What it's Worth

When we first went into the antique business in the 1980s, no one wanted that ugly 1950s and ’60s modernist 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. 

As we have discussed in the past, “worth” is a multifaceted and often confusing word. (As a previous president famously said, “It depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is.”)

Just like last week, some things are more valuable than you might expect. Vintage ring mountings without center stones are currently in high demand because of the interest among millennials for old-cut, mine-cut and Eurocut diamonds, as well as their desire for more traditional jewelry. 

Often, when asked to appraise an item of value, visitors in our stores or offices seem a bit befuddled and sometimes even annoyed at our resulting follow-up questions. When we ask “What kind of appraisal value?” we always explain that the conventional definitions of appraisal often differ from the official meanings of the word. Here I will share a condensed version of the various definitions and uses of the word.

Another jeweler from California called a few months ago about an amazing Tiffany diamond and needed guidance. From the photos, we suspected that it might be an incredible historical find. We urged him to allow us to send it to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), after we noticed its incredible color. We felt this was a rare, so-called Golconda white, type IIa – known not just for their D color, but whiter-than-D color. It was set in an amazing Victorian-era, signed Tiffany mounting and the brilliant whiteness of the stone was almost blinding! 

We recently purchased three extraordinary examples of midcentury modern aquamarine jewelry.

Only 50 percent of the items we sell online are acquired from the public. We get the other half from jewelers, pawnbrokers and dealers from the Americas and Europe. 

The subject today was purchased from a jeweler up north who bought it from a retiree in his town. He bought it advantageously and made a tidy profit by selling it to us for under $10,000. Rather than sending it to auction, we relied on our collectors network and were able to achieve $16,000 for this tiny but incredibly important vintage platinum brooch. It is an Art Deco gem-set brooch by Cartier. 

While most watch collectors know that repeaters are collectible, not all repeaters are the same. This type of watch tells time with a series of bells or gongs, so that you can know the time without looking at your watch. This was especially handy when one would travel at night by stagecoach or when light was scarce. Repeaters have a slide or push button on the side that you engage, which makes the watch gong. 

Typically, there is a large premium for high-color, high clarity diamond rings, earrings and necklaces that are well made and signed by a famous maker. However, sometimes, a piece is so extraordinary and so high grade that the individual components are worth more than the overall piece. 

The inspired creations of Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe & Co. are regularly considered the most prestigious and collectible of timepieces. 

In business since 1851, Patek Philippe began as a collaboration between Antoni Norbert de Patek and Jean Adrien Philippe (inventor of the keyless winding mechanism). In the early 1850s through the 1860s the movements were unremarkable, but their cases extraordinary. Later, they improved and invented new ways to tell time.