Gold and diamond values are way up

This may be a good time to sell old jewelry that you don’t really wear anymore and that may be worth more in cash than in sentimental value. Gold recently traded at $735 an ounce — nearly double its price five years ago — and has been as high as $1,011 this year. Diamond prices have also soared.

Before you decide whether to sell a piece of jewelry, you need to know how much it’s really worth. The best way to do that is to hire an independent appraiser who specializes in jewelry, ideally one accredited by the American Society of Appraisers. You can search for one on the group’s Web site, www.appraisers.org.

Also check Pricescope.com, which includes diamond price comparisons and forums where previous clients of particular appraisers may have posted useful comments about them.

Appraisers charge $75 to $300 per hour, depending on their experience and region. An appraisal of a one-carat diamond ring might take 30 minutes. The appraiser should be able to provide a rough estimate of his/her charge before the appraisal. An appraisal might not be worthwhile if you are quite certain that the jewelry is not worth more than a few hundred dollars.

Helpful: Clean your jewelry before you bring it to the appraiser. Otherwise, the appraiser will likely have to clean it — at his/her hourly rate. Improper cleaning can damage jewelry, so refer to the jewelry cleaning instructions on my Web site, www.jewelry-appraisal.com (click “Jewelry Information”).

Tell your appraiser that you intend to sell this jewelry. Request a written “quality assessment” that does not include an estimate of the value and a separate estimate of the jewelry’s marketable cash value (the amount it would likely fetch if you sold it). Show the quality assessment to potential buyers without the value estimate. Many jewelry buyers assume that an appraiser’s value estimate is an inflated retail or insurance value and so will offer much less.

Caution: Don’t depend on free appraisals offered at jewelry stores or in urban jewelry districts. These appraisers might be unqualified or might quote lowball prices in hopes of buying your jewelry for less than it is worth. The reputation of the jewelry’s designer… the quality of the workmanship… and the cut, clarity and color of the stones all might affect value dramatically in ways that an inexperienced appraiser might not understand.

WHERE TO SELL

Your appraiser should be able to recommend appropriate places to sell your jewelry. Possibilities…

Auction houses. An auction house will give the seller about 70% to 80% of the winning bid and charge the buyer a 20% fee. This is a good way to sell higher-end jewelry. To find an auction house, visit www.artfact.com.

Consignment stores. These often are the best places to sell used jewelry, but they do not pay until it sells, so they are not a great option if you need quick cash or don’t want to take a chance that gold prices will drop. Expect a consignment store to claim a 40% to 60% commission.

eBay. The Internet auction site is an effective, low-cost way to market used jewelry to a large number of potential buyers. Downsides: Some bidders are thieves trying to steal your jewelry… and buyers might not trust your auctions unless you have a long track record on eBay. Consider hiring an eBay “trading assistant” — an independent eBay seller experienced in jewelry sales — to sell your items for you for a fee. (Visit www.ebaytradingassistant.com.)

Estate dealers. Estate dealers buy jewelry and other items, often in large lots. In most regions, there are at least a few listed in the local phone book. Do not approach estate dealers until your jewelry has been appraised. An appraiser should be able to point you toward your area’s estate dealers who are trustworthy.

HOW TO SELL “SCRAP”

If your gold jewelry does not carry the trademark of a high-end retailer or a designer whose work is respected and sought after by collectors… is not antique… does not contain gemstones… is in poor condition… or is prominently monogrammed, it likely is worth more melted down for its precious metal content than as jewelry. Call jewelry stores and ask if they buy scrap gold, and how much they pay. The scrap value minus 15% is generally a good deal.