When the time has come to sell a piece of jewellery or silver, where should you go? To an auction room, or to a reputable, trusted dealer? One reason to work with a dealer is speed. If the item you have is suitable for our stock, we will write a cheque right away. An auction house will hold on to your item until the appropriate sale is scheduled — which might be months away. Afterwards, the buyer has a month to pay, and the auction house has another month to pay you — minus their commission fees.
A good dealer will give you the right trade price for your piece. Bear in mind that the trade price is not the same as the retail price. Within the trade there are set prices. For example, it is rare that a dealer will pay more than the full scrap price on a tea set from the 1940s. That’s what it’s worth. You might get up to 10% variance from one dealer or another, which is attributable to personal preference. None will pay you three times what it’s worth. For argument’s sake, if your silver weighs 50 ounces and on that date silver is melting at £10 per ounce, the maximum a dealer will pay you is £500.
Sometimes we might be able to part exchange. For example, if a client brings in a ring worth £1000 and wants to buy one priced at £2000 — we might part exchange in that case. But it is not always possible to do deals on everything.
You might be thinking: I’ve seen astonishing prices paid at auctions, I’ll take my chances.
It’s true that some dealers and members of the public get swept up in the environment of the auction room. Overexcited, they end up paying well over the price they intended to pay. Members of the public who don’t know what a particular item is worth will go by the auction estimate — but if the price is estimated at £50-100, that’s a massive difference, suggesting a degree of uncertainty.
What kinds of things do we buy? It’s a mixture of factors, including what we currently have in stock. You might wish to sell a single-stone, 1 carat diamond ring. If we have quite a few already, we may not feel it’s feasible to add another to our stock at that time.
As dealers, we have to buy dispassionately, with a clear head, otherwise we’d never want to sell anything.
Many things affect the value of silver or jewellery, including, most obviously, the actual weight of the metal and/or the stone. The thing you cannot put a price on is provenance. Bring in a ring formerly owned by your grandmother, and for argument’s sake, let’s say it’s worth £1,500. But if the ring has an inscription, backed up by photographic proof that this exact ring belonged to the Queen, it will be worth considerably more. It is the identical ring, with the same intrinsic value, but its provenance affects the price. Brand alone can carry that kind of cachet — Cartier, Tiffany, Faberge — but with brands there is a frame of reference, because their sales are traceable.
Even so, in the past decade the cachet of branding has exploded. People under 35 are incredibly brand conscious. They don’t say, “I want an engagement ring,” they say, “I want the Cartier Trinity.” Luckily this hasn’t affected our business. If anything, we’ve gone the other way. We do not compete with companies that specialise in the brands. We specialise in the second-hand and antique playing field, where our expertise counts.
To reiterate, one great advantage to selling to us is that we’ll give you a cheque right away if the price is agreeable. And we will give you the correct trade price. Remember that if your item doesn’t sell at auction the auction house will return it, but now it will be harder for you to sell because it’s not new to market. If something has not met its reserve price, that will dictate its market value.
We do recommend going to an auction house if what you have is unsalable to a dealer. Perhaps it’s a modern piece, such as a pair of diamond stud earrings. Auctions are also great for very specific items, things that are rare and will go for more than their intrinsic value because of that rarity — such as the (imaginary) example cited above. In other words, if you do have a picture of the Queen wearing your diamond ring, put it into auction. That’s an ephemeral value and an auction will give it the biggest exposure. But remember that auction fees will ultimately affect the value you’ll receive.