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Master Gemologist Appraiser American Society of AppraisersDavid Wolf, GG
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Over the years of "Just Appraising", many long term clients have come for advice on orderly liquidation values… and sometime thereafter, we've become their broker of choice. If you want a revealing consultation on how the market really works, we'll work at relatively close margins to sell or broker anything precious including but not limited to coins, diamonds, platinum, pearls, watches, gold and especially signed pieces and antique jewelry. 

All That Glitters … The Diamond Market Today

By David Wolf, G.G., A.S.A. and Jane Scott
November 2, 2009

Diamond Jewelry: A Market Overview
With all the turbulence in the economy the collector might be confused about where the diamond market has gone. As an appraiser who has spent thirty years in the diamond industry I have a few opinions, so let's establish those at the outset. I believe that diamonds are a great inflationary hedge as opposed to an investment. In this economy in particular I also believe that the US dollar will soften further, and that collectors who collect at the high end of the market-the finest and the rarest-will weather the economic storms relatively well.

12.87 carat, fancy intense yellow diamond, VVS2 clarity, radiant cut center stone with two trapezoid diamonds totaling 1.72 carats set in a platinum and 18K yellow gold ring. A contender for "the finest and the rarest" category. Asking price $450,000. Photo courtesy Rick Shatz Inc. N.Y. Photo courtesy Rick Shatz Inc. N.Y.( )

The commercial diamond industry, like the real estate industry, was awash with extended credit over many decades. International banks like ABN Amro and RBC® Royal Bank which bank-rolled the mines have since called in the overextended credit, resulting in drastic cut-backs and real shortages of rough as well. Slowly the mines are recuperating, and employment from the bottom is cautiously improving-as recently as September 30th DeBeers announced that they were cancelling a planned mine shut-down. (Bloomberg News 9/30/2009.).

In spite of these encouraging signs, we have lost nearly 2,000 retail outlets since the credit tightening began, including the leading wholesale firm of Fabrikant, mall giant Whitehall Jewelers, specialty retailer Fortunoff® and internationally renowned designers such as David Webb and Henry Dunay. Finlay Enterprises, the latest empire to fall, is holding going-out-of-business sales at most of its 800 locations and will be closing Bailey Banks & Biddle, Congress Jewelers, Carlyle & Co., J.E. Caldwell, Park Promenade and Zell Bros. Jewelers. As the market seeks new stability, the consolidation of players has left the survivors with excessive inventories that are based on cash value as opposed to the old credit system.

The Upside of a Down Market
Paul Lubetsky, CEO and President of Windsor Jewelers says, "We have found that fine estate and signed jewelry have not been affected by the market downturn. The biggest effect of the downturn has been the differential between bid (buy) and ask (sell) of loose white diamonds ... the most rare, colored diamonds and fine colored stones, have completely held their value. And, in fact, we are starting to see people turning to some of the rarer collectible stones as a hedge in these uncertain times."

I took a look at a five year analysis of the cash asking price for a five carat round diamond by color and clarity. From December 2004 to June 2008 we see a spectacular and unsustainable 250% increase at the top quality colorless range. During the downturn in the economy, from June 2008 to October 2009, we saw a decrease of 15% from the high. In the near-colorless range, or more commercial quality range of large round diamonds, we see a 177% increase of the prices over the three and half year period and a decrease of 10% in the downturn. Although the near-colorless diamonds lost less, they also didn't appreciate as much.

According to Rick Shatz of Rick Shatz, Inc., a leading supplier of antique cut diamonds and fancy yellow diamonds, "June 2008 was the high. The commercial diamond market collapsed 30-35 percent since the 2008 high benchmark. It seems now that prices have finally bottomed out and solidified."

The moment the pendulum swings away from the credit market we have been mired in for decades (now) and fully reaches the cash market we're heading for (soon, or in some instances, right now) that moment will reflect the rock bottom of the cash market.

The Auction, The Gallery or The Internet
The auction market is a venue whereby knowledge, emotion and cash all wrestle each to the hammer. Thirty or forty years ago there were two distinct markets: auctions (dealer based), and galleries consumer based). They would occasionally swim through each other, but were usually separate and distinct. The collector or final consumer who occasionally ventured into the auction hall was usually willing to outbid the dealer. On the other hand, dealers and galleries won the lion's share of the bidding and resold to private consumers at a distinctly higher market level.

Nowadays, you can Google® or Bing® your way to the history and facts that will place you in a position of knowledge and confidence-driving factors in the acquisition process. Given this, if the auction platform is transparent and the reputation of the house is well-founded, a dealer's cash is not worth much more these days than a private collector's cash. The two markets, having become arguably murky at the best of times, are now more so due to the credit crunch we are experiencing.Many dealers and private individuals are strapped for cash and as a result are watching their estates migrate into the hands of private individuals with smart money reserves. This sell-off in the secondary diamond and jewelry market is comparable to finding a small producing mine, and a surge of fine diamonds and jewels is effervescing. Besides the credit crunch, another factor is adding value; portability. Both fine art and other precious objects of art are portable, but nothing is as portable and concealable as jewels.

Although the auctions are a proven business model, the impact of the e-commerce market is driving the auctions to a higher level of integrity and competitive performance. The well known examples, like eBay®,® and® have set the stage for the new generation of online venues. The next wave of consumer-to-consumer online venues will require not only transparency, knowledge, certification of goods and a good deal, their success will be grounded in personal relationships. Whether the inquiry about a prospective sale comes from the buyer, the seller or the insurer, the flow of information-or lack thereof-is fundamental to the success of the online broker. The days of answering-machines and robo-calls are numbered. The personal relationship is back.Online venues like®,®,, and have barely begun to embrace their potential in specialty areas, one of which is gems and jewelry. Collectors of personal property along with insurers who have a financial stake in the game will continue to test the vulnerabilities and strengths of the traditional auction houses alongside their competition.From 2008 through 2009, we see eight interesting record diamond prices sold at auction, and in May 2009, we see the highest price per carat ever.

Name of Diamond/
Date of Sale
TTL Weight/
Sale Price
6/5/2008 -Dawn of the Millenium 101.27 Shield F VVS1 $61,321.22 $6,210,000.00 Collector
10/16/2008 - Ponahalo 102.11 Emerald L SI1 $ 40,294.78 $ 4,114,500. Trade
10/16/2008 - Ponahalo 70.87 Emerald L VS2 $ 30,400.73 $ 30,400.73 Trade
11/20/2008 - Pejmani (Seller) 8.02 Pear Fancy Pink SI1 $ 164,588.53 $ 1,320,000.00 N/A
11/20/2008 - Golconda JAR 11.70 Cushion D VS2 $ 85,155.47 $ 996,319.00 Collector
11/20/2008 - Harry Winston 10.50 Pear D VVS1 $ 81,630.95 $ 857,125.00 Collector
12/11/2008 - Wittelsbach Diamond 35.56 Cushion Grayish Blue VS2 $ 682,227.22 $24,260,000.00 TradeTrade
5/12/2009 - Graff Diamond 7.03 Cushion Vivid Blue IF $1,349,928.88 $ 9,490,000.00 Trade

In October, Doyles NY ( auction results were very strong and astonished the US dealers: the Asian dealers and private consumers left no bargains for the US consumption. In the long term, diamond prices will most likely remain solid and prices will rise as long as the dollar continues to remain weak.

Bargains and Best Buys as the Market Recovers
For the world-class collector, "buy now" items are colored vivid diamonds, finest and rare uncategorized stones and signed vintage pieces in the Edwardian, Art Deco, Art Retro and Modern periods. The personal taste of a single individual with sufficient buying power can create a whole new category of collectible as purist collectors buy passionately within a narrow genre-and the rest of the world follows. This leaves a world of "sleepers." In the US, the undervalued categories include the older Georgian and Victorian pieces with influence and motifs from Eastern cultures. These are often passed by, or at least under-sold, and are slowly going back to the Middle-East, India and the far east from where many of them originated.

In New York, Georgian and Victorian pieces are currently considered drab and un-wearable, but the collectibility is in the laborious details and the level of execution. Pearls, colored stones and enamels - not diamonds - were the signature of the 19th and 20th century creations. Diamonds were very rare and when they were employed they were encrusted with the tiniest beads of metal, usually silver. What was considered a "jewel" when viewed by candle light is considered passé under the glare of our electric lights and expanded senses.

Necklace and detail - Fifty-one white antique cushion old mine-cut diamonds totaling 59.80carats, circa 1850-1900. A contemporary reproduction in gold with silver bezels crafted in the Victorian style. Asking price $250,000. Photo courtesy Rick Shatz Inc. NY (

Transitional pieces are another overlooked category. The Cartier brooch pictured below is an example. Although it has been authenticated by Cartier as a 1927 New York-manufactured piece, it is not a great example of a "high" Art Deco style. The solid metal-work of the top is Deco and the plaques suspended and dropped at the bottom are Deco as well, but the cascade of diamonds below is executed by Edwardian design.


Art Deco brooch with Edwardian inspired tassels. The pearl is natural and the center diamond is guaranteed light fancy yellow on the cusp of fancy yellow. The entire brooch is original and verified by Cartier with a Cartier certificate circa 1927. Windsor's price is $115,000. Photo courtesy Hugo Foutermann, Windsor Jewelers (

The lacy fabrication is a mainstay from the short-lived Edwardian period, around 1902-1910. After 1920 the metal gets heavier and the pieces are more metallic. After reviewing the piece, I can vouch for the fact that the stones are cut from the period, or even earlier, and the setting labor and the finish underneath are superb and equivalent to the highest French shops in the Deco era.

All in all, it's a good time for those who can buy at the top end, and for collectors who know that "sleepers" are often just treasures waiting for a new dawn.

David Wolf, G.G., A.S.A., Master Gemologist Appraiser® is a gem and jewelry consultant in New York with 30 years of experience and a specialty in risk management. He has facilitated thousands of fair and reasonable settlements―from the World Trade Center to Hurricane Katrina―with his knowledge and transparency dismissing doubt and providing confidence on both sides of the negotiating table. Mr. Wolf is also a specialist in antique diamonds and jewelry. He has previously worked for Windsor Jewelers and Macy's, has been a Graduate Gemologist since 1985, and was on the Board of Governors and Chaired the Gems & Jewelry Discipline Committee of the American Society of Appraisers.

Bad Times is Good News to Collectors

November 2008

It's going to get worse before it gets better. That's my opinion after appraising diamonds for the past 30 years. Here's a sign. The Diamond Trading Company, formerly known as DeBeers is releasing a mere 20% of rough diamonds compared to last years release, while; the global competition is selling rough diamonds at auction without reserves to keep cash-flow alive.

Meanwhile, who needs diamonds when everyone needs cash? The stores are relatively loaded with stock and markdowns are typically 40% off ticket. Tiffany called private clients this past Holiday season to announce a 15% discount on solitaire diamonds.

The dealers were cautious to ship merchandise for two good reasons. Companies were slow to pay. The other reason was; they were going out of business and defaulting. So, with the severe credit crunch and with diamonds oversaturating the pipeline, we are now observing the collision of the new market with the old. Hence, prices, like other commodities, remain extremely volatile.

ABN Amro, the world's leading bank to the diamond industry made headlines last year. Under distress, they failed to spin–off their International Diamond and Jewelry Group. Back on September 8, 2008 at the Rapaport-sponsored diamond conference, Mr. Victor Van der Kwast, CEO of ABN Amro, pre-empted the failure when he detailed the excessive lending of the past and warned the industry that provisional lending in the future will demand greater operational efficiency and transparency. Profit will be more important than volume, as it always should have been; and, loans will go to those companies with resources in place, to reap greater profits worldwide.

Here comes the good news. This market will take time to turnaround. And until it does, if you are a jewelry person with a sense of value, it's a great time to join the dealers at auction where prices are faltering. It's time to roll up those sleeves and study the auction market, or; call your jeweler, or broker who is actively buying from the public and let them know what you are looking for. If the price is right, you're a buyer; with the stipulation that you can take it to your independent appraiser for a consultation.

David Wolf, GG, ASA, Master Gemologist Appraiser®



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