Frequently Asked Questions
GEMOLOGY: Gemology is the study of gems, a sub-field of geology. Gems are those "rocks" (and sometimes organic materials) which are beautiful, desirable and durable. Gemstones include the very familiar diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires and pearls (known collectively as the "Royal" gems) as well as familiar stones such as amethyst, topaz, opal, garnet (at one time referred to as "semi-precious" stones). In addition to the familiar gemstones, there are hundreds of stones that may be unfamiliar to the average consumer. These stones come in and out of the public eye and the fashion scene. Some less well-known stones are alexandrite, tsavorite, and tanzanite. A gemologist is a scientist, who can determine the nature and identity of a given stone, using specialized equipment.
In today's technologically sophisticated environment, it is also up to the gemologist to understand what humans do to stones to enhance their desirability - or to deceive an unsuspecting public. There are many common types of enhancements in colored stones as well as in diamonds. Enhancements include colored dyes to improve color and make surface breaks less visible, heat treatments to enhance color, and laser drilling and fracture filling with polymers to improve clarity and color. Additionally, stones that are chemically identical to those found in nature, but which are actually grown under controlled conditions in a laboratory (lab-created stones) are common in the marketplace today. A trained gemologist can identify the origin (natural or synthetic) of a stone presented, and any enhancements that may have been made.
A number of new enhancements have come into use over the last few years. Coatings to improve color grades, clarity grades, combining laser drilling and polymer filling and more. The gemologist's job is to keep abreast of the latest technology in the gem industry to better detect and inform the public.
LAB CREATED DIAMONDS are now the rage, with the FTC approving the word "diamond" so long as it is accompanied by a modifier "LAB CREATER", "LAB GROWN" or other identifier to make it clear it is not a diamond mined from nature. There are techniques to determine the nature of origin - natural mined or lab created - and your gemologist should have the equipment necessary to distinguish the difference.
GRADUATE GEMOLOGIST: In the United States, and in many other places around the world, the Gemological Institute of America is the benchmark for gemology and gemologists. The GIA established the study of Gemology as an independent field in the 1930's and has lead the industry in education and technological advances in gemology. Upon completion of the Gemologist curriculum at the GIA, a person earns the Graduate Gemologist Diploma and is entitled to use the letters "G.G." after his name. A Gemologist is just that, one who is an expert in the science of gemology. The GIA offers additional training in appraising, but does not offer a diploma program in appraising, nor does it certify individual appraisers. The GIA has an independent gem laboratory and will provide scientific evaluation on certain gemstones. The GIA will never verify, establish or report price information. The GIA is a scientific and educational organization only.
APPRAISER: An appraiser is a person with specialized training in determining value. Value, of course, depends on a variety of factors. The two most common reasons that a person seeks the expertise of a gem and jewelry appraiser are:
1) to determine a value of an item for insurance purposes, and 2) to ensure that he made a wise purchase (didn't "get taken"). An appraiser can be a gemologist, but does not have to be one. If all of the value factors are already established (for example, if the color, cut, clarity, and carat weight of a diamond are already known), an appraiser can establish value using market research.
Generally, it is best when a jewelry appraiser is also a gemologist. The gemologist-appraiser can verify the quality and nature of a given stone and its mounting, do the appropriate market research, and establish a value.
APPRAISAL: An appraisal is a document that details an item completely, including an evaluation of and valuation for the item. An appraisal is a limited use document, that is, it is usually prepared for a specific purpose and is only appropriate for that purpose. For example, when you ask the appraiser for a "Gift Tax" appraisal, you may be planning to give the item to a museum or other charitable organization and expect a tax write-off, or you are giving an item to a family member and need documentation of its value for tax purposes. The value that the Federal Government recognizes in that case is a "Fair Market Value" - simply put, the amount that an item might sell for in a second hand or "estate" jewelry store. On the other hand, an Insurance appraisal sets the value at the typical selling price for a comparable item, new, in a retail jewelry establishment. It is usually higher than Fair Market Value. An insurance company will not accept the value set in a Gift Tax appraisal when determining the amount of insurance coverage appropriate for replacement cost. Similarly, the information provided to identify an item in a Gift Tax appraisal may not be sufficient to replace the item if it were lost or stolen. The information contained in an Insurance appraisal is more detailed. So, be sure you know the reason for requesting an appraisal. A qualified appraiser will ask you the reason for the appraisal before work begins. If the appraiser does not ask, you may want to protect your own interests by inquiring further about his background and training in jewelry appraisal.
The American Society of Appraisers: -is a national appraisal association. The ASA is a multi-disciplinary society that covers all areas of appraising, including real property, business valuation, intellectual property and personal property. You can call the ASA at 1-800-ASA-VALU to find a qualified appraiser near you or surf to the ASA Website.
USPAP: (Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice) The USPAP standards were established by a Federal task force convened to set minimum standards for real property appraisers after the Savings & Loan debacle of the 1970s and 80s. The resulting standards have since been adopted by most professional appraisal organizations in real property (houses, land, etc.), and now by many personal property appraisal (furniture, art, furs, fine jewelry, silver, coins, etc.) organizations as well. Appraisers who adhere to the USPAP standards must so indicate in their written appraisal documents. If your appraiser is unaware of the USPAP standards, then he or she is not current with appraisal practices in the United States.
FEES: Sorry, but yes, a professional appraiser (real property appraiser, jewelry appraiser, or other appraiser) charges a fee for his work. Depending on the scope of the appraisal assignment, you can expect to pay from US$ 50.00 per item to more than US$ 300.00 per hour for jewelry appraisal. Like everything else in life, YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. So be sure your appraiser is qualified. Also, make sure you know how the appraiser charges and what the expected fee will be before the work begins.
One important standard set by the USPAP task force is that appraisers may NOT charge a percentage of the appraised value as a fee. Fees must be based either on time spent or established as flat fees; they may not be based on "outcome", i.e., the appraised value. An appraiser who charges a percentage of the appraised value is unaware of, or is choosing to ignore, accepted appraisal standards. U.S. Internal Revenue Service guidelines require documentation of how the fee was determined, and expressly prohibit charging a percentage-based fee, when an appraisal is prepared for any tax purpose.
REGULATIONS: Currently, there are no laws in most states and localities to define minimum standards of qualification for a person to call himself a jewelry appraiser, nor to describe what a jewelry appraisal document must include, nor to indicate how an appraisal should be performed. Anyone can identify himself to the public as a jewelry appraiser with expertise in personal property valuation. It is up to you to determine if your appraiser is qualified and if you are getting the type of appraisal that you need.
MORE INFORMATION: Additional information about jewelry appraisals, appraisers, appraising and gemology in general is available. Please e-mail your questions. We will happily answer you directly or forward your request to the most appropriate source for a complete response.
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