A little advice: Don’t decide what’s “junk” jewelry before the appraiser arrives. Julie Nash has a story or two about so-called costume pieces that really weren’t.
“I had this lady and she had everything laid out, then she said, ‘Oh, but here’s the junk box,’” said Nash, owner of Anton Nash LLC Independent Jewelry Appraisers. “I said, ‘Let me go through the junk box.’ She said, ‘Oh no, no, no, it’s all costume.’ And I went through it and there was this amazing emerald ring — 1920s, Art Deco — it might’ve even been Cartier, I can’t remember.
“I said, ‘This is not costume jewelry. This is worth more than everything on the table combined.’ … So I always tell them to let me look at everything, because people will sort it, and it’s like, ‘Uh, you kind of missed a couple!’”
A Colorado native and a Colorado College alum, Nash grew up on a cattle ranch between Guffey and Florissant, and opened Anton Nash LLC in Colorado Springs in 1998.
She is the state’s only Master Gemologist Appraiser and is also an Accredited Senior Appraiser in Gems and Jewelry of the American Society of Appraisers, a Graduate Jeweler Gemologist and former president of the American Society of Appraisers Denver chapter. A former gemology instructor at the Gemological Institute of America, Nash appraises jewelry in the Springs area and travels nationally to give lectures, seminars and corporate training.
This week she talked with the Business Journal about her path into the profession, why she won’t sell jewelry, and the mistakes people make about “Grandma’s ruby ring.”
How did you get into appraising?
Well, you don’t decide you’re going to do this in second grade; it’s not on the table. I always liked jewelry, my dad made jewelry as a hobby, so I’d always want him to make me jewelry. He goes, ‘Hey, I’m going to show you how.’ So I was making jewelry; right out of high school I started making stuff and then I sold it and traveled with it. Then I went to school for jewelry, ended up doing more the technical stuff — the diamond grading, the colored stones, that sort of thing — then ended up teaching it. Then you can either sell it, you can make it (everybody wants to be a designer, but not everybody gets that) or you can work in wholesale. I went retail, and it ended up our appraiser was quitting and she said, ‘You’re going to learn to do this.’ I was like, ‘Oh I don’t want to do it. Wait, I really like this — it’s like writing a term paper every day.’ And I’m that person. I’m that nerdy person.
Was selling jewelry on the road your first job?
It kind of was. I started making stuff — really big funky things. I’d do trade shows and I actually got them into Saks Fifth Avenue in Palo Alto, [Calif.] for a while. That was fun. … Now I just evaluate, but being able to make stuff [is an asset]. A lot of people in my job know all about gems but don’t really understand metal — and last I checked, metal holds the stones. So if the metal’s messed up, chances are your stone’s going to be gone soon. Knowing how that all works together is a huge advantage.
Is there a lot of training involved in becoming an appraiser?
There is — to do it well. The thing that’s really weird about appraising personal property (which is anything that’s not real estate) is there’s really no licensing; there’s no law. You can kind of grab a person off the street and say, ‘Here, appraise my ring.’ That’s legal. But it’s probably a bad idea. So you have to really police yourself and find people who belong to organizations where we police our own.
What are some of major misconceptions about appraising?
We all have this one, no matter what the thing is: ‘Because it’s mine, it’s worth more. It’s mine — it’s special.’ And unfortunately we have to kind of be cold-hearted and say it’s only about the value characteristics: what is it; maybe who made it; what condition is it in. Because it was your grandma’s doesn’t make it more monetarily valuable. Emotion’s a different thing.
I see a lot of ‘Grandpa’s ruby’ or ‘Grandma’s ruby ring’ — and they started making synthetic rubies in about 1860. So those are very, very common in things from the 1920s, 1930s, and that’s the big shocker to people. [Back then] they thought of it differently. We think of it as a fake, and they would’ve thought of it as, ‘Hey look! We can do what nature can do — isn’t this great!’ A very different mindset.
Have you seen people make any big mistakes?
Selling. That’s a really big point because if you’re going to sell your jewelry yourself and do something like Craigslist or eBay, be safe. Don’t meet people at your house. Meet them at a bank, meet them at a police station. That’s a huge one. That can be a very, very — well, a life-ending mistake.
Mistakes in buying things [include] buying for monetary investment. It’s really an investment in emotion. You have to like it; it has to be pretty; it has to appeal to you. It takes a very savvy person with a lot of technical knowledge to invest in gemstones and make money. And I’ve seen some very savvy ones go very far under.
Your work must impact the way you buy jewelry.
It does. It’s funny, I’m very technical about appraising somebody’s jewelry but my own, I’m like, ‘I don’t know what carat that is.’ I can get you in the ballpark but I’m more about: It appeals to me, it’s well made, I like it. Maybe it’s not the best diamond but I like how they used it.
You’re co-owner of Anton Nash?
I’m the only owner now. Anton was my ex-husband’s middle name, and he was a big part of making this company. And Nash is my last name. He’s a great guy. We split and he was like, ‘You take the company — this is good [because] you do all the work.’ It’s all good. If people call and want to ‘speak to Anton,’ we know they don’t know who I am.
What makes you suited for this work?
I like research. I like finding out the why and the how, especially when you get into antique things like, ‘Who made it? Can we figure that out? How old is it? How was it made? What country?’ And sometimes you don’t find those things out. But it’s really cool when you can.
So it’s not just about looking at the item — other elements go into it?
Right. People think I’m going to show up with a magnifying glass and go, ‘Oh yeah, looks like a good one! Ten grand, there you go.’ No, it’s using a microscope, you’re measuring, you’re doing math, some volume formulas, maybe testing metal, grading diamonds for color and clarity, looking at proportions of stones, quality of stones, what’s in them, are they treated, are they natural, are they synthetic — all of that pulls into it. How is this made — and not just is it cast or is it fabricated — but how well is it made? That’s where you get a big price jump, is how well is it done.
You don’t buy or sell — talk about why that’s important ethically.
[If] you came to me with a ring you wanted to sell, how great would it be if I said, ‘Well, this is worth about $500 but I feel bad for you so I’m going to give you $700’ — then I go sell it for $1,400. I don’t think that’s OK. There are people who sell and appraise and do it well. They call it ‘wearing different hats,’ but I think it’s a conflict of interest. I think back to my dad, and he sold cattle, and he’d say to people, ‘I can’t buy it and sell it for you at the same time! You’ve got to tell me what you’re willing to give.’ It could be misconstrued that I’m using insider knowledge in a way that’s not healthy. And my thought is if I always serve my customer, do the best thing for them even if it’s not the best for my wallet, that’s the long-term winning goal.
Tell us about an interesting piece you’ve appraised.
The biggest one I remember was a huge blue sapphire that was an Oscar Heyman piece, and it was local. The woman was selling it because she had a tax issue, and I’m like, ‘What kind of tax issue do you have? My goodness!’ It ended up being a couple million dollars, this stone. And when I got the things to look at, it was thrown in the side of a box that you’d put cans in, with some other stuff, and I’m like, ‘Oh, big fake sapphire.’ Then I looked again and it was, ‘No — that’s the real deal.’ And it was just fabulous.
I had another girl who had a really nice six-figure ring, and it was just beat up. I was like, ‘Geez, what do you do in this thing!’ and she said, ‘Oh, I love to garden.’ I said, ‘You can’t — well, you can, but I really don’t think you should wear this while you’re gardening.’ And she says to me, ‘Oh, but I wear gloves.’
How much can you take off the value of a piece by mistreating it?
I’ve seen diamond chips that are $30,000 in difference on one stone — because diamonds do break. They’re hard, they don’t scratch easy, but you can break them. So if you crushed something, like slamming it in a car door, it’s done. That’s why insurance is good.
Do enough people insure what they have?
You know, 90 percent of what I do is for insurance. I get that it can get really cost-prohibitive to insure your whole jewelry box. But do the things, for sure, that would just be devastating to lose. I mean you’re not going to get that same piece back — but it’s going to make a bad day a little less bad.