What’s It Worth? Lucky? Maybe. Stunning? Definitely.

In our business, it is a constant struggle between passion and profit. And with vintage (our favorite) the struggle is also one of knowledge versus chicanery.

A Miami Jeweler called us to describe an interesting piece that a customer of his had. He asked us to meet personally with this customer, relying on our knowledge to buy it, our honesty in pricing it and our reputation for integrity when it came to commissions. (We often pay jewelers a commission when they send people our way.)

When his customer drove to see us from a neighboring town, we were immediately wowed. Her father-in-law’s father had bought it as a gift at the start of a voyage to Ireland in the 1950s.

But we had reservations. The four-leaf clover was stunning and signed VC&A (Van Cleef &Arpels), and numbered as well. And the color of the emeralds was stunning. We attributed country of origin to be Colombia (we hoped so anyway). So everything pointed toward it being genuine.

But the Van Cleef signature was sloppy. While this is not the norm for VC&A, sloppy signatures CAN often be seen for VC&A New York versus VC&A Paris items. (Items were made in both countries.) And the emeralds, while superior in color, had a lot of “jardin” (French for garden, which describes the common inclusions in emeralds). Finding an emerald that is without jardin is rare, but Van Cleef only used the best gemstones.

The combination of these two unusual aspects worried us. We explained to the customer that the signature could be counterfeited and the stones could have been replaced. The stones could be Zambian. Either scenario would render this piece’s worth to $6,000 – $10,000 or less.

After negotiations, we came to an agreement on price and wrote them a $17,000 check. We told the jeweler it was a gamble. If VC&A said it was not theirs and if GIA said the stones were Zambian, we would lose our shirt and no commission would be paid. In a perfect world, VC&A would bless it and GIA would say the stones were Colombian and only lightly treated (F1) and we would easily double our money (or better).

So the value? In the vintage world, there is really only one value and that is fair market value. If GIA calls the stones F1 and Colombian we will make a nice profit with an auction estimate of $35,000 to $50,000 (remember we have to subtract auction house and jewelers’ commissions). Value if stones are Colombian but Van Cleef won’t sign off? Less than $20,000. If not Van Cleef, and the stones are Zambian, $6,000 to $8,000. We will report our success or failure in a future column.

Three former sothebys.com associates and two art historians on staff. Call or email us if you want to deal with Tampa Bay’s leading auctioneer. We have sold the contents of several museums and a large art collection for USF, Shriners and art galleries. Always buying complete estates – or one item.


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