Salcedo Stories

#SalcedoSays: When to Let Go of Your Heirloom Jewelry

#SalcedoSays: When to Let Go of Your Heirloom Jewelry

  • 24 April 2021

BY JOSEF SAGEMÜLLER– In technical terms, heirloom jewelry refers to an item of jewelry that has been passed on and inherited from a family member.

My love affair with jewels started in the years after the EDSA Revolution. I was in my teens, living in Negros Occidental, and the mother of my close friend dealt with antique and heirloom pieces.

Negros by then was well past its glamorous heyday— dealing with one economic crisis after another. Many old families, whose coffers were overflowing with riches, just wanted to pack up and leave the country, family treasures in the process.

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L: A vintage ruby and old mine cut diamond ring from ‘The Well-Appointed Life: Fine Jewelry & Timepieces’ auction, September 2017. R: An impressive Art Deco diamond ring, circa 1920s from the ‘Fine Jewelry & Timepieces’ auction, September 2015

Antique pieces, with large diamonds weighing 20 carats and above, were not uncommon. They were actually being sold for a song! Anything lower than three carats were jokingly considered “chispas” or diamond chips.

More often than not, old parures (jewelry sets) not deemed fashionable were simply melted down and sold for scrap, with the smaller stones under a carat being sold off for next to nothing.

I remember how an exquisite large black opal set in an Art Nouveau setting in the style of Rene Lalique was melted down because it was considered too big, clunky, and unfashionable.

A beautiful French-made Art Deco platinum ladies ring with a large central stone of about eight carats, flanked with a geometric pave-set pattern of diamonds, was completely dismantled and the stones reset in the then “modern style” copied off a US mail order catalog. While it was the habit back then, the irony is that years later that very same ring would have fetched a fortune in the international market just because of its design and make.

It was the exposure to all these treasures that began my fascination with heirloom jewelry. They made me aware of the incredible beauty and character of antique pieces that were then deemed out of fashion: the imperfect cutting of antique diamonds, the warmth of old gold settings which contrasted the harsh “bling” of the modern diamonds and the mechanical coldness of modern jewels.

Alright, but how do I know when it’s time to sell?

Remember that a lot of heirloom jewels were bought as assets to be liquidated when the need arises— so in selling, they are fulfilling their purpose.

A green jade and 0.22 tcw diamond demi-parure necklace, earclips, ring and brooch set in palladium from the ‘Fine Jewelry & Timepieces’ auction, March 2019

How is the value of this type of jewelry determined?

The sentimental value of any jewelry– especially heirloom jewelry– is something that you cannot put a price tag on. There are ways, however, to appraise an item objectively.

An important first step is researching similar pieces in reference books and catalogs, and comparing them to each other.

The next step is determining its value by identifying how much similar pieces were sold in the past and adjusting that against inflation and current trends. Art Deco pieces, for example, are a perennial favorite and will never go out of style. Hence, they are consistently traded at a premium, whereas certain eras such as Mid-century Modern to the Seventies, which were considered passé a decade ago, are all the rage now, and that demand will affect the jewelry’s current price.

Most importantly, the value of a piece is dictated by its geographic location. Certain styles that do not sell in one country may fetch a fortune elsewhere.

As a novice collector or seller, you are well-advised to inform yourself before buying or selling! The internet is an amazing free resource, though sometimes flawed. And if you simply listen to the advice of someone only used to selling modern pieces for the local market, they will fail to see the value of an antique heirloom piece and price it solely based on its material value.

This is why it is of benefit to sell to an auction house with dedicated specialists who have honed their craft for a long time, such as yours truly for Salcedo Auctions.

If you’re looking to offer your heirloom jewelry, feel free to get in touch with me by filling out this consignment form.

Josef Sagemüller has been Specialist, Jewelry at Salcedo Auctions since 2017. He studied Jewelry Design and Goldsmithing in Germany, and has a Graduate Gemologist Degree from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), specialising in Vintage and Antique Jewelry.