What it's Worth

From time to time in What’s It Worth, we discuss specific memorable encounters with Tampa Bay residents. After all, the value of this column is as much about human nature as it is about dollars and cents.

In 1991 an absolutely beautiful woman came to our store wanting to sell some old jewelry. From a small beaded bag, she pulled a 10.8 carat diamond ring and a platinum diamond bracelet.

So, a couple of weeks ago, we received a note from a reader who said:

“Mr. & Mrs. Hess, I love your interesting columns. I know they are actually ads, but I appreciate your sharing of facts. However, you always point out that you only make a modest profit. Is this true? Surely you have made some tremendous profits, too. Can you share some of these? I realize this may be embarrassing – but it would be fun, don’t you think?”

Like last week, this article is about back in the day — but with the added entertainment value of me having lost $40,000.

The most expensive wristwatch I had ever purchased (at the time), a Ref. 1523 by Patek Philippe – was bought in partnership with a Califor- nia dealer in April 1989. We paid $180,000 and put it in a Hong Kong auction with an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. The market was on fire and we were sure it would fetch more than the estimate.

The 1950s to 1980s are the hot trend today.

When we first went into the antique business in the 1980s, no one wanted that ugly (at the time) 1950s and ’60s modern-ist design; the bizarre clock in your mom’s kitchen or the odd Danish-designed table in your parents’ den was not so much collectible as old hat.

In the grand spirit of “everything old is new again,” from around 2005, these mid-century modern pieces started to enjoy a renewed hipness, especially among twentysome-things.

When I co-founded Jewelry Appraisal Services of Houston in 1994, my goal was to have the finest appraisal service in Houston. I achieved this by hard work and heavy networking. Eventually I not only worked closely with Tiffany, Tourneau and Cartier, but I also wrote and taught a seminal class to local insurance agents about valuation theory.

Until marrying Jeff, I didn’t know I would also enjoy actually selling these fine objects I had become an expert in. And I just love it. But I still love good old valuation theory.

During the early to mid 20th century, most people of means who went on the grand European tour brought back from Italy a small pin, sculpture, or ring made of so-called “mini mosaics.”

Mini mosaics have been an Italian mainstay in décor and architecture for hundreds of years. The jewelry is painstakingly made with hundreds to thousands of tiny stones inlaid by an artisan to create a scene often depicting Roman ruins or other aspects of Italian art and history.

The retro deco movement wasn’t really a movement but named by dealers for the unhinged, crazy design period shortly after the Art Deco period.

Art Deco was all about straight lines and sharp angles. The response at the end of the period led to designers following some unusual paths. Jewelry, furniture and even paintings exhibited some of these outlandish, almost freeform ideas.

We featured similar watches years ago, but when this item was sent to us by a Los Angeles antique dealer, we thought we would show it to you and let you see for yourself.

We predicted many years ago that LED/ LCD would become collectible, and indeed, these types of watches have an important, though not well-defined, position in the collectibles marketplace.

Because of the myriad of complications available on them these can be worth $20-$30 for parts or $20,000 for early examples, like the early 18k gold Pulsar (shown) (only a few hundred made).

We were recently consigned for auction an incredible bit of history with terrific provenance.

A jeweler from Ohio bought from the family of Colonel Edward Allen Noyes, a famous WWI veteran/doctor/medic and distinguished 1916 graduate of military medical school. His military and medical records have been heavily documented and well published.