What's It Worth? Upon Further Investigation

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A North Carolina jeweler, helping a local octogenarian sell some family heirlooms, sent us a photo of a very colorful necklace last month. She described it as nongold and colorful paste, telling us it was “costume jewelry.”

We don’t deal in most costume jewelry, but do enjoy centuries-old heavy gold plate “French paste” costume jewelry, which often brings hundreds of dollars. Based on her description, we made an offer of $1,000 for the suite. Upon receiving it, we were pleased and paid her.

A few days later, we decided to take out some of the stones and put them on a refractometer, which was impossible to do while mounted. We were shocked to find that the large pink stones were topaz and the green stones where chrysoberyl! Not wanting to scrape or file the gold, we used a cheap electronic tester that indicated it was not gold. But it LOOKED like gold, and typically jewelers do not put precious gems in non-gold.

So not wanting to scrape or file, we sent the necklace to New York for XRF spectrometer testing. This “gun” (as they call it) can – 98 percent of the time – identify gold fineness. They had a hard time with it because the gold was low karat weight in some places (8k to 9k) and up to 22k weight in others. They explained that the more inexpensive tester the jeweler and we used gave a “false negative,” because of the varied karat weight, and the fact that the the bit topaz stones had foil backs.

Further investigation indicated this was a late Georgian-era (circa 1835) suite with over 50 carats of gemstones, and for sure solid gold.

While we see these being retailed by big stores for $15,000 to $50,000, we feel the fair market value will be our auction estimate of $10,000 to $20,000 and told the jeweler to expect some more money after the auction. She was thrilled. Further, her elderly customer was ecstatic at the news since the jeweler will share the excess with him!

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