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Author: Diana Wolf. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 9,
2000. All rights reserved.
A Girl’s Best Friend? A Diamond Appraiser
A couple was taking a cruise, strolling along a beach.
Romance hung in the air and the man knelt before his woman, proposing
marriage. She said yes, and they dashed into town to purchase a ring.
They paid $9,000 for a diamond ring in personal checks and travelers
checks. When they returned to the states, they had it appraised and
learned that it was worth only $6,000. Since they had purchased it
out of the country and not on a credit card, there was little
Their spontaneity cost them $3,000.
This true tale of love and romance comes from Ralph Joseph, owner
of the Jewelry Judge, a jewelry appraisal business located just off
Nassau Street. The walls in his cozy office showcase awards,
and memorabilia, and his table hosts a scrapbook filled with
by him and about him. In 25 years in the industry, he has earned
as a Graduate Gemologist (GIA) and as a Certified Appraiser of
Property, with a specialty in antique and period jewelry, from the
American Society of Appraisers. He has participated in many lectures
and seminars. He has appeared on the Learning Channel, has had a radio
talk show, and writes a bimonthly column for National Jeweler
He also wrote the book "The Jeweler’s Guide to Effective Insurance
The purchase of a diamond can be fraught with emotion — made yet
more dramatic by a buyer’s ignorance of the diamond’s actual worth.
Having an appraiser confirm the stone’s value can put the focus on
where it belongs — the romantic reason for this significant
Unless you’re Elizabeth Taylor, for example, you most likely will
never get more than one in a lifetime. Yet appraising has
been a sideline trade, conducted in the back of jewelry stores at
not necessarily convenient times. Joseph, on the other hand, has
himself as an independent appraiser, always available to a walk-in
clientele, and he has added some new facets to the business. For
his "Appraisal for Purchase" service can help buyers decide
whether they have paid (or are going to pay) an appropriate price.
Ralph Joseph began to be interested in gems when he was growing up
in Los Angeles. At age five he watched a television episode of
Superman replaced a stolen diamond with a lump of coal he squeezed
by hand — "a million tons of pressure for a million
Joseph recalls — but Superman’s diamond was faceted and it didn’t
match the original stolen one. The natives didn’t notice, but Joseph
did, and it bothered him.
It was natural for him to develop an eye for such things because his
Uncle Charles owned a costume jewelry store. It was a "real mom
and pop and then nephew and son business," Joseph says, because
family members made the core staff. Joseph’s father, Abe, had worked
there as a child but left because the machinery was calibrated for
right-handed people and Abe was left-handed. At age 13, Joseph worked
in the store after school polishing silver, a job which he hated,
so he quit. He returned to work part-time for his uncle, on and off
for several years, while studying at UCLA. During an armed robbery
of the store, his uncle was shot in the arm. Because his uncle
use the machinery, he taught Joseph how to do everything, and that’s
when he fell in love with the business.
Joseph joined his cousin Robert, the son of the owner,
to buy the business in 1983. They did work for celebrities from nearby
Hollywood, and Joseph loved owning the store, but the partnership
did not last. "Being in a partnership in business is like a
he recalls, "and we probably could have benefited from marriage
He sold his half of the business, became an appraiser, and moved from
Los Angeles to the East Coast to be close to the New York market,
working for various jewelry stores in the tri-state area before
to become independent. The decision of where to locate was an easy
one: "I love Princeton," he says. "It has a refreshing
balance between a strong sense of business and a community spirit
that was difficult to create in LA."
Appraising requires sensitivity to many issues, and Joseph can relate
to them all, from the frustrated retailer competing for business to
the consumer. Trust is a major issue on both sides of the jewelry
counter, and Joseph says that even when he was working for a retail
jeweler, other jewelers trusted him enough to refer business to him.
"He is a very good appraiser — he knows the industry,"
says Mitch Forest of Forest Jewelers on Nassau Street. Forest offers
his own in-house appraisals but notes that his store’s appraisals
might appear to have a conflict of interest.
Just wanting to know what a piece of jewelry is worth is not enough,
because an appraisal is defined by the specific purpose it is to be
used for. The particular reason, the assigned use, must be specified
on the appraisal itself. Most requested is an insurance appraisal,
but also common are appraisals for estate settlement and taxes, and
charitable contributions. After a new purchase, the client wants to
know that the price paid was a fair one. If it is, they want the
to insure the diamond at that moment.
Some appraisers and many jewelers will comment verbally on an
price for a particular stone, but Joseph is one of the very few who
offer a document, the Appraisal for Purchase, providing the reasonable
range of prices. "It is not issued for buyers to use to negotiate
a price," says Joseph. "I would find that offensive, if I
were a jeweler. But with this document, the buyer may be able to
a better price."
"Doing an appraisal for affirming that you haven’t paid too much
is a different niche from what I and most appraisers do," says
Jane Wildermuth, an independent appraiser who also works for Forest
Jewelers. "But if asked for my opinion about the price you paid,
I might give you my verbal opinion."
The price of a diamond is determined by what jewelers often refer
to as the 4 Cs:
the angles, and the symmetry of facets on the diamond;
based on an 11 point scale;
depth, and other proportions.
the shape of the diamond and the quality of proportions. A 1 carat
diamond, the size of an average engagement ring, has 100 points, but
that 1 carat can range in cost from $500 to $2,000. If a diamond is
too shallow or too deep, light leaks through. The greater that
the less light returns to the eye, and the brilliance of the diamond
is diminished, as is its value.
Years ago, Joseph recounts, a woman called who was interested in a
4 carat diamond ring. It had a Gemological Institute of America
Grading Report, and for its weight, color, and clarity, it was priced
inexpensively. Turns out that the diamond "was flat enough to
fry eggs on." It had the length and width of a 6-carat weight
diamond, but a depth of a 2-carat diamond. The woman didn’t buy it,
but six months later, there was another call from another woman. She
was looking at this diamond ring, but she said, "It’s kinda dead
compared to others I’ve seen. It didn’t look as lively."
"Then you don’t need to bring it to me" Joseph said as he
explained its history. That woman didn’t buy it either.
How do you know that a diamond is what it’s reported to be? Mechanical
instruments such as a heat probe help determine if a diamond is a
diamond because Cubic Zirconia, for example, absorbs heat differently
than diamonds. Moissanite, a man-made crystal imitation, responds
to heat in a way similar to a diamond, but it has its own test to
determine quality. Synthetic and fracture-filled diamonds have a
trademark on the diamond’s side, which is an indicator as long as
that trademark is not scraped off.
Most diamonds, whether mounted or not, are accompanied by a
an independent grading report that measures the loose diamond’s depth,
plots of the stone and diagram of inclusions — another term for
Mother Nature’s flaws — and includes other technical data. This
certificate adds to the cost of the stone and may not be cost
if the stones are small, such as a 1/4 carat or smaller, earrings
with a total of 1/2 carat, or if the diamond was an inexpensive
store purchase. In those situations, an independent appraisal may
Jewelers agree that the best way to be certain is to
buy from a reputable source. "If you don’t know diamonds, know
your jeweler," says one owner. Many stores, including J.C.
on Nassau Street, also provide on-site appraisal on a once a month
basis. Hank Siegel of Hamilton Jewelers offers appraisals by both
his staff and by an independent appraiser.
Like other independent appraisers, Joseph has monthly contracts with
jewelry stores, including Vecere Jewelers in the Lawrence Shopping
Center. "We can give our customers better service by giving them
access to someone who is specialized and independent," says Bob
Vecere. "Some of our customers need the service, and if we don’t
provide it, we would be sending them somewhere else. And we gather
new customers, because some come in just for the appraisal."
one woman did come to Joseph’s most recent appearance at Vecere’s
because the two other stores she contacted didn’t want to take the
time to do more than one or two pieces, whereas Joseph, as an outside
contractor, could do as many items as she wished.
During Joseph’s appraisals, the jewelry is never out of sight and
never left overnight. This way the client knows that the piece is
never mishandled. After an initial discussion of the item or items,
the verbal information and known data is typed into the computer.
Each piece of jewelry is photographed and then examined by hand,
with different instruments and viewed under a microscope. The data
is inputted and a formal report is presented to the client in a bound
document. Appraisal cost varies based on the number of items being
appraised, the amount of research involved, and the items’ complexity.
Sometimes Joseph charges by the hour. It is cheaper to do 20 items
at once rather than 20 single-item visits, due to setup of equipment.
No appraiser bases a fee on a percentage of the item’s value; that
is illegal. The least Joseph ever charged was $10 for a single item,
and the most was more than $2,000 for something requiring complicated
research. His minimum fee — say for a 3/4 carat solitaire —
is $75, one-third more than some other appraisers, but he includes
such extra components as a four-color digital photograph and the plot
diagram of the stone. "The plot diagram provides virtually
proof in case the diamond is stolen," says Joseph. "I won’t
do an appraisal without a plot diagram."
"Ralph provides an accurate detailed service for which he charges
appropriately for his time, says Forest. He offers appraisals at his
shop, three days a week. Wildermuth, who has been in the business
for 25 years, charges $50 for the first piece, and $25 for each
On the question of whether the extra documentation is needed, Forest
compares it to a car wash: You can get your car washed, or washed
and waxed, or washed, waxed, and vacuumed. "Once you put the
in a folder and add other things, it gets more expensive. Would the
insurance company give you any more money? Probably not. But some
people need the peace of mind that a photograph and diagram will
Through Jewelry Judge founders in Canada, Joseph licenses the name
of the 10-year-old firm and has access to the software, which
math values and allows him to see more people and produce consistent
reports more quickly. But it is not a substitute for research;
a diamond’s value is still the appraiser’s job. "I do a Rolls
Royce job, and I charge Cadillac or Mercedes prices," he says.
Joseph proudly says he has never had a client complain after the fact
with what he provided for the amount he charged. "I’ve had people
grumble about what I was going to charge them, but I’ve never had
anyone grumble about what I did charge them." Joseph once quoted
an appraisal price of $125 for an Appraisal of Purchase and $25
fee to convert to an insurance appraisal. After the appraisal, Joseph
determined the piece to be $3,000-$4,000, yet the client had paid
$5,000. The client had gone to two other jewelry stores to get free
appraisals, so he complained about Joseph’s price. When the client
told him the other appraisals were verbal, Joseph responded,
appraisals are worth the paper they’re written on." The client
then took Joseph’s appraisal to the seller, and was able to negotiate
a price of $800 less. He returned to Joseph, still complaining of
the additional conversion fee. Joseph pointed out that he spent $150
and saved $800. "Oh, now I get it," the client said, and paid
Joseph recalls another client who purchased a ring in New York City
and when she had it appraised, Joseph determined something about the
diamond had been misrepresented. He warned her that "if they’re
willing to misrepresent it so blatantly, they will probably hold onto
your money like a pit bull." She returned to the store a week
before Christmas and said loudly in front of half a dozen customers,
"I have a formal appraisal report here that states very clearly
what you told me about this diamond is not true and I want my money
back." They flipped through the appraisal and, because it was
professional and complete, issued an immediate refund on her credit
Over the years, Joseph has seen many such mistakes made, and he warns
consumers of them in his Five Deadly Sins of Diamond Buying to the
public when considering a purchase of "the smallest form of
wealth on the planet."
a proper sales receipt.
appraisal as gospel.
to have the diamond examined by a professional independent appraiser
before committing to purchase.
recourse may be limited.
Joseph keeps his business in the family, as his uncle had, by having
his two sons, 8 and 11 years old, help him with chores around the
office. This keeps them involved so they realize that dad’s work is
not separate from their lives, and it helps them appreciate and
good work ethic. Both sons are involved in outside activities —
one is interested in sports, and the other in singing and involved
in three local choirs — and one reason Joseph loves his business
is the flexibility it allows him "to be in the flow of their
A client said to him the other day, "If people like you here,
the word spreads quickly and you do really well. And if they don’t
like you, you’re kinda ignored." She took a stack of business
card on her way out and concluded, "And I expect that you’ll do
very well because I really enjoyed the experience."
Joseph insists that buyers not let an appraisal play too large a role
in the purchase of a diamond. Even though diamonds have become a
commercialized by the diamond grading system, even though consumers
need the piece of paper that determines the quality of a diamond,
they should still remember the reason for their purchase.
the beauty and romance and love and this wondrous material that is
the hardest natural substance known to human beings," says Joseph.
"You need to see the diamond and let it talk to you or not before
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