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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:

Cut — not the shape, but the quality of proportions,

the angles, and the symmetry of facets on the diamond;

Clarity, which includes the diamond’s internal


based on an 11 point scale;

Color, based on a scale from D to Z;

Carat Weight, determined by measuring the stone’s


depth, and other proportions.

Other variables contributing to a diamond’s quality include

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

be best.

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

the bill.

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."

One, beware shopping for bargains versus shopping for


Two, do not pay cash to avoid paying tax, thus forgoing

a proper sales receipt.

Three, do not accept the seller’s overstated price of

appraisal as gospel.

Four, always demand a guarantee period of time in which

to have the diamond examined by a professional independent appraiser

before committing to purchase.

Five, beware buying outside the United States where legal

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

buying it."

The Jewelry Judge of Princeton, 190 Nassau Street,

Princeton 8540. 609-683-7730. Home page:

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