Not every stone or piece of jewelry is forever. Sometimes you might find it’s time to move on from one particular memory or piece of your history.
When that happens, what’s the best way to approach selling your colored gemstone pieces? And how do you know you’re getting the best value?
In this post, we’ll share insider tips and tricks on where to sell gemstones, along with the full guide to gemstone grading and resale value. Let’s cut to it! (Get it? Gemstone humor.)
Precious vs Semiprecious Gemstones
Sure, diamonds are a girl’s best friend. But as beautiful as they are, diamonds don’t contain the cerulean depths of the Côte d’Azur, the way sapphires do, or the scarlet sunset expanse that you see in a quality fire opal, or the velvety bordeaux hues of a Burmese ruby. With colored gemstones, you can wander down the leafy boulevards of a summer garden in a foliage-hued emerald or slip away into the multi-colored rainbow world of an ammolite.
Gemstones contain within them an entire world of color and life.
But as far as jewelers are concerned, gemstones can be divided into just a couple of distinctive groupings. The jewelry industry separates stones (including diamonds) into two categories:
- Precious, and
These two terms came into use in the 1800s and are still widely used today, though less restrictively than they once were.
For many years, the term “Precious Stone” referred to diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. “Semiprecious stone” was used to collectively corral just about everything else. However, it’s worth remembering that the landscape of the gemological world has changed since the inception of this idea. Our understanding of geology and mineral structure has deepened in ways our ancestors never could have imagined.
For instance, we now know how to identify the mineral corundum, more commonly known as sapphire…and ruby. If rubies had been first discovered today, gemologists would have closely examined them and classified them as “red sapphires”.
However, early jewelers with limited technology understood only that rubies glowed with the light of warmth and passion and blood, while sapphires exuded the calming glow of the sea, the sky on a summer afternoon, the first forget-me-nots of springtime. Thus, two different stones entirely, and they have been classified that way ever since.
The Fluid Science of Gemstone Classification
Here’s another great example of our changing understanding of the mineral world: have you ever seen a picture of the Imperial State Crown? It’s the most famous of the British crown jewels that sits in the Tower of London, welcoming millions of visitors each year. It’s adorned with over two thousand precious stones including diamonds, sapphires, and — in the very center, in the place of honor — the Black Prince’s Ruby.
Listen closely — I’m gonna tell you a secret. Ready? It’s not a real ruby. It is in fact a red spinel, a stone that comes in every color of the rainbow and has been misidentified so often that it’s become known as “The Great Imposter”. The Black Prince’s Ruby was tested and reidentified as spinel in 1783.
(It’s also said to be cursed, but that’s another story.)
All of this means that the categorization of precious and semiprecious gemstones is a fluid, imperfect, fluctuating science. The value of gemstones varies as new deposits are discovered and old ones are depleted. New stones are being unearthed all the time, like tanzanite and ammolite, which are high in value and create quite a stir in both consumers and industry professionals. Certain stones like jade rely heavily on cultural significance; in China, jade is considered the most precious and sacred of all precious stones, but it tends to be less valued in Western culture.
When it comes to buying and selling gemstones, the distinction of precious or semiprecious matters a lot less than the quality and grading factors of the stone.
How are Gemstones Graded?
Every stone has its own set of ideals that a jeweler or appraiser will look at. But in almost all instances, a major factor is the stone’s saturation, or intensity of color. A vivid deep purple amethyst, for instance, will be more valuable than one with a pale, washed-out lilac color. Since color is what first draws our eye to colored gemstones, the brilliance of the color tends to be the most important focus.
Clarity and consistency is another major quality consideration. Just like diamonds, the ideal colored gemstone will have a consistent color all the way through without any inclusions or streaks of other minerals disrupting the effect. Going back to our amethyst example, it’s very common for lower-grade amethysts to have white streaks running through them. High-quality amethysts used in fine jewelry will be an even, uniform purple all the way through.
Some exceptions to this are ammolite, which is valued based on how many distinct individual rainbow colors there are present in one piece, and watermelon tourmaline, which is named for the beautiful juxtaposition of pink and green together in the stone. Lapis Lazuli is another popular gemstone that’s famous for the scattered pyrite inclusions against its deep blue body, like stars against the night sky. In these instances, the beauty is in the overall effect rather than the consistency of one color.
For many stones (though not all), appraisers will look at the translucency of the stone, or how readily light passes through. The highest quality amethysts will be transparent enough to see light coming in through the other side, while lower quality examples will be cloudy and opaque. When appraising jade, it’s very common practice to hold a flashlight up to the stone and see how far the light goes before dissipating. The highest quality jade will show light passing all the way through; in lower grade stones the light will hit the surface and be absorbed almost immediately. Some stones like ammolite, jet, and pearls are not naturally translucent and aren’t graded this way.
When all other factors are equal, the last thing we look at is size. As I’m sure you could guess, large gemstones sell for more than small ones when the other quality factors are the same. This is especially true for high-quality pieces because it becomes more and more difficult to find exceptional stones in larger sizes. However, a small, top-quality stone will almost always sell for more than a large low-quality one.
Do Gemstones Have Resale Value?
Yes! In 2014, a pre-owned beaded jade necklace sold for more than $27,000,000 at auction, well above the estimated price.
A year later, a 25-carat Burmese ruby sold for more than $30,000,000, more than double the estimate of the auction house.
Even modest gemstone pieces have the potential to bring in a significant amount of money, especially as mines around the world struggle to continue producing and certain stones become increasingly rare. For instance, both tanzanite and ammolite have unique geological properties and have only ever been discovered in one distinct part of the world — Tanzania, Africa and Alberta, Canada, respectively — and their resale value is continually rising as fewer of these stones enters the gemstone market.
Traditionally revered stones such as sapphire, ruby, and emerald will always be good investment pieces, particularly if their color is natural and hasn’t undergone any treatments.
Other stones that will fetch high prices among jewelers and collectors are alexandrite, various types of tourmaline, rare tsavorite garnets (which are green, unlike the more distinctive red garnets), exceptional colored diamonds, and certified natural pearls.
What about rough gemstones?
If I had a quarter for every starry-eyed hiker who said to me, “I was out in the mountains and I found this rock, I think it might be real ______!” I’d be wearing ropes and ropes of pearls (certified natural, of course) to the supermarket.
Alas. Rough gemstones will never have the same resale value as a beautifully cut and set piece of jewelry, and they can be difficult to sell unless you are able to reach someone with the tools and knowledge to make it into something marketable.
For precious stones in large pieces such as diamonds or rubies, you can take it to a bench jeweler (the kind that makes their own jewelry on-site) and ask if they have a lapidarist they work with (that’s someone who works with cutting, polishing, and engraving stones) that might be interested in viewing it. If they think that it has potential value enough to offset the amount of work they would have to do, they may offer you a price.
Semiprecious stones probably won’t be worth enough to recuperate the time and labor spent on cutting and processing it. So for something of lower value, your best bet would be to reach out to gem and mineral collectors who might be interested in keeping it the way it is.
The United States has several gem shows where like-minded people gather to buy, sell, and learn about the fascinating gemstone market.
How Much is My Gemstone Worth?
This is a multi-faceted question (gemstone pun!) that comes down many factors, including:
- the size and quality of the stone
- how rare it is
- what condition the stone or the piece of jewelry is in
- the market value of the metal that it’s set in
- what sort of geological and/or political changes are happening at the source of the stone
- any prestige or provenance associated with the piece (for example, a timeless name brand like Tiffany or Cartier)
- if it has any unique or distinguishing characteristics that set it above the rest (perhaps a rare purple sapphire or a diamond with a unique garnet inclusion)
A pre-owned piece of gemstone jewelry can fetch anything from five dollars and a handshake at a craft fair to millions upon more millions at Sotheby’s.
The best thing to do is gather any documentation you might have from its original purchase — grading certificates, insurance appraisals, certificates of provenance. If you don’t have any, or if it’s been a long time since they’ve been done, it’s worth taking it in for an updated insurance evaluation. Be sure to ask them to include the recommended resale value as well.
You can also look at pre-owned jewelry markets like Etsy and Ruby Lane to see a range of what others are selling similar pieces for.
Where Can I Sell My Gemstones?
When selling your pre-owned gemstone jewelry, consider the following questions.
- How much support you want during the selling process:
- Do you need an expert to identify your stone and give you an idea of the market value?
- Do you need someone to reach a wide audience of potential buyers that you wouldn’t be able to on your own?
- Do you want someone to share in the responsibility of managing payments and transporting your piece safely?
- How quickly you need your money:
- Would you prefer to wait a little longer and get the best possible price, or do you need some extra cash in your pocket very quickly?
These questions help you pinpoint the best outlet for getting your gemstone to its new home.
Selling online through a reputable dealer is the best way to get expert support in both identification and appraisal as well as the business of selling and managing communication between potential buyers.
Worthy, a fine jewelry dealer that’s developing a major industry following, offers a secure, easy process for selling pre-owned jewelry. After contacting them for an initial estimate, they send an insured, prepaid shipping package for you to send your item in. Once they receive your jewelry, they have it inspected by a reputable gem laboratory before cleaning it and photographing it for auction. You’re allowed to set a minimum sale price that you’re comfortable with; in the event that it doesn’t reach your set price, the piece gets returned to you fully insured and free of charge. In return for the service, Worthy keeps a percentage of the sale price of your gem.
Selling by Auction
You can also consider sending it out to major auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, who work with a similar process, or other third-party dealers like Circa. See if you can compare estimates from multiple places as well as policies on shipping and insurance.
Selling in Person
Alternatively, you could try selling your jewelry in person. This generally offers less up-front support and most places will ask that you provide some supplementary documentation, such as an insurance appraisal or a grading certificate. Pawnshops and vintage shops are great if you need to get some money back very quickly, as most of them will buy pieces of reasonable quality on the spot. However, you usually can’t count on getting the best price from them.
My recommendation for selling in person is to go to a pre-owned jewelry boutique and ask to sell on consignment. This means that you agree on a sale price and you leave the piece with them for a prearranged space of time — usually between a few months and a year. If they find a buyer, each of you keeps a share in the sale price. If not, they may offer you an option to renew or they might return the piece to you. Selling on consignment will give you a better value for your jewelry because there’s no financial risk to the seller the way there is with a pawn shop. The downside is that it does take a bit longer.
The Hidden Secrets of Selling Gemstones
The gemstone market is a stunning yet difficult labyrinth to navigate, with more uncertainty and less industry standardization than there is in the diamond market. Some stones are valued based on tradition — for example, rubies and sapphires. Others, like ammolite and tanzanite, are valuable because they make up such an infinitesimally small boutique share of the market and are prized among collectors in the know. Jade comes from an enormous expanse of cultural history, folklore, and superstition that carries on even today.
There are even stones like amethyst creating confusion among consumers because in one low-grade piece of jewelry they can be worth next to nothing, and in another, they can be valued at thousands. Then there is spinel, “The Great Imposter”, who is loved so dearly when it wears the mask of other stones and who is just trying to find its poor little place in the world.
Every gem has its own unique story to tell, and selling your pre-owned gemstone jewelry means learning everything you can about yours. I promise you, it’s a fascinating journey to embark upon, and is sure to result in some cash in your pocket
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