Union Square Diamond Buyers

How to sell fine diamonds in San Francisco

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IT may be a cameo handed down from your grandmother or your father’s 1940s Hamilton watch or a ring you bought years ago that you no longer wear and now want to sell. While buying jewelry, whether at department or specialty stores, craft fairs or on eBay, is quick and easy, selling it is often slow, difficult and confusing.

“In general, people’s expectations of what their jewelry is worth are higher than they are aware of” in relation to its true value, warned Cheryl Woodland, a certified gemologist and appraiser in Golden, Colo., who has 15 years experience. The market price for a piece of jewelry, she said, is “what a willing buyer is going to pay; there is no Blue Book for selling a piece of jewelry.”

Many factors affect an object’s current market value, from fashion trends to provenance — a piece’s previous owners, the experts say. A piece owned by someone famous, or with a historical association, may have much greater value than an equal piece with no such back story.

Gary Shuler is director of the jewelry department at Sotheby’s in New York City. Credit Sotheby’s

“It is difficult to sell your jewelry,” said Christopher Del Gatto, a founder and chief executive of Circa, a six-year-old concern with stores in Manhattan, Palm Beach, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, and Hong Kong, that sells only preowned, or estate, jewelry.

“You don’t think about selling your jewelry until you have to do it, and it’s tough to find a liquid market for a high-end item,” he said. His firm will write a check on the spot, whether the item is a 75-point diamond or a seven-carat, and it completes a deal with more than 80 percent of clients who approach it, he said. Circa also offers a price in writing, allowing sellers to compare offers from other outlets for a few weeks before making a decision. Sellers from around the world mail their jewelry to the firm or e-mail images.

Both Mr. Del Gatto and Ms. Woodland caution would-be sellers against irrational exuberance when hearing an appraised value of a piece, reminding them that its sales value will be much less. “This business is fraught with misnomers,” Mr. Del Gatto said. The appraised value, he adds, is “the retail value for insurance purposes.”

Gary Shuler, director of the jewelry department at Sotheby’s in New York, agreed that most people don’t understand the difference between the real price and the appraised value. “We might get half to one-third to even one-quarter of what you’ve had the item appraised for,” he said. “Everyone has an inflated idea of the value of their possessions.”

Sotheby’s sells jewelry that has a minimum value of $5,000, and adds a negotiated seller’s premium, which is a percentage of the sale price. A buyer’s premium also applies, adding an additional amount up to 25 percent of the price. But just because a piece is valuable monetarily may not mean there is an eager buyer for it, Mr. Shuler said.

“I send people elsewhere all the time,” he said. “The key is, Are we doing you a service? Are we the best people to sell it for you? We don’t make a market. We reflect markets. And we don’t want the piece back. We want it sold.”

Rahul Kadakia, senior vice president and head of jewelry in New York for Christie’s, said: “There is no rule as to the minimum value for the inclusion of a lot in an auction. We also include exquisite examples of vintage jewels and also items with special provenance which may not necessarily hold the highest estimates in the catalogue.”

“Every now and then, we also see jewels and stones that could well be worth a lot of money but if the style is not suited for a certain market or geographic region, it may be difficult to sell,” Mr. Kadakia said.

Occasionally, he said, “we see items that are really not suited for the sales that we put together and we refer clients to local auction houses or even dealers who might handle these jewels. If something is very suited for the European, Asian or Middle Eastern markets, we would suggest the inclusion of these jewels at our sale centers in Geneva, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Milan, Hong Kong or Dubai.”

Gloria Lieberman, director of the jewelry department at Skinner Inc., an auction firm based in Boston with a second sales room in Bolton, Mass., said her firm is one of the few relatively inclusive auction houses.

With two quite different sales rooms and two different audiences, “we make the decision where it should sell,” she said. “I have things for $300 or $500 that are still sophisticated, maybe out of silver or ivory with a certain design quality. Our consignments come from everywhere.”

How to sell fine diamonds in San Francisco