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Gold is way up, but how much is your jewelry worth?
How to get the best price for your gold baubles and avoid rip-offs at the jewelry store

Jewelry in safe-deposit box.
With the price of gold at its highest in more than two decades, you might be thinking it's time to unload that jewelry Granny left you. But how do you know whether it's worth $3,000 or just the $300 the local jewelry store is offering?

You won't know unless you shop the piece around, says Donald A. Palmieri, a Master Gemologist Appraiser and president of the New York City-based Gem Certification and Appraisal Lab. But it's not always easy to nail down a fair price. A dealer looking to buy your piece or even sell it on consignment has every incentive to lowball you. Getting a value from an independent professional appraiser can cost $100 or more. And as we found out when we did a test in 2004, appraisals can vary widely.

So what should you do?

First, don't assume that higher gold prices necessarily mean your piece has risen substantially in value. While some pieces are worth only their weight in gold, other factors can affect value much more, including workmanship, gemstones, aesthetics, age, and history of ownership.

If a piece has identifiable markings, you can start your research by checking out current selling prices on auction Web sites such as eBay. Then get several quotes from local shops that buy jewelry. "Hopefully, if you go to people who are reputable, they will be fair," says Donald Unwin, owner of Sterling Jewelers in Wethersfield, Conn. "But how do you know that? You have to shop it around."

You might also want to take the item to an auction house that deals in jewelry. Some sponsor free appraisal days, such as Doyle New York (www.doylenewyork.com), which holds these events around the country. Because auction houses aren't interested in buying the pieces directly from you but simply auctioning them on your behalf, they have little incentive to lowball you. Instead of a formal written appraisal, expect the house to give you high and low auction estimates.

If the item's probably worth several thousand dollars or more, consider hiring an appraiser to evaluate your offers and to suggest the names of any buyers who might pay even more. The appraiser's fee should be based on an hourly rate and never a percentage of the appraised value. Expect to pay around $100. When selecting an appraiser, look for credentials.

Gail Brett Levine, executive director of the New York-based National Association of Jewelry Appraisers (www.najaappraisers.com), recommends choosing an appraiser who is certified by a major association, such as her organization or the American Society of Appraisers (www.appraisers.org) or the International Society of Appraisers (www.isa-appraisers.org). If your piece has gemstones, also look for a graduate of a gemological school, such as the Gemological Institute of America (www.gia.edu).

If a shop is offering to buy the piece or to sell it on consignment near the top of the auction house estimate, consider that option. If the auction estimate is more than you can get from a dealer (after factoring in commissions and fees), you might try the auction route. Just be sure the minimum selling, or "reserve," price, recommended isn't below your comfort level, says Palmieri. You can also try an online auction site such as eBay. But make sure you read the site's help guides to protect yourself from scammers.

If you take the auction-house or consignment route, ask your insurance company whether your piece is covered if it's lost or stolen while out of your possession. Although coverage is usually provided by the shop or auction house, if the piece is expensive, it's best to have your own coverage.



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