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In jewelry, it's all about the rocks. "The bigger the glitter, the better the value," says Harry Rinker, a nationally syndicated antiques columnist and author of Sell, Keep, or Toss?
At a time when many former jewelry buyers suddenly hope to sell off heirlooms to pay the mortgage, it's important to remember that the bling that best retains value comes from such well-known jewelers as Cartier, Verdura, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Boucheron. "Although these pieces are manufactured with gold, diamonds, and other precious gems, it's really the design that moves them beyond what the product is made of," says Karen Keane, of Boston-based auction house Skinner.
While gold pieces are more valuable than they were a year ago, the weak economy has cut the price of precious gems, making this a buyer's market. The price of diamonds, for example, has fallen slightly for the first time in many years, says Paul Pastor, president of Washington-area jeweler Chas Schwartz & Son. He says a high-quality 3-carat diamond that could sell for $210,000 in October 2008 now fetches $185,000. "It's a buyer's market," he says, noting his estate-purchasing business is up 25% in the last year.
Because the market has been flooded with watch collections, those prices have dropped, too. At two major recent watch auctions in New York, at least 500 items went unsold. A late-model Patek Philippe World Time that sold for $38,000 last fall is now available for $29,500, Pastor says. And there is little demand for old standard wristwatches such as models from Hamilton and Bulova—or old pocket watches, which are considered fuddy-duddy, experts say.
Antiques expert Rinker says jewelry from the Victorian and Art Deco eras draw the most attention, while interest has waned for pieces from the 1950s and '60s. "That bubble has burst a bit," he says.
If you're looking to sell Grandma's ruby ring or just want to know what your stuff is worth, read on.
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