Auctions can be exciting and rewarding. However, there are a few basic rules that need to be adhered to or the experience can turn out to be very disappointing and costly.
To begin with, unless you have a reputable contact at the auction house that is knowledgeable and can give you the critical information that makes it a winner or a loser, it would be imperative to physically see the item. Looking at a photo in the auction catalog does not divulge if there is damage that has been expertly concealed, or a marriage of two or more pieces, i.e., tassels or chains that have been added that were never a part of the original piece, etc. And, more importantly, is it authentic or a clever reproduction? Is there authentication with documentation, expert opinion, or is it a guess?
Pre-sale estimates of what the item can be expected to bring can be very high or very low. This can be the result of an inexperienced appraiser employed by the auction house, or they have used an appraisal from an independent. This scenario has occurred with items in estates of some notable celebrities in which the pieces sold for prices unbelievably lower than anticipated. So, rather than chancing a phone bid, it would be extremely important for you to be there in person.
Notable diamonds should have gemological reports from either the Gemological Institute of America or the American Gem Society. Other laboratories have been known to be somewhat liberal in their grading, and not reliable. Gemstones and gem materials may have been enhanced to improve their appearance by different treatments. There should be authentication as to whether they are natural and untreated.
Cos Altobelli is a third generation jeweler and president of Altobelli Jewelers in Burbank, previously located in North Hollywood for 60 years. His specialty is appraising for all functions, and acting as an expert witness. He holds a graduate degree from the Gemological Institute of America and the title of Certified Gemologist Appraiser from the American Gem Society, is the author of three appraisal books, and has appeared on “Prime Time Live” several times. Mr. Altobelli can be reached at (818) 763-5151.