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Free jewelry appraisals

In our store we buy gold (scrap from customers) on a daily basis. As
you know this involves time to evaluate what is gold and what’s not.
Often it leads to stone identification. For example, are these pearls
or not, rubies or not, etc. Sometimes customers bring in food bags of
their jewelry and it takes some time to go through all of it. We give
them a price of what we will pay and they can take it or not. We do
not charge them a fee for our time if they chose to go elsewhere (and
all our time was in vain). OK, at other times, customers come in with
bags of jewelry and just want to know what it is worth (in other
words, they don’t intend to sell it to me as scrap). They are looking
for a free appraisal. I am willing do a quick free verbal appraisal
on a couple of items but not on 20 to 30 items. Is it out of line for
me to charge, say $20, for a verbal appraisal if I have taken thirty
minutes of my time?

Thanks in advance.
Dale Pavatte


My passionate hobby is costume jewelry and knowledgeable
dealers/sellers will not do free appraisals on base/pot metal
glass/plastic stones. I find it outrageous that people would try to
get free appraisals and even more outrageous that you would allow
your time to be wasted that way. In Yiddish, it’s called being a
schnorrer. I loathe schnorrers.



A quick verbal appraisal is worth the paper it is printed on. Don’t
even be tempted. Your freebee is way under priced but will always
carry your name in the clients mind (and any friends spoken to)

Demand Designs
Analog/Digital Modelling & Goldsmithing

Great question and I am looking forward to the discussion.

I have had clients do this. I don’t mind the first 3 items. After
that I offer to get the whole lot appraised for a fee and “would
love to discuss this plus any reworking” that can take place as good
value for money…

That usually gets rid of the free loaders. The real clients keep
going and are keen and I don’t feel used for free. That is a bad

My 2 cents…Simone

If you are making an offer to buy, it is most appropriate to give
them a value for each piece. If on the other hand they “don’t need
an appraisal, they just want to know what it’s worth”, that’s a
different thing, and is kind of like saying to a car mechanic “I
don’t need a diagnostic test on my car, I just want to know what’s
wrong with it”. A single piece of jewelry can have several different
values based on the end objective of the evaluation. The cash
liquidation value will often be far different from the retail
replacement value, and the estate valuation will probably be
different from both.

Giving a customer any valuation or identification of their jewelry
beyond an offer to buy, whether verbal or written or whether you
charge for it or not can open you up to liability, or so it has been
explained to me by people that are in the full time sole profession
of evaluating and appraising jewelry. I haven’t ever heard of anyone
actually getting in trouble for making an inaccurate verbal
evaluation in circumstances similar to what you are discussing Dale,
but the warnings make enough sense to me that I won’t do it. If they
really need to know exactly what it is and what it’s worth for a
specific reason other than putting cash in their pocket today, they
need a formal appraisal. IMHO, if it’s not worth paying for, it’s not
worth knowing.

The box full of Grandma’s jewelry is always a major PITA.
Unfortunately, it’s an unavoidable part of the retail jewelry
business. Handling it effectively and with a degree of empathy is
sometimes a real challenge. Just remember, “there’s gold in them
thar hills”, and it’s almost always possible to create at least a
small custom order out of it. I don’t charge people to go through the
box and tell them “this watch is gold filled, this brooch is costume
jewelry, the stone in this ring at a glance looks enough like a
natural ruby that it is probably worth appraising to find out”, etc.
But I don’t go beyond that, especially concerning stone
identification and valuation unless they really need to know exactly
what they’ve got. In that case, a formal appraisal is the only
option. I tell them it wouldn’t be fair to them to just pull a
number out of the air, which is exactly what I’ll be doing if I don’t
really examine the piece and do a little research. To do such an
examination takes time, equipment and training, all of which cost

If you mention a value, or even a range of values, the customer will
only hear the highest value you mention, and then you are on the
hook. I never give a value unless I’m ready to write a check for
that amount right then, or unless it is in the form of a written
formal appraisal. The liability is too great to just wing it. I’d
rather have someone get mad at me for not giving them an evaluation
for free than for giving them the wrong because I was in
too much of a hurry or not charging enough to do it right.

Dave Phelps

I tell people that I will give them a general idea of what’s in the
bag (wheat from chaff, genuine from costume) but as far as actual
appraisal, assigning a dollar number to this or that, takes time and
experience and therefor is a service I must charge for.

If value of a piece is part of the discussion Re: repair or
whatever, they get an honest answer. No charge.

I look at these kinds of things as part of the cost of doing
business. You wouldn’t charge a person for the time you put into a
failed sales presentation, its a cost that you recoup in the long
run…overhead in a sense. Same with buying proposals. You have to
play the odds.

You might be surprised at what percentage of these 'interactions’
result in some form of work order, be it a formal app, or repair or
purchase. The trick is to not get dragged into hearing a half hour
history lesson on the various pieces. I’ve found being up front about
service for fee helps.

Is it out of line for me to charge, say $20, for a verbal appraisal
if I have taken thirty minutes of my time? 

Its easy, state up front that you only do written appraisals… for
a fee. Don’t let the camel’s nose in the tent.

And its not a bad idea to ask if they are interested in selling
perhaps the whole bagful or are they looking for individual prices.
The latter is your clue to not invest a lot of time. One thing I
sometimes do is offer to take the stuff in explaining that its a lot
to consider and they wouldn’t want a shoot from the hip offer. If
they leave it they are likely sincere. If not…well then…

Like the original poster, we’ll happily give verbal appraisals for a
couple of items - it takes a moment, but makes us look good. For
customers with more than a few items, we tend to treat it like a
valuation, and we charge 1% of the value to do that.

The one exception to that is when we get offered scrap - as we stand
to make a profit if they sell it to us, it’s not unreasonable to
accept a few fruitless enquiries along the way.

What annoys us most is when people expect a written 100-item
valuation by the next morning! Aaaaah!


As I thought about this, I came up with a couple more thoughts. I
don’t think you’re out of line at all to charge for your time and
expertise, which is exactly why I don’t give values unless I’m being
compensated in some way. I treat it kind of like the way free credit
report companies do. The report is free but if you want your credit
score, you have to pay. A thirty minute consultation with anyone
in almost any other profession could cost a whole lot more than what
you’re talking about. In theory, I agree with the thought that
goodwill is a good thing, but at the same time if there’s not a sale
to be made or any other financial upside to you, it would make sense
to tell them up front that you get $5 a piece (or $75 / hour, or
whatever) to consult with them about their valuables, maybe even
offer to waive the fee if they spend that much on doing something
with it.

Any way you look at it, it’s time away from the bench or something
else that contributes to your bottom line, and it’s not at all
unreasonable to expect to be paid for your expertise and experience.
I think most customers would probably agree too, and would be willing
to pay for good as opposed to getting half-baked info for
free. If not, they aren’t really ever going to be a profitable
client anyway, goodwill or not. If you are being compensated, you can
afford to take the time to really look at things and make good, solid
judgments. If you charge by the hour, you can even listen intently to
the stories and feel good about it. I’d be happy to sit and listen to
the stories about Aunt Mabel and her beautiful tanzanite ring for
quite a while for 75 bucks an hour. Not a bad idea, now that I think
about it. I might just consider doing something like that myself.
That might be a great way to approach the big bag o’ stuff time
vampire customer that needs to know what it’s worth but doesn’t want
a formal appraisal.

Dave Phelps

and we charge 1% of the value to do that 

Hmmm. your company might want to review that rate policy. Here in
the states its been pretty much accepted that a percentage is umm,
hate to use the word in this context but…unethical.

One of the things that help make an appraisal legitimate is that the
appraiser has no interest in the piece or the outcome. If the fee is
higher because of a higher value, well it only takes a modicum of
understanding human nature to see where that might lead. I’m not
suggesting any wrong doing on your company’s part, I understand it
might be the tradition in your locale, but long term its in their
best interest to appear ‘disinterested’ if you know what I mean.

Not to mention that if there is ever a dispute(to put it mildly, to
be blunt…litigation) if the other party can show that the appraised
value MAY be suspect, it could open the appraiser up to liability, my
unlegal guess. Its not just a matter of ‘hey your appr is very
different from XYZ Jeweler’s appr’. Its a matter of any action taken
by the other party(parties even maybe) based on a professional
opinion that might be discredited because of a demonstrated willful,
arguably dishonest, action by the appraiser.

Again, I’m not pointing fingers other than at the custom and
practice of a percentage fee.

Gee, I hope I tap danced well enough on that one.

Your freebee is way under priced but will always carry your name in
the clients mind (and any friends spoken to). 

Not only that, but it may well carry in a legal sense as well. Once
you’ve given an “appraisal” you may be legally obligated in some
manner depending on your location and the applicable laws. There are
plenty of horror stories out there in the appraisal field about
quick, inexpensive (cheap?) appraisals coming back to bite them. If
someone wants to know the “value” of their items, then I’d suggest
offering a product of value to you and your client that will stand up
in court for your protection.

You may find this interesting reading:

Although it doesn’t relate directly to quick and cheap appraisals,
it does illustrate how an appraisal, even those executed by "experts"
can boomerang on you.

Mike DeBurgh, GJG
Alliance, OH


Hmmm. your company might want to review that rate policy. Here in
the states its been pretty much accepted that a percentage is umm,
hate to use the word in this context but...unethical.

I don’t think it’s particularly unethical. I should probably point
out that I’m talking about insurance valuations for retail
replacement - if they were overvalued, the insurance company would
refuse to pay us to do the work; they’d simply take the detailed
description of the item, and get another jeweller to quote for it.We
could charge by the hour, but I think there is more room= for the
unethical in charging by the hour. We could charge by the item, but
the number of items tends to be inversely proportional to the number
of items - we’d end up valuing an expensive ring for a fiver, and
granny’s box of tat for UKP 100. We could charge a flat rate, but we
don’t know what the value is before we start.The fee is there to
cover possible damages or other problems when we clean and value the
items - if we take in a UKP 20, 000 ring for valuation, say, we take
on a huge risk if something unexpected happens (like someone dropping
the ring). It’s unfair to charge everyone at that high rate, so we
work on a percentage. It’s worked for the 35 years that my dad’s been
in business. Maybe Americans are more unscrupulous :wink:


I don't think it's particularly unethical.... It's worked for the
35 years that my dad's been in business. 

It may come as a shock to discover that ‘the way we’ve always done
it’ could be flat out wrong

from page 2

e) Not charge fees for their services using a method that is linked
to the value placed on the subject of the report when dealing
directly with members of the public. The method of charging must be
disclosed to the client prior to the commencement of the assignment.

Maybe Americans are more unscrupulous ;) 

Well, just who here is advocating unethical practice? :wink: (mistakenly
and w/o malice, I’ll assume)

It may come as a shock to discover that 'the way we've always done
it' could be flat out wrong - Neilthejeweler 

Hmmm.I’ll definately have a chat with my dad about the ethics of the
way we do it, but I can’t see him changing his ways. In most cases,
I would agree with you that old habits aren’t the same as good
habits, but we’ve never had a problem that I can think of, and we do
plenty of valuations, and replacement work for insurance companies.
Perhaps another addage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” would be
more appropriate.

We aren’t members of the Association of Jewellery Appraisers, so
we’re obviously not bound by their rules. If we felt that our
customers had lost faith in us, then maybe we’d join an organisation
like that, and change our methods accordingly. But I don’t think
they’ve lost faithin us.

It’s worth noting that despite have a minimum charge of UKP 10, our
prices are generally significantly cheaper than elsewhere - any item
up to UKP 1000 value costs UKP 10, which covers the majority of
customers. Our competitors tend to charge upwards of UKP 40, plus
they send the items away, which takes several weeks. We provide an
insurance valuation certificate while the customer goes for a

I’ll set aside my wounded pride, and see this discussion as an
opportunity to see our business practice from the outside. Perhaps
someone else would like to wade in, and give an opinion on the
ethics of the situation…


Continue from

I think the practice in question isn’t maliciously unethical…we
are all professionals who have paid for our knowledge and experience
with time, money, sweat and tears. The question is of “appearance”.
Ethics runs out of the question when the appearance of conflict of
interest is involved. That’s the politics of life/business. None of
us will risk our livelihood for an appraisal, so are not being
unethical, but that MUST be shown. As a Rockefeller said "Next to
doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people
know you are doing the right thing. " How you charge for appraisals
is a sidenote to how people perceive you arrived at their valuation.

This thread has me going because I lost business last week, I charge
a flat hourly rate for appraising…a customer had 11 rings and
necklaces she wanted appraised (in writing) for insurance. I figured
it would take 3 to 4 hours, and quoted $65/hour for written
appraisals, with my and signature. She left because the
store down the street does that work for free (her words). My point
is relaying this?..

THAT, in my opinion, is unethical because a client will have
valuable jewelry insured based on appraisals that are worth every
cent paid for them. Aside from the legalities, there is no value
without vested interest.

What/how you charge for an appraisal should be related to your cost
of doing business,etc, it should be fair to the client and to you.
You are putting your professional reputation on the line when you
sign those papers, and you’ve paid a price for your name. Don’t give
it away, and don’t devalue it by opening yourself up to political

Tim Dwornick
Warped Metal
Dugald, MB

One of the reasons why the profession should be regulated.


Tim, you didn’t lose any business. That was not a serious customer
(that’s as nice as I can put it). You would have never made any money
with her. Last time I checked making money was the prime reason for
having customers. Cynical? No, real.

This other jeweler’s ‘free appraisal’ on eleven items may actually
be an offer to buy, if her statement wasn’t fabrication.

I did about $200 worth of tricky/fussy work for a relatively new
client. When she picked it up and asked how much I told her that
since now we are doing significant repeat business together (two
custom job$) she’s entitled to Neil freebies. “I like that” she says.
I just cemented a profitable long term relationship and will gain
maybe 3 referrrals that yield business.

Those are the customers you need to take care of…the ones who take
care of you. The ones who don’t?..“have a nice day”.


In my opinion, you right about charging for a written appraisal. It
take time and knowlege that most don’t even have to write a correct

There are unfortunately no true regulation on appraisals and I have
seen some that did not provide enough or wrong

Few are actually qualified to write an appropriate one. Often
jewelers that write them don’t have the gemological knowledge or
gemologists who write them don’t have a clue about workmanship or
replacement value for the mounting they are looking at.

This does not even take in consideration legal disclaimers that can
come back to haunt you…

I guess people get what they pay for or did not pay for in this

I certainly understand your frustration.