How common is it to have stones switched out on an old piece of jewelry? Can the average buyer detect this, even with a loupe?
One or two small stones won’t affect the value much. Someone brought a diamond piece recently and wanted the diamonds put into something else, an old-cut European or old mine diamond stuck into a piece of 1950s jewelry. Obviously you have to be a gemologist to tell the difference between an old mine cut, an old European cut and a modern brilliant cut.
It’s not uncommon to see older cut stones in newer pieces, meaning, for example, a stone cut in the 1890s in a 1920s piece. But then there’s the bait-and-switch thing. The only way to tell is if the cut is different. On a Cartier bracelet, you expect a replacement to be done well: a small stone or two in a pavé piece, for example. If it’s a bad replacement than, yes, that will reflect value, but if it’s done well and not detectable, chances are it won’t. In some cases, it’s very difficult to tell.
In terms of the overall value of the jewelry, what should a buyer look for in the stones?
If you’re buying diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds, you should know what to look for in terms of color and cut. Again: arm yourself with knowledge. In terms of telling synthetics from real stones, the average person can’t do that. It takes an expert eye.
You need to deal with a reputable dealer. Someone who is buying antique and period jewelry to wear or collect should be able to rely on the expertise of the people they buy from. Any reputable dealer should be accountable to their regular customers. They’d be fools not to. That is their reputation.
Dealers like Diana Singer and Barry Weber, both second- or third-generation dealers with family businesses, operate on reputation and the ability to accrue highly desirable pieces. You know they’ll be right and if they’re wrong, you can take it back. It’s unrealistic to expect average buyers to become gemologists. So, on that level, you have to rely on the sellers. It wouldn’t hurt to get a second opinion or appraisal on something really valuable.
Someone asked me recently where he could go on 47th Street [Manhattan's Diamond District] to snag a deal on a diamond for his wife. I told him not to go. It would be like sending a lamb into the jungle.
Oh, absolutely! Looking for deals can be a real pitfall. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. There’s usually a reason it’s so cheap. Buying on eBay is also extremely risky. If you know what you’re doing you can, but don’t buy something based on a picture. I get queries through my website constantly, describing something and asking what it is, what it’s worth. No way I can evaluate something from a description or even with a photo. I can’t tell materials, I can’t see condition or read the marks. So many things you can’t discern based on a photo. It’s too easy to Photoshop something.