds that, “The standards I look for are correct font, correct placement and correct selection of details.”
2. Iconic Designers
Creations by celebrated jewelry designers such as Jean Schlumberger, David Webb and Aldo Cipullo are desirable and highly valued not only because of the designers’ imprimatur, but also because of the fine craftsmanship on display in their pieces. Krakowski points to the depth of the enamel, achieved with a technique known as paillonné, seen in Schlumberger’s bangle for Tiffany & Co. as an example.
3. Design Period
If a fine jewelry piece belongs to an influential, iconic period in design history, such as the Victorian, Art Deco or Mid-Century Modern eras, often a higher valuation is warranted. This makes it very important to authenticate the signs of true examples from the period as opposed to reproductions or designs inspired by past decades.
“Particularly for unbranded fine jewelry, there is a great deal of nuance and expertise that goes into determining which time period a piece belongs to,” explains Krakowski. For example, “Just because a piece has design elements used in the Art Deco era does not mean that it is Art Deco. There is a purity of design, a pairing with particular craftsmanship techniques and usage of particular materials that allow for an item to be attributed to the Art Deco period,” she says. Standout elements of authentic Art Deco pieces include platinum marked with the dog head hallmark, geometric structure and patterns, bold combinations like onyx, jade, and coral accenting diamonds, diamond cutting styles that correspond with those of the period and motifs that correspond with the era.
4. Craftsmanship & Quality
In determining craftsmanship and quality, Krakowski looks to “make the distinction between fine materials and commercial grade materials.” Gemstones should appear lively and bright, diamonds white and items with numerous gemstones should have excellently matched colors. This also applies to pearls which Krakowski says should be “well-matched for color, shape, luster and surface.”
Other key elements in authenticating high value fine jewelry are rarity and size. If a gemstone is uncommon, or uncommonly large like a 10.00 carat diamond or a South Sea cultured pearl, they will command a higher valuation and be subject to higher standards of authentication.
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