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  • Writer's pictureDave Atlas, GIA GG

The Practical Guide to Jewelry Appraising, 4th Edition

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

The Practical Guide to Jewelry Appraising, 4th Edition, by Cos Altobelli

There is a great deal of useful information in this manual for the jeweler or gemologist who wishes to become a practicing appraiser. It is full of easy-to-read and understandable instructions, questions and answers, facts and lessons learned from Cos Altobelli’s years of vast experience in the jewelry trade and in the appraisal profession. Rather than presenting the necessary facts in an outline format, it is written mostly in a narrative form using mostly normal vocabulary where a novice can readily understand.

The book explains how to start learning the profession, how to start doing appraising, the pitfalls to avoid and the education you will need to master. There is no fast track to becoming experienced or professional, but Cos Altobelli explains how to do these several tasks in layman’s terms. It is a good book to read cover to cover if one believes appraising jewelry is their chosen profession. An issue found that does not eliminate the value of the advice, is the promotion of the American Gem Society and the various levels of AGS Membership. Very little mention of other worthy appraisal memberships and titles is made and the novice might go away thinking that the sole “Certifier” of appraisal professionals is AGS with its CGA title and ICGA level of membership. One can understand the tremendous loyalty Cos Altobelli has with AGS, but this lack of information about excellent competing organizations is being noted.

I especially found this wording a very direct way of stating what most of us learn the hard way, “Clients may state a particular reason for needing an appraisal when, in fact, their motives are hidden. Most commonly, a client will say, “It’s just for my own knowledge.” This is almost a sign that there is a specific need for the appraisal, and the specifics have not been shared with you.” A good part of the manual has such bits of long tested wisdom shared with readers. If only novices knew this beforehand. They should read it and be aware.

Another area of merit was the straightforward approach to defining the IRS meaning of Fair Market Value. By far, the best, non-technical paragraph on the topic an expert has expressed for those who look for further education without confusing jargon.

Cos made a section on questions that clients should ask their insurance agent. Instead of just a list of questions, the questions had responses from three actual agents that highlight the wide variation of responses. Knowing the disparity of responses, the appraiser cannot assume logic or uniformity exist for this long list of rather standard questions. It is an eye-opening moment and one with real value if you hope to stay out of trouble and do the best job you can for each client.

There is a paragraph written about Synthetic and HPHT diamonds which needs some revision. As it stands, the advice of the book is to “value them as though they are natural”. That advice is not good advice for all occasions. One might be well advised to be far more cautious and thoughtful on this ever-enlarging problem. You need to be very careful about blanket assumptions with enhanced natural and synthetic diamonds.

There are many forms and reference materials listed which can serve as an aid to any level of appraiser. I found my own firm’s link referenced as a source for antique jewelry information. We have been out of that arena since about 2005, so be aware that some of these references may not be recently verified. Some of them are current and excellent sources, too.

Other than the occasional too strong focus on AGS membership, The Practical Guide to Jewelry Appraising, Forth Edition, is a very good read and a good reference tool. It is mostly for the less experienced appraiser. Probably such emphasis is for the best. We all would prefer to learn in advance rather than make costly errors. Everyone doing jewelry appraising will find nuggets of value in the shared lifelong experiences of this noted author and appraiser.

Reviewed by David Atlas, GIA GG


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