Jewelry left in one’s estate usually requires thoughtful examination by an expert to determine value (or lack thereof) for disposition to heirs, taxation or just plain curiosity from family members. Even if previous documentation is available, it was probably prepared for insurance purposes, not fair market value, as used for estates. For large estates where items have significant value, written appraisals should be provided with the same depth as those prepared for insurance purposes.
But, unlike insurance requirements, more abbreviated documents may also serve the estate, providing essentials for identification and value, photographs and a signed document. We often advise this shortened format since it still provides sufficient information for probate and declaration purposes while saving the client money in the process.
In some cases, where a signed document is not required an informal consultation may suffice, where we examine articles and sort out those of value. The client receives the essential information verbally and may take notes that can be shared with the interested parties. We often recommend this route when there are a high number of costume and lower valued items, not contributing significantly to the estate.
Whenever representing an estate, make sure to state that purpose to the appraiser so articles are properly prepared at fair market value. This represents a hypothetical sale price in the market most appropriate for that article and may vary considerably from a retail value done for insurance replacement purposes. There is no set ratio to arrive at fair market value from retail. It depends on the article, its marketability and condition, with each piece being considered on an individual basis.
As more and more baby boomers are now dealing with the estates of their parents, a much greater proportion of our business is for such purposes. NGL continues to offer consultation for the best course of action in an individual case—whether documenting a multimillion dollar estate or giving descendants an idea of what Mom left in all those shoe boxes.

No such bezel for Rolex two-tones anymore
Watches can be the easiest or hardest jewelry to appraise. Take, for example, the price of a current Rolex model that a simple phone call or catalog check reveals – pretty easy. But take another Rolex example – one that is discontinued and therefore unavailable new in an insurance replacement scenario. What are our options? Well, usually we research the used watch markets for a same model replacement in a secondary market approach. With a plethora of internet sources, we can see the availability of a certain model, recent transactions and current dealer or auction offerings. We weigh this with retail estate department prices and arrive at a fair value for insurance purposes. This methodology needs to be referenced on the document as being comparable through the secondary market.
For Rolex watches, there are comparables for many, many models, but available too are those with non-Rolex modifications. There are companies that specialize in making diamond bezels and dials that “customize” one’s Rolex. That not only voids the Rolex warranty and their further servicing of the watch, it changes the market value. While many people (and some appraisers) think that adding an aftermarket diamond bezel to a Rolex wristwatch enhances its “value” the opposite may be true. Take a look at offerings in the marketplace and the original un “enhanced” model may sell for the same as one with an added bezel bearing two carats of diamonds. A diamond bezel that’s original from Rolex however, is a different story so one must make sure to find the proper comparables.
Rolex has also replaced many models with slightly different ones, again leaving an appraiser without an exact replacement option. Using a closest available model approach identifies a “comparable” newer model and is another appropriate method of replacement if properly referenced in the appraisal and agreed upon by the parties involved.
Case-in-point Recently, a client brought us his Rolex, and a newly updated appraisal from the jeweler who had originally sold it to him. He had been insuring the watch for over fifteen years with adjustments for Rolex’s periodic price increases, but now the provided appraisal reflected a much lower value. Rolex had recently “updated” his watch with a slightly different base model and had totally discontinued its diamond bezel. Since the jeweler could no longer appraise the watch for identical new replacement, they chose the closest new available model value and referenced such on their appraisal. That new watch value was some five thousand dollars less than the older model, hence the client’s distress. Using the secondary market approach would reduce the insured value even more, but since the client wanted to insure his model watch this was the only method to reflect exact model replacement.
There was however, a third appraisal option – the last published price method. Handy when an article has been recently discontinued, it covers a lapse of time before the market sells out of the discontinued model or insures for a dollar amount rather than an actual watch. This is fine if agreed upon by all (especially the insurance company) and a clear statement of methodology is on the appraisal.
While the jeweler’s appraisal approach was certainly justified and reasonable, the client’s desire to list his particular model led us to cite both the secondary market value and the last available price from Rolex. This gave the client and his insurance company an option as to what level of coverage to use.
However, if the client were using the appraisal as a sales aid, the last published price method would not be acceptable because it gives a false impression of value. NGL will not provide this type of appraisal for jewelers or anyone other than the owner and then, specifically for insurance documentation only.

Estate appraising follows the same descriptive format as for an insurance appraisal, with the vital exception in the value referenced. With tax implications and possible heir distributions, an estate value varies radically from the retail value and is dependent upon a number of factors.
When appraising estates, a fair market value is used which considers the secondary markets available for the article, its condition and marketability. There is no standard correlation between retail and fair market. One item may auction at a much higher value than an item that appears similar because of its vintage or manufacturer. An article may only have scrap value because of condition. These important factors take an expert in estate appraising to determine, especially in the case of vintage/antique markets, watches and colored gemstones.
Upon your needs and the instructions of your attorney, we can advise you on what should be appraised and give full documentation that will hold up for the Probate Court and Internal Revenue Service. An NGL appraisal should also negate the need for two appraisals when parties are in conflict. We use the same legal parameters regardless of client, so there is no such thing as “high” and “low” appraisals.

Phone: 425.455.0985 | Fax: 425.454.3088 | Office: 10801 Main Street Suite 105 Bellevue, WA 98004
Office Hours: Monday-Thursday 8:30am - 4:00pm, Friday 8:30am - 3:30pm, Closed Saturday and Sunday

© 2012-2018 Northwest Gemological Laboratory, Inc.