Appraising designer jewelry presents unique challenges valuation
isn't based simply on materials or common retail markup. How the collectors'
market values the designer's name is important too
When you visit an art gallery, you find a wide selection of work and
styles within each medium oil paintings, alone, are done in many different
styles and methods. When the gallery sets the price for an individual work,
it seldom looks at the cost of the elements (oil, brushes, canvas) and would
rarely consider the number of hours taken to create the work. Instead, the
critical elements for pricing start with the artist's name and then the
individual work as it represents the artist. The value of one of Picasso's
works is not based on what it would cost to reproduce a similar work by
a lesser artist. The most important element is that Picasso's works are
collected by those willing to pay large sums to add to their collections.
Our industry is awakening to the value of designer jewelry as mass marketers
battle over price points. Designers, studio artists and galleries cater
to those desiring distinctive and unique pieces, something that speaks of
our personality. While the industry moves in these directions, appraisers
are being left behind, for a variety of reasons.
When examining a piece of jewelry that would qualify as designer jewelry
(see "Designer Defined"), an appraiser faces several problems.
The first and most important consideration is determining what that designer's
work brings in the market. Many studio designers use a "bricks and
mortar" approach to pricing. They add the elements of their cost (materials
and labor), determine what markup they want and price the item accordingly.
However, there are a growing number who price an item based on what their
name commands. Unless the appraiser is familiar with that designer's position
in the market, the appraiser can't tell how to value that item. Before the
appraiser can research the item and the designer's position in the market,
he or she must recognize it as a designer's piece.
One major problem facing the appraiser is the recognition of a trademark.
Many lesser designers use only their initials in block letters. The obvious
question: how many JDs can there be in the U.S. and beyond?
Another problem is the lack of a clear trademark. The mark may have been
on the piece, but was poorly imprinted or partially removed by a polishing
process and is now indistinguishable. If the mark is readable and distinctive,
the appraiser must find out who the designer is. The client may know. Other
designers may know. Even though there are trademark reference books, many
marks are not included. If the appraiser discovers whose mark it is, he
or she must then locate the designer and find out what that designer brings
in the market. If the designer sells through galleries, the appraiser must
contact galleries. If the designer has a private studio, the appraiser must
contact the designer. Often an appraiser can't answer all these questions,
and a large number of items can't be properly valued.
Art that is collected has unique value based on its collectibility. A 1990
book by Daloma Armentrout, Art Jewelry & Metals: Makers, Markets, Meanings(6034
W. Courtyard Dr., Suite 305, Austin, TX 78730), states "collectible
markets operate under an elite competition to acquire, rather than broad
competition to provide, often leaving price competition in the dust..."
Studio-metalsmiths' works often are distributed at artist-dictated prices
through exclusive gallery representation the context is one of "art
in collection." However, jewelry art is collected only in a limited
fashion. Most of those who are indeed designers are not collected.
In general, you don't commonly see a used item that has been designed
going to galleries or auction houses and bringing a special price because
of its collectibility. Collectors are not competing with each other to buy
pieces of these designers. The question must be asked at this point: are
the works of these designers something we can classify as art? While they
are art, their collectibility can modify the methodology necessary for valuation.
If a designer's work is highly collected, market data (actual market activity
of similar items) is necessary. If not highly collected, basic research
into the designer's pricing policies and how his or her work is sold in
the market is the starting criteria. Proceed cautiously with valuation.
It should be noted that "designer jewelry" is still priced
below comparable studio-time efforts in other media and most pieces are
bargains relative to other art forms. Considering design and materials values,
much of the finely wrought production of designer-goldsmiths is priced competitively
to finer commercial production. Most typical jewelry retailers have not
yet realized this opportunity, but design devotees and collectors have;
thus, the gallery movement flourishes. Jewelers would do well to learn from
galleries, which go out of their way to collect works, to refine the presentation
of certain works and to educate their clientele about materials, processes
and approach to metals production.
Armentrout's book sets a good groundwork for some of the pitfalls the appraiser
faces. Some of these include whether certain married metals can be tested
without damaging the item and how to set aside this problem. In addition,
sometimes items are altered by someone else after the original artist sold
them. The artist may disclaim the item because it has been altered contrary
to his or her standards. In Oregon a recent lawsuit was filed to protect
an artist's rights as to the display of a piece of art by the artwork's
new owner. Several states are considering statutes that give artists continuing
economic rights that may extend to how an item is refashioned or melted
down, or provide for future compensation or royalties when an item is resold.
The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 extended creator's rights to include
these areas. (A short article cannot discuss all the considerations an appraiser
should have regarding designer jewelry.)
The designer who is sensitive to what drives these markets in the
contexts Armentrout describes creates "art jewelry" or "designer
jewelry." The person who is not in touch with these elements is viewed
as a craftsperson only and not a designer or artist. The appraiser is merely
the analyst of this market, sampling what the market buys or rejects and
reporting on the market's judgments. The appraiser has a duty to the artist
to understand what he or she has rendered in the context of the market.
The appraiser is not the "judge" who decides what is and isn't
art, but the reporter of artist's success in the market.
By AL GILBERTSON
In the 1990 bookArt Jewelry & Metals: Makers, Markets, Meanings,
author Daloma Armentrout seeks to define the collectible jewelry market,
and designer jewelry's place in it, yet doesn't offer any one standard definition.
According to Armentrout, designer jewelry (jewelry art) "caters
to value as meaning: a thirst for information, the new, the unusual, the
expressive, the emotive, the personally enhancing, the prestigious, the
controversial. It is important to remember that adornment (jewelry and costume)
carries a heavy cultural load in signifying social position, financial status,
relationships, accomplishments, alliances and associations, spiritual affiliations
and sexual codes ... value is related to the behaviors of collecting, the
investment of objects with meaning and worth, the relationship of producer
to consumer, and the context of exchange. These beliefs and behaviors create
Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.