Steve Duke Presents Tradio Gems:
Appraisals: What’s It Worth?


 Click Play Arrow Below To Listen To The Show.

[audio:|titles=Appraisals: What’s It Worth? ]

Steve Duke:
At Westchester Gold and Diamonds, we buy a little bit of everything. We buy jewelry, we buy antiques, and we buy collectibles. The one phrase that comes to my mind when people come walking in that door is, “What’s it worth?” That’s just a universal question: “What’s it worth?”

That’s why I’m here. After they’ve said that to me, I have to look at their item, and I have to say to them a couple of different things. We have to sort of qualify that.

We do have a pawn shop as well as a jewelry store at Westchester Gold, and I have to say to them, “Number one, is it something that you wanted to sell, or is it something that you wanted to pawn or to borrow money on?”

They’ll give me an answer on that, or they’ll say, “I just want to get it appraised.”

Now I’ve got to qualify them again: “You want an appraisal. Do you want a written appraisal or a verbal appraisal? Do you want to know what we would pay for that item? Is this for a bankruptcy appraisal, is it for an estate appraisal, or is it for an insurance appraisal?”

Now, they’re getting flustered. They’re going, “I just want to know what it’s worth!”

Ken Lovejoy:
Why are there so many different types of appraisals?

It goes along with the question, “What’s it worth?” Most people, when they say to me, “What’s this worth?” in their minds, they’re interested in selling that particular item. I’ve got to arrive at a value for that particular item.

Now your mind kicks into another gear and says, “Let’s look at this particular item that the people have. Is it an antique? Is it a piece of jewelry? Is it something that’s gold? Is it something that’s silver? Is it something made of platinum? Is it a precious metal? Is it a non-precious metal? Is there a market for it?”

We talk about all kinds of collectibles. Right now, with the way the market is, it’s very difficult for me to sit there and say to people, “This is something that we can use,” because the market has changed so dramatically.

I always love it when people come to me and say, “Before you give me a price, I’ve looked this up, and I know what it’s worth.”

I say to them, “Well…,”

“What are you here for?”

“Where did you look it up?”

“I looked it up in a book, and I know what it’s worth.”

I’ll say, “Then why did you bring it here?”

“Well, we want to see what you think it’s worth.”

“Oh, okay.” So, it’s a little cat-and-mouse game. What’s it worth? A lot of times I’ll say to them, “How old was that book that you looked it up in?”

“Well, I didn’t get a brand new book. I’ve got one from 2005,” or “I’ve got one from 1998.”

You go, “Okay. What is the item that you have?”

“Well, I’ve got a cookie jar.”

I go, “Okay, a cookie jar. Let’s look at it.”

They’ve looked it up in their book.

Let’s digress a minute. The prices you see in these collector books and the way that these authors get these prices, number one, they will run around, and they’ll canvas different shops – antique shops – and get a price that people seem to be asking for this. They’ll get the auction results from lots of different auction houses around the country, and they’ll sort of get a mean price on what that particular item has brought during that timeframe.

Now, we’ve talked about antiques and collectibles being cyclical: they go in cycles. So, at some point in time, that cycle might be really hot, and then it’s phased out and people have moved on.

It’s like Beanie Babies. I told a lot of people years and years ago on this show, “Don’t put your money in Beanie Babies.”

I had people call me up on the phone at the shop and say, “What the heck do you know? I’ve got thousands of dollars in Beanie Babies, and I know that I’m going to make money on these.”

I said, “I’ve talked about collectibles. As long as you look at that thing, and you hold it and caress it and touch it, and it makes you happy and makes you smile, then by all means be a collector. However, if you believe that it’s going to make you money, then I would say at this point in time – this juncture – you might want to sell those Beanie Babies, take your money, and run because it’s an artificial market and it’s going to crash.”

Lo and behold, for the $500 and $1,000 Beanie Babies that were out there at that particular time, you can still get big money for them; $10 or $15 apiece for them. It’s an artificial market, and it’s not happening.

When people say, “I’ve looked it up in these books,” again, you don’t know what was going on at that particular time. Back in 1998 – right around that timeframe – Andy Warhol had sold his cookie jar collection and it brought fantastic prices! I had cookie jars that I was asking $300 for that brought $1,500 and $2,000 at auction. Now, was my cookie jar worth $2,000 anymore? No.

What it’s worth has a lot to do with its province – who owned it – and to be able to prove who owned it. People bought these jars not particularly because they were that rare, but because Andy Warhol had owned them. So, the province goes along with that as far as what it’s worth.

People come in with other stuff. They may come in with a pocket watch. It’s a fairly nice pocket watch, and by itself it’s a $400 or $500 pocket watch. However, along with that pocket watch, they’ve got province: “This watch was carried by my uncle, who was so-and-so during the Gold Rush in California, and he became the mayor of such-and-such town in California. These are his initials on it.”

It adds more province to the watch. It adds a little bit of history to the watch. It makes it more collectible for people who happen to collect Gold Rush items.

These are all things that are entailed when I look at something and say, “What’s it worth?” If people have province on a particular item, it’s going to help it if it belonged to somebody who was important.

I mentioned three different types of appraisals that we do. We do bankruptcy, insurance, and estate appraisals. For bankruptcy – and we have a lot of attorneys send their clients to us – when you come in, they want to know what it would cost to replace that particular item.

Generally, if somebody has brought it in, it’s a piece of jewelry that they’ve owned for a long period of time, and it’s no longer new. So, we’re not looking for a brand new replacement value on that. We’re looking to replace it with a similar item. So, this value is going to be considerably less than if it was a brand new piece of jewelry because we’re replacing like with like.

Now, if someone comes in, and they’ve inherited an estate and they’ve got jewelry pieces, they go, “The state wants to know what these are worth.” Again, we’re back to that phrase, “What’s it worth?”

We look at what that item would be worth on the wholesale market; not the retail, but on the wholesale market. As a dealer in antique jewelry or estate pieces, to me that piece may be worth $1,000 because I feel that I can sell it for $1,200 or $1,300. Another dealer may look at it and say, “It’s worth $800,” because he’s going to sell it for $1,000. So, again, we look at sort of a mean price on that type of thing, and basically we come up with a wholesale value for the estate purposes.

People are going to pay taxes on what they’ve inherited on this estate piece. To give them a little bit of a break, we’re not putting a ridiculously high retail price on that. We’re putting a realistic wholesale value on that thing for estate purposes.

Someone may come in and say to me, “I want this for an insurance appraisal, and I want you to do it as high as you possibly can.”

Let me explain a little bit about insurance appraisals to you. Number one, it doesn’t do you that much good to put a ridiculously high appraisal on an item. Why? If you look at your policy, that insurance company has the right to either replace that with a cash value or to replace that particular item.

Let’s say you had a Rolex watch, and you lost your watch. When you come in, I’m going to turn around and I’m going to put the replacement retail value of that Rolex watch on your appraisal. You may have come in and bought that watch for $10,000, and today the replacement value on that watch is $23,000. For insurance purposes, we’re going to put that $23,000 number on there. If you’ve lost that watch, that insurance company is going to replace. They’re probably not going to turn around and give you that $23,000. They’re going to turn around and call a dealer up who deals in new watches, and they’re going to say, “What is our cost on that particular watch?”

What the dealer is going to do – and we do a lot of replacements for different insurance companies – is say to us, “Steve, take your wholesale value, add 20% to it as your profit margin, add the sales tax to it, and tell us how much that new watch is going to cost us.”

So, here’s what you’re looking at. You’ve paid the insurance on a $23,000 watch even though it only cost you $10,000. However, if you’ve lost it, the insurance company is not going to replace it with a pre-loved or used watch. They’re going to replace it with a brand new watch. This is why we’re using that higher amount.

A lot of stores, when they’ve sold you a piece of jewelry to – what I call – “massage your ego,” you’ll say, “I paid $1,000 for this ring. I want an insurance appraisal.”

A lot of times, you’ll find that they’ll give you an insurance appraisal for $5,000 or $6,000 or $7,000, even though you paid $1,000 for it. Could you replace that ring for $1,000? Maybe not. It might cost $2,000 or $3,000, but it’s not going to cost $5,000 or $6,000 to replace. So you’ve turned around and paid a lot of money for a lot of years for your insurance. If you’ve lost that ring the insurance company, again, is going to get hold of somebody like myself and say, “Steve, what is this ring going to cost us?”

I’m going to say to him, “$1,000 plus 20% on top of that, and the sales tax.”

This is what you’re going to wind up getting a check for.

Or, they’re going to say to me, “Replace that ring.” Or they’re going to say to the customer, “Would you want a check for x amount of dollars or do you want us to replace that piece of jewelry?”
They can go to different companies and replace it with them. Or you have the option to be able to say, “I don’t want your company to replace it. I’ve got my own jeweler who I want to replace this, and I feel comfortable with them.”

They’ll say, “Fine. Here’s a check. We can either make it to the jeweler or we’ll make it to you.”

Or, a lot of times, they’ll put both names on there. We’ll replace that piece of jewelry, and they’ll sign the check over to us. This is why you get a big discrepancy on appraisal value on different items.

A lot of times, people will still come in, and they’ll have that insurance appraisal. They’ll say, “Steve, what’s this worth?”

We look at it. It might be a diamond, and we’ll figure out the wholesale value on that diamond. If we can buy it about 20% below the wholesale value, then it’s worth our while to buy. If they want more than the wholesale value, it doesn’t make sense for me or someone else in the business to buy it for that kind of money.

We don’t need to put it in our inventory. If we needed that diamond, we could pick up the phone, and there are diamond houses that I can order that diamond for for you, and it costs me a little bit more than I bought it from you at a wholesale price. So, if I could save 20%, yes, it’s certainly worth putting your hand in your pocket and buying it.

A lot times, people will come in with an insurance appraisal. You have to remember, when we talked about the insurance appraisal, that’s something that’s a pretty inflated number. I’ll say to people, “What do you want?”

They’ll say, “What’s it worth?”

I’ll look at it, and they’ll go, “I’ve got an appraisal.”

I’ll go, “Great. Let me see it.”

When we look at it, I’ve graded the color, I’ve graded the clarity, we’ve looked at the measurements on the stone, and we’ve established what it should probably weigh. In my mind, it’s not the right color, according to what this jeweler has put on there. It’s not the same clarity. So, right off the bat, I’m not going to be anywhere near this appraisal because I don’t believe the person who did the appraisal really knew what the heck they were talking about. Or, again, it’s there to massage your ego.

If I’ve looked at the item and I say, “It does match the appraisal; it’s the right color and the right clarity,” I’ll say to them, “This is an insurance appraisal. This is for your company if it was lost. What I would pay for this is this amount.”

Usually, if it’s a realistic insurance appraisal, it’s going to be worth in real money – what we call the ACV or the actual cash value – 20-30% of that insurance appraisal.

Again, you have to remember we’ve talked about insurance as an inflated appraisal. Your estate appraisal is really what it’s worth; your ACV, your actual cash value. For bankruptcy, it’s more of a replacement value of that particular item in that particular state, and in that condition, whether it has some defects in it or anything like that. So, a lot of things come into play when people say, “What’s it worth?”

If they bring in a piece of gold jewelry, they’ll say, “What’s it worth?”

If it’s something that resalable, we could pay a premium on it. If it’s something that’s going to get melted down, then a lot of people say, “This is like brand new. It’s got a couple of little dings in it…”

That’s the magic word. It’s almost perfect. It’s like being almost pregnant. It either is or it isn’t. A lot of times, the pieces that come in are out of date. It’s stuff from back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We wore a lot of the bigger gold pieces. We’re not anymore. A lot of this stuff is not in style anymore.

There are still a lot of people who may enjoy it. A lot of times, I’ll buy funky pieces. We turn around and polish them up and put them in our estate trays, and we don’t sell at a new price or anywhere near a new price, where people can get a deal on it. However, a lot of the stuff we buy, the condition is bad on it, it’s out of date, it’s nothing that’s going to sell, and we melt it.

So, when people say, “What’s it worth?” again, we have to go back and say, “Is this something that’s resalable for us, or is it something that’s going to get thrown in the melting pot and go by the wayside?”

Turned into something else.

A lot of times, people may come in and they’ve gotten prices at other places. The people there have given them the gold price for it, and we’ll be a lot higher. The girls may come to me and say, “Steve, you like this kind of stuff. What can we pay for it?”

I go, “Oh, I like this.”

This is stuff that we can put in a showcase because somebody may like this. Or it’s an estate piece. It’s a nice period piece or it’s an antique piece; it’s got great style to it. We’ll pay a big premium for it.

So, when I tell people, “Before you get rid of it,” to a lot of people who come in town and buy out of the hotels, “basically, these people are just ripping you off.” It’s really sad. I generally send people over to get an idea of what these people are paying for stuff.

There was a gentleman in town this week. I sent a $500 silver dollar over there to see what he would pay for it. It was worth $25 to him. You know, I think it’d be worth $25 to anybody at that point in time, but it’s a piece that we paid $400 for. There’s still a profit margin in there for us, but we’re not paying $25 for it.

A lot of people will say to us, “Steve, you buy coins. If we bring them in, do you just buy it for the silver content?”

No, we don’t. If it’s a collectible coin, we will pay you a premium as a collectible coin. If it’s a silver coin, and it doesn’t have any real coin value to it, we’re going to buy it for the silver content. A lot of coins are old, but again, they made so many of them – they made millions and millions of them – that they really haven’t appreciated a whole lot.

So, when people say to me, “What’s it worth?” there are all kinds of stuff that goes through my mind. There are all kinds of things that we have to take into consideration.

We’ve been doing this for 37 years. If you’ve got antiques or collectibles, and you want to know what it’s worth for insurance purposes or an actual cash value, please stop by and see us. We’re in the Bear Plaza behind ABC Liquors.

With that, we’re going to take a quick break and return to Tradio.

Listen to Tradio right here at and read excerpts and highlights from past Tradio programs.

Have Questions about your antiques, estate jewelry, collectibles or old treasures?

If you have questions for Steve Duke to answer about your jewelry, antiques or collectibles, just send a photo of the item and your question directly to Steve Duke at and Steve will research it for you and you may be contacted to participate in an upcoming Tradio episode. Be sure to include your name, email and phone number along with your question and email it to: