Behind the Scenes at Our Fine Jewelry Valuation Office
Last month, The RealReal opened its first brick-and-mortar location. But before you think pop-up shop, think pop-up valuation office. Located conveniently in Midtown Manhattan, it’s a place where those who possess fine jewelry and watches can come for an open, honest and transparent valuation of their pieces. A place where so much combined expertise is housed that, “there isn’t anything that could come through this door that our experts couldn’t determine the value of,” says Senior Director of Fine Jewelry & Watches Michael Groffenberger.
Maybe you have heirloom pieces that have been in your family forever and you wonder what they’re worth. Or you received a special piece as a gift some years ago — has it held its value, or even appreciated? When you bring pieces into The RealReal’s valuation office, you have the chance to find out, for free and with no obligation to consign your pieces. It’s simply a service for you. “Jewelry sellers often treat pricing like a trade secret,” says Groffenberger. “We’re sharing this information transparently so consumers know how much their fine jewelry and watches are truly worth. Even though we have four million members and are still growing, it remains extremely important for us to reach clients on a personal level.” Of course, if you do wish to consign, it’s a win-win situation, as our experts explain below. Read on as we go behind the scenes to reveal our experts’ process, the specialized equipment they use and some of the stunning pieces that have come through the office.
Senior Fine Jewelry & Watch Expert Katherine Palmiter
What is your background in gemology?
I’ve been really passionate and excited about gems for a long time. As an undergrad, I worked at two museums in Florence, Italy: the Museo degli Argenti (Silverworks Museum) and the Biblioteca degli Uffizi (The Library of the Uffizi Galleries). That experience really fostered an excitement about how jewelry is produced, and the craftsmanship and artistry of it. I also love that it’s part of a narrative — whether it’s a very personal story or one that has big implications, like something like the Hope diamond, it’s a really cool historical moment in a very personal serving size. From there I worked in several auction houses including Christie’s and as a jewelry buyer in a number of organizations that specialize in purchasing outright from the public.
What is your process for evaluating pieces that come into the office?
There are quite a few methods that we use for pricing. It really depends on the piece, and that’s part of the fun detective work about it. When a client comes in with a number of pieces, you can utilize several different approaches, depending on the piece. So if someone brings in a Cartier bangle, which is very much in-demand, it’s a lot more straightforward than the different methods we would apply for a vintage pair of earrings or dress clips. I draw on my experience as a jewelry buyer and an auction specialist, as well as the database that we have here — the archival information of how we’ve seen pieces perform on our unique platform in the past.
Are you authenticating in addition to evaluating?
Absolutely. We want to authenticate every single piece that comes across our desks. So that means confirming carat weight of gold, measuring and grading diamonds and doing research on different hallmarks to make sure that each one of them is up to the standards that we want to convey to our clients.
At the end of the appointment, clients end up with a valuation document. What does that do for them?
I like it because it’s a great tool that they can use to educate themselves about the pieces that they may have had for years and have had questions about. It’s a great opportunity to see point-by-point that each one of your pieces carries a certain value on the estate market as it stands today and if people want to comparison shop, it’s a great way to have a bit of a measuring stick when they explore options.
What is distinctive about The RealReal’s valuation service?
The thing I love about our process is that it’s a partnership. I really like working here because I feel I can be honest and transparent with my client — more so than any other place I’ve worked — because we only make money when our clients make money. We’re incentivized to not only give clients the most aggressive price, but the most meaningful price for the marketplace, and we have the knowledge base and the strength of the marketplace to do it, which is really exciting. I’ve worked at auction houses in the past where there was just no platform. For a piece that was ostensibly perfectly saleable, we wouldn’t be able to have the reach to find the right home for it. Here, we have our four million customers to give us more strength. It’s a better deal for the end user and a higher price for the person selling it, which is really refreshing.
Can you tell us about some of the most exciting pieces you’ve seen come through the office?
There’s some really beautiful jewelry that we’ve seen. We’ve seen a lot of Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra, we’ve seen some fabulous vintage Cartier come through, some significant diamonds. We’ve also had some lovely David Yurman for everyday, really wearable pieces. We’ve had some folks come in with collections they’ve had for years, just to get a sense of what they have. There’s a really sweet story where a family came in and consigned a great deal of pieces in the interest of raising money for a newlywed couple. Which I think is great because, at least in my family, there are pieces that my great-grandmother wore or my grandmother wore that aren’t for me, but when it comes down to it there is a good home for them and somebody’s going to enjoy them a lot more than I would. The idea that you can use that legacy or inheritance, not necessarily in that form, but that you can make it work towards something else in a way to honor that family member, I love a lot.
We have some very specialized equipment for evaluating watches in particular. Michael, can you tell us about the Witschi machine?
The Witschi is a machine that allows us to listen to the health and condition of a watch. By setting a watch on this very high quality microphone we’re able to get a sense for the way in which it’s running. We can understand how much time it’s gaining or losing and its beat error, which tells you how healthy the heartbeat of the watch is. If there’s an error in that beat where it’s not consistently the exact same time interval, it’s going to impact the timing of a watch. Gravity can affect the accuracy of a watch when you have it in different positions, and the Witschi also allows us to test the timekeeping of a watch in multiple positions. Using the Witschi, we can get all of these insights about a watch without having to open it, which can be very complicated.
Interested in finding out the value of your pieces? Learn more here, and call 917.551.6523 to make an appointment with one of our experts and get a free valuation report.