The Transparent Market for Art Glass

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Martine M. White, ASA, AAA

Compote

Although the antique glass market has been in decline for many years, collectors do still desire art glass, just not the same pieces they collected twenty years ago. Collectors have been drawn to 19th century American glass since the first decade of the 20th century – at a time when what was collected was only 50 years old. This demand followed publications in the field by pioneers, Helen and George McKearin, James H. Rose and Ruth Webb Lee. These books influenced collector clubs in American glass to proliferate. Fueled by this strong interest throughout the twentieth century, reference volumes, active collector’s clubs and well-attended antique shows served as venues for buying, selling, and assembling collections.

WhaleOilLamps

After the turn of the 21st century, it is generally accepted that many categories of 19th century glass have yet to return to the earlier price levels, but market demand for rare desirable glass, especially art glass has continued to be strong. The broad field of American and European art glass is holding it’s own in the current market as well. Over the past ten years with Internet exposure sizable Continental wares have returned to collectors overseas. Continued scholarly research and on-line publications have also contributed to the demand for rare pieces in the category of Bohemian glass, Galle, Daum Nancy, Thomas Webb and other artistic wares. And the market for high-end Tiffany, Mount Washington, and other American art glass continues to maintain pre-recession price levels and high returns.

Burmese

The paperweight, often referred to as ‘art frozen in glass’ continues to mesmerize collectors old and new, while their intricate designs draw appreciation, their small size makes them easy to display and ship. Another category of glass that has a strong base among young collectors are bottles and marbles. The demand for rare colored flasks and bitters bottles has remained relatively strong over the past decade with a number of unique examples bringing record prices. Much of this interest can be credited to the work of the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors and the many regional bottle clubs that continue to research and publish on the subject. As in many other glass categories, color is what usually drives bottle prices. Marbles have delighted collectors young and old for many years. Here, size plays a major role in value, as does color, design, and condition. Because they were made to be played with and not collected, antique large “shooter” marbles in mint condition are difficult to find and bring a premium price. Just like markets for most collectibles over the past 75 years, the top rarities in the best condition are the pieces that draw the most interest and sell for the highest prices, while the more common and ordinary pieces draw minimal interest and low prices.

NailseaLamp

Photos:

1. Early Thumbprint/Argus spherical covered compote, 20”h realized $35,100.00 at auction on September 26, 2018

2. Pair of Free Blown & Pressed Glass Cobalt Blue Whale Oil Lamps, realized $26,910.00 at auction on May 20, 2017.

3. Enamel & Gilt Decorated Burmese Vase, 6 ½”h, realized $16,380.00 at auction on October 13, 2017.

4. Nailsea Nautilus Miniature Lamp, 11 ¼”h, realized $12,870.00 at auction on October 13, 2017.

Resources: Journal of Antiques & Collectibles, Jeffrey S. Evans

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Guitar Masters of the Jazz Age & Beyond

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Martine M. White, ASA, AAA

1.CFMartin

The guitar masters I’m referring to are not the virtuosos who play the guitar, rather the three men whose influential designs in guitar-building have attracted famed musicians not only to play their instruments, but to treasure them. Along with James D’Aquisto (1935-1995) and John Monteleone (b. 1947), John D’Angelico (1905-1964), was also part of the Italian American community that resided in and around New York in the early twentieth century. Direct descendents of Neapolitan craftsmen, these guitar makers primarily built mandolins due to their popularity at the time. But when musical tastes changed in the 1920s, the young D’Angelico applied his old-world craft to build a new type of instrument, the archtop guitar. Incorporating features of violin construction, including f-holes, arched sound board and a moveable bridge, this distinctly American instrument had a sound that cut through big band instrumentation. Soon the archtop guitar became the choice instrument by notable guitarists, including Chet Atkins, Bucky Pizzarelli and Johnny Smith. D’Angelico’s innovations in guitar building set the standard for generations to come and established him as the most revered guitar maker of the jazz age.

3.D'AngelicoTeardrop

After D’Angelico’s death, his apprentice James D’Aquisto broke from the past and took the guitar to new aesthetic and acoustic directions attracting a new generation of guitarists, including George Benson, Eric Clapton and Steve Miller. As the acoustic guitar market declined in the 1970’s, John Monteleone forged his reputation by introducing new innovations in archtop guitars and mandolins that were played by many top performers, including David Grisman.

Besides being remarkable craftsmen, these three guitar builders honed their skills to create the most innovative jazz guitars. In a radical departure from the standard guitar form, they also created the ‘Teardrop’ guitar which had a serpentine shape extending to a fin at the lower right corner. The ‘Teardrop’ would soon become one of the most famous guitars ever made.

2.D'Angelico.Guitar

I recently had the pleasure of appraising a D’Angelico guitar which was played by my client’s late husband. Although it was not in good condition, and didn’t have all the decorative elements that collectors desire, it still maintained an auction value of $7,500.00. Early and rare guitars will always appreciate in value, especially if they are kept in good, original condition. Although guitars come with a protective case, they are still sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and humidity. That said, attic storage is definitely out of the question!

 

Photographs:

  1. C.F. Martin 19th Century Parlor Guitar. Value: $2,500.00
  2. D’Angelico Archtop Jazz Guitar
  3. D’Angelico New Yorker ‘Teardrop’ Guitar

Dali, or Not Dali, That is the Question.

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Prints by Salvador Dali are typically met with skepticism, as his works are notoriously found to be inauthentic. In Albert Field’s official catalogue raisonné for Dali graphic art, an original print is considered “one for which Dali created all or part of the image on the plate or stone directly or by transfer.” In order to determine the authenticity of a Dali print, many factors must be considered and it is important to compare all qualities of the print with the catalogue raisonné. In the catalogue each print is detailed with a photograph, title, print medium, plate size, edition sizes, types of paper used, publisher/printer, and date. All of these details need to match up in order for a print to be considered authentic.

In order to determine that the print at hand has been printed properly, the blind stamp (an embossed seal) of the printer/publisher needs to be evaluated, as well as the watermark on the paper itself. It is also important that the edition number matches what is notated in the catalogue. Unfortunately, for some editions of a number of prints, unknown quantities of unnumbered AP and EA have been made in hundreds. Experts have questioned the amount of proofs that were actually signed by Dali. It is also important to note the manner in which a print has been signed. Some listings in the catalogue outline whether Dali signed in colored pencil or pencil, as well as the number of editions that he signed. On August 14, 1986, Dali signed a new statement, in English, that he had signed no editions during the entire year of 1980. Additionally, Dali’s genuine signatures on documents from 1980 and after are shaky and infirm, clearly made by a trembling hand due to severe nerve damage. Therefore, signatures on prints published after 1980 in a firm hand are not by Dali and are forged. At times Dali left Paris for New York and would leave pre-signed blank sheets in advance of printing so that his printer could complete the edition. Whatever had not been used was returned to him and destroyed. All sheets were used for authentic editions. However, there are false reports that Dali had signed between 40,000 and 350,000 blank sheets for later printing. These claims are believed to have been spread intentionally by fraudulent publishers to cover up the fake signatures.

Also included in the catalogue is a guide to prints that have been excluded from the catalogue raisonné: those denounced by Dali, extended editions, restrikes, “afters”, pastiches, counterfeits, and facsimiles. Because there have been so many accounts of fraud, the Dali print market is often met with suspicion. Even printers that were trusted by Dali had taken advantage and created extra or new prints for their own benefit.

Center Art Galleries in Hawaii is one of the most notorious Salvador Dali art fraud cases. In 1984, The Washington Post published an article about a very prominent art gallery that was considered by many art dealers to be one of the nation’s biggest art galleries. The article described how the owner, Bill Mett, came to buy the gallery as a young lawyer with minimal knowledge of art, but worked hard to turn it into a worldwide business. Much of what they sold were prints, although they also carried original works. At the time of the article, the gallery had many critics in the art world who said Mett used elaborate marketing techniques in order to sell art at extremely high prices to tourists on vacation. The gallery would keep in touch with their clients, continuing to promote artworks and pushing their clients to purchase additional pieces once they had returned home, and many did.

Center Art Galleries was also considered to be one of the biggest dealers for works by Salvador Dali. While they sold many authentic Dali prints by other publishers, the gallery also counterfeited a number of prints. There is no evidence that Dali participated in any of these works, despite the gallery’s insistence that the works were authentic originals. Many of the reproductions were copied from originals that the gallery owned, and there is no proof that Dali approved or signed any of these works, making the signatures forgeries. Mett and his art curator, Marvin Wiseman, provided certificates of authenticity, as well as appraisals with all of their works, often sending updated appraisals periodically to their clients. The “Confidential Appraisal Certificate of Authenticity” continued to state that the works were originals, and reflected an increase in value of the works. These fraudulent prints were being created during a time when there was already much speculation about authenticity regarding works by Dali. Many major auction houses and art dealers wouldn’t even consider consigning works published after 1950, as there was a greater risk that they were not right, and that the signatures were forgeries.

In 1987, Center Art Galleries became one of the largest Dali forgery rings ever uncovered. Federal agents seized over 12,000 prints and sculptures from the gallery, and in 1990, Mett and Wisemen were convicted and sent to prison. They served thirty-six and thirty months, respectively. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service received court permission to auction off the seized artwork, in order to offset some of the lengthy trial costs. This sale took place in Belmont California in October of 1995, and was handled by Koll-Dove Global Disposition Services. In addition to the sale of the fraudulent works, some authentic pieces by other artists were sold as well. The pieces were represented appropriately and sold as fakes, but oftentimes were only stamped on the back of the framed works, which can easily be removed. This means that many of the works have come to market again, often sold as originals by owners, and purchased by unsuspecting buyers. As such, the gallery and a list of known forged prints, are included in Field’s catalogue raisonné. While these works can still be sold legally, they should be advertised as prints “after” Dali.

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Christ of Saint John of the Cross, a reproduction after a painting by Dali from 1951. One of the known falsified prints sold by Center Art Galleries

Works Cited:

Field, Albert, The Official Catalog of the Graphic Works of Salvador Dali, authorized by Dali, Astoria: The Salvador Dali Archives, 1996.

Vise, David A. “Chain Carves Prominent Place In Art World,” The Washington Post, October 7, 1984.

Examiner Staff Report, “Auction to feature fake Dali prints from art fraud case,” SFGate, October 20, 1995.

Oh Christmas Tree!

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-Daniela Belgiovine

KugelObsession.comEvery year, in preparation for Christmas, families around the world select an evergreen tree to bring into their homes and decorate with glistening lights and beautiful ornaments. This tree often becomes the focal point of the family gathering on Christmas morning. But where did this tradition originate?

The practice of adorning one’s home with evergreen boughs serves as a symbol of the promise of life to come after the cold months of winter, and the tradition began as a Pagan ritual for the winter solstice for various civilizations, including the Druids, Romans, and Vikings, even dating back to the ancient Egyptians.

The tradition of decorating evergreen trees for Christmas dates back to the 16th century in Germany, where families would decorate trees with apples, as a representation of the tree in the Garden of Eden. Later, nuts, berries, cookies, and paper streamers were added to the décor. Much of this depended on what was available and what the family could afford. The idea of decorating a tree for Christmas did not come to America until the 1770s, but Colonial Americans found this tradition odd and saw it as a frivolous Pagan ritual.

In the 1800s, with German and English immigration, this tradition began to take hold. Its popularity skyrocketed during the reign of Queen Victoria because a publication released a depiction of the Queen and her family surrounding a decorated evergreen. Thus, the practice became fashionable for all American families.

The origin of glass ornaments began in Germany in the 1830s. The area around Lauscha was the hub of the glass ornament, or kugel, trade in Germany. Initially replacing fruits, nuts, and other food items, they branched out into making hearts, stars, angels, bells, and other shapes, eventually creating molds of children, saints, famous figures, and animals.

W. Woolworth visited Germany in the 1880s and decided to import glass ornaments to sell in his stores. By the 1890’s, he was selling $25 million in German imported ornaments made of lead and hand-blown glass. World War I halted production and imports of ornaments from Germany, but also created momentary backlash against all things German. New York importer, Max Eckhardt, saw that his business and the supply of ornaments suffered after the Great Depression, and in the late-1930s, he and Woolworth joined forces to persuade the Corning Glass Company to make American glass ornaments. Corning agreed, and by 1940 they were producing 300,000 per day, and sending them to various companies for decoration, and from there to retailers.

Today, collectors look for glass ornaments from the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The greatest value is usually with ornaments that are shaped like objects or figures, rather than glass balls. Additionally, condition is extremely important, and it is rare that these delicate baubles make it to market in pristine condition. Shapes like clusters of grapes, famous personalities, and animals can sell anywhere from $40-$1,000 apiece depending on color, rarity, and condition, although the higher end is extremely rare. On the other hand, an entire box of stenciled ‘Shiny Brite’ ornaments from the mid-20th century, in good condition, might sell for $50-$60. If you are looking to give your tree a vintage look you don’t have to spend a fortune, but, as always, beware of reproductions!

Photo Credit & Resources: KugelObsession.com; History.com; ReadersDigest.com

Retro Flash Back: The Allure of Crackle Glass

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All it takes is one stream of light shining through your window to create a rainbow effect after it illuminated that bottle or vase sitting on your sill. Perhaps, this is the magic that keeps collectors returning to that local tag sale or flea market in search of another sparkling keepsake.

Vintage Blenko Crackle Glass Miniature Pitchers 

Vintage Blenko Crackle Glass Miniature Pitchers

 

Crackle glass, one of the most common collectibles, will produce such an effect from that stray sunbeam, leaving you dazzled without warning when displays of colored, refracted light fill your room. Created as far back as the 16th century, this dime-store dazzler had a resurgence in the 1950’s and reached it’s zenith in the 1960’s to complement the modern décor of the Madmen era. Bold or clear, shaded or iridescent, crackle glass was available in all varieties and price ranges to complement interior spaces and wallets. From inexpensive eye catchers to pricey floor standing vases, crackle glass was easily available because it is a treatment rather than a type of glass.

Vintage Ruby Crackle Glass 

Vintage Ruby Crackle Glass

 

The ‘crackling’ finish is created when a hot glass object is submerged in cold water, a technique that can be applied to just about any type of sturdy glass. The abrupt temperature change creates a network of fine cracks in the glass leaving the light to deflect patterns of the irregular cracks on other surfaces.

Initially, crackle glass was hand blown, but quick popularity led to less-expensive moulded glass knockoffs. And, since any glass manufacture could utilized the crackling technique, almost every company created crackle glass, including Tiffin, Duncan and Imperial, but the most notable crackle glass firms were located in West Virginia. Especially noted for miniatures, Pilgrim, Rainbow, Kanwha and Bishoff, created those diminutive jugs, vases, and pitchers that typically adorn the interior of many households. But the master manufacturer of crackle glass was Blenko.

Blenko CrackleGlassVases 

Blenko Crackle Glass Vases

 

Originally known for producing stained glass, Blenko expanded its glassware to include richly colored, oversized art glass vessels. After the market for stained glass bottomed out in the Depression of 1929, William H. Blenko, the son of the founder was forced to seek out other revenue sources and expanded glassware production to include affordable decorative housewares, including bottles and vases. Their past experience with manufacturing stained glass contributed to the vast color palette that forged Blenko’s reputation. In the mid 1940s, Blenko produced crackle glass miniatures, and by the 1960s large scale versions in both crackle and no-crackle finishes were available. The two prominent artisans for Blenko, Winslow Anderson (1947-1952) was noted for modern shapes and vivid colors, while Wayne Husted, the design director (1952-1963) was responsible for hundreds of designs produced during that period. Joel Philip Myers, Blenko’s design director (1963-1970), a skilled glass blower, was known for elongated forms, spirals, two-color and air twist stoppers.

Today, crackle glass collectors have an array of options to choose from including color, type and size of vessel. Others focus on a particular company or artist. Many of us, however simply collect crackle glass for its bargain prices, and ability to brighten even a cloudy day.

Resources: Journal of Antiques & Collectibles, Etsy

 

Prominant Positions – Chinese Rank Badges

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3rd Rank Civil Badge Peacock

-Daniela Belgiovine

Working in the appraisal business, we often have the pleasure of inspecting, researching, and valuing pieces of history. One such object that we have come across in the homes of several clients is the Chinese rank badge. These badges have become coveted collector’s items, but buyers must beware that new copies are being made and sold as antique originals. These badges are generally 11” x 11”. One thing to be alert of when purchasing is the smell of smoke. Many of the newly made badges have been smoked in order to give the appearance of age.

During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties in China, important men were recognized by the elaborately stitched rank badges displayed on the chests and backs of their robes. These mandarin rank badges were only earned after numerous years of intensive study, followed by three grueling rounds of examinations. There were two different groups who achieved badges, civil and military, each of which could be easily defined based on the image stitched on the badge. While each category had nine ranks, the civil badge6th Rank Military Panthers featured birds and the military badges featured animals, both real and mythical. Within each group, each rank can also be identified based on the type of bird or animal. If one wanted to rise in the ranks, there were several ways to achieve a higher status, either through passing further exams, performing service worthy of merit, or purchasing a promotion. Although only men could earn rank badges, their wives were entitled to wear badges of their husbands’ rank for official occasions. In this case, the badges were mirror images of the men’s.

The Imperial family also wore badges on their robes, bearing phoenixes or dragons. Any other motifs, such as peonies or lanterns, were worn for festivals and ceremonies by palace courtiers, and later the Imperial court. Just like the civil and military badges, the specific image identifies the individual’s position within the Imperial family. Rank badges for the Imperial family and government officials originated in the decorative roundels sewed onto the front and back of the robes of Liao (907-1125) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasty court officials. They were adopted by the Ming dynasty in 1391, and by the Qing dynasty in 1652, at which point a decree was issued that required all civil and military officials to wear their identifying badge on the front and back of their robes.Imperial Rank Badge

As a collector, is it more likely that you will come across civil badges of high rank. This is because those of higher rank were of higher wealth, and thus were able to purchase many more badges. Additionally, when the Republican revolution overthrew the imperial system in 1911, military men destroyed their badges so as not to be identified. Those of civil rank were incorporated into the new government and had no need to destroy their badges. We can be thankful to western collectors in the 19th and 20th centuries that a number of authentic badges still exist. Many of these collectors put the badges under glass, preserving them for later generations.

There are many more details involved in properly identifying these badges, check out http://www.pacificasiamuseum.org/rankandstyle/ for more information

Photo 1: Civil Rank Badge, 3rd Rank, Peacock
Photo 2: Military Rank Badge, 6th Rank, Panther
Photo 3: Imperial Rank Badge, Qing Dynasty

Photo Credits & Resources: George Washington University Museum Textile Museum, Washington, DC; The Journal of Antiques & Collectibles, ‘Chinese Rank Badges’, January 17, 2005; Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena, CA

A Change of Perspective – The Antique Picture Frame

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-Martine White, ASA, AAA

2. J. Alden Weir Painting in Stanford White Frame

Experts contend that picture frames are one of the most undervalued antiques. In the past many galleries and even some museums have considered old frames not worth restoring or just plain out-of-style. Even today, knowledgeable frame collectors are rare and although frames are prized in Europe, in the United States they are routinely overlooked, abandoned or discarded.

Bill Adair, the author of ‘The Frame in America, 1700-1900’ states that the modern ethic has instilled a preference for minimalist frames making the elaborate gold leaf picture frame nearly a lost art. Further, general historic information is not readily available on picture frames.

However, attitudes about old frames are starting to turn the corner and “the finest frames are works of art in their own right” states Eli Wilner, founder and CEO of Eli Wilner & Company, a Manhattan gallery specializing in fine antique frames and period replicas.

4. French 18th C

As 18th and 19th Century frames have become the focus of museum exhibitions, collector interest in rare frames has also piqued. Savvy collectors generally prefer hand-carved wooden frames made in the 18th century, or signed frames from the early 20th century. Size is also a factor, as monumental frames with documented provenance can easily sell in the six figures. Barbizon School picture frames, originally crafted to adorn landscape paintings, are also sought after by collectors. Similarly, early 20th Century frames crafted by Newcomb & Macklin are prized for their fine craftsmanship.

Among the most valuable American frames are those from the Arts and Crafts Period, many of which are signed, including frames by Charles Prendergast and Foster Brothers. Rare frames by Stanford White, Herman Dudley Murphy or Charles Prendergast can cost more than $200,000. In fact, in 1991 a 17th-century carved mirror frame sold for a record high of $947,000 at Sotheby’s in London.

1. Stanford.White

The right frame can bring a painting to life. Choosing a frame that is historically and aesthetically appropriate to a painting not only increases the value of the painting, it enhances the perspective of the painting, creating a three-dimensional affect.

Perhaps the time has come to appreciate the antique picture frame, and find one that best complements your landscape or portrait painting. You certainly don’t need to travel very far to find an exquisitely carved antique picture frame. They reside in attics, basements, and local antique stores. You can also find them at estate sales, flea markets and even on the curbside with the trash. The right antique picture frame will not only enhance your painting, it may change your perspective on the work itself.

3.FrameTools5. Eli WIlner's Master Carver, Felix

Antique Frame Galleries & Restorers:

Eli Wilner & Company, New York, NY

Gill & Lagodich Fine Period Frames & Restoration, Tribeca, NY

Julius Lowy Frame & Restoration Company, New York, NY

*Photographs Compliments of Eli Wilner & Company and Pook & Pook Auctions

Photo 1: J. Alden Weir, (1852-1919) American landscape painter, oil on canvas
Photo 2: French 18th Century Relief Carved Gilt Frame
Photo 3: Stanford White frame, Early 20th Century
Photo 4: Picture Frame Carving Tools
Photo 5: Eli Wilner’s Master Carver, Felix

The Great Divide – Antique Floor Screens

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Photo 1. Screen Decoration; applied cloisonné Calligraphic Banquet Poem copying a famous poem from 1682.

Photo 1. Screen Decoration; applied cloisonné Calligraphic Banquet Poem copying a famous poem from 1682.

It may not seem an essential piece of furniture, but an attractive floor screen can easily transform any living space and add dimension to your interior. Coco Chanel recognized the appeal as she famously sought out dozens of antique lacquered screens to adorn her Paris abode. Even Yves Saint Laurent favored the glamour of parchment panels by the designer Jean-Michel Frank. Many interior designers also agree that a thoughtfully placed screen can add drama and mystery to a space.

Whereas drama is not an essential component to a living space, the screen served practical functions as well. From as early as the third century B.C., the screen adorned imperial palaces in China, and was known to not only block drafts but shield the heat of embers in the Victorian period. Even the needlepoint fire screen became the focal point in Victorian homes as it displayed the embroidery skill of the homemaker.

While English and American screens were primarily framed woven panels intended for re-directing heat from the fireplace, Asian screens were hand-painted wooden panels that served purely as decoration. Artists in both China and Japan joined multiple panels to create elaborate scenes of painted imagery using gold and silver leaf to reflect the light of oil lamps. In the 17th century these painted and lacquered panels soon became symbols of wealth as English and Dutch tradesman began supplying Europe with these exotic decorations.

The Chinese Coromandel screens, named for the Indian coast where they were loaded onto ships for export, were ebonized folding lacquered panels often decorated in gold and frequently applied with specimen stones illustrating in-depth landscapes featuring figures at leisure in gardens and pavilions. In contrast, Japanese screens of the 19th century were often decorated with naturalistic imagery in gold detail on silk panels.

Today modern screens can reconfigure a room, create a dramatic backdrop or establish an entirely different mood.  Whether they are relief carved, perforated wood panels or Modern molded plywood screens by Charles and Ray Eames, a screen can add an architectural element where one doesn’t exist. Perhaps it’s the versatility that makes screens so desirable.  You can rearrange them, transfer them to another room or fold them up for storage. Unlike the walls we live within, you can even take them with you.

Photo 2. Detail; a 19th Century Chinese Eight-Panel Folding Screen in the Kangxi style.

Photo 2. Detail; a 19th Century Chinese Eight-Panel Folding Screen in the Kangxi style.

The above article was written by Martine M. White of Bernards Appraisal Associates, LLC, in Gladstone, New Jersey. Ms. White is a Senior Certified Appraiser of Antiques & Decorative Arts with the American Society of Appraisers and the Appraisers Association of America. Ms. White has been appraising personal property in the Metropolitan area since 1988. Martine and her associates specialize in appraising fine art, antique furniture, Oriental carpets, silver and jewelry. Martine can be reached at 908.234.1153.

Buying Your Perfect Diamond

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Diamond RingThere is a lot to consider when purchasing a diamond. You want to make sure that you are getting the most beautiful, high quality gem that your money can buy, but what do you need to know? In the end you shouldn’t get too “hung up” on optics, angles and scientific details. You should remember the old expression “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. The question is, ultimately, do you think it’s a beautiful diamond? Does it take your breath away? Understanding the quality factors will help, but don’t worry, you don’t need to become a diamond expert.

Particularly if it’s a larger diamond, it should be accompanied by a quality analysis report generated by a reputable gem lab, like the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). At the least, a qualified and experienced gemologist should analyze the diamond. Once we know the gem has been properly graded, the next question is, how do we look at the grading criteria and determine which stone is the best for us? Four criteria must be considered and need to be understood to buy intelligently. They are called the four C’s: Color, clarity, cut and carat weight.

Buying a diamond requires developing a personal opinion of what constitutes beauty and, with your budget in mind, deciding which of the criteria you’re willing to sacrifice and to what extent.

COLOR:  Although diamond occurs in every color of the spectrum, when we think about the first “C”, relatively color-less stones come to mind. The commonly accepted scale used to describe these colors starts with “D”, the most colorless, and ends with “Z”, the most yellow, brown or gray. The GIA developed this scale in 1953. Previously existing systems had used grades such as A, AA, AAA, B and C. It was a confusing array of letters that had questionable meaning.

GIA’s scale eliminated much of the confusion by starting with the letter “D” and established clearly defined grades, as follows:

  • D through F               colorless
  • G through J                near colorless
  • K through M               faint yellow, brown or gray
  • N through R               very light yellow, brown or gray
  • S through Z               light yellow, brown or gray

Most people will be unable to see color in a diamond with a grade as low as “I” or “J”, particularly if it’s in a setting. If the setting is yellow gold, the diamond’s color will be even harder to detect.

Fluorescence is a characteristic often associated with color. It is generally mentioned on “certificates”, next to the color grade. If a diamond is fluorescent, it “glows” when exposed to ultraviolet light, a component of sunlight. The most common fluorescent color is blue but other colors occur as well. Blue fluorescence has the potential to lessen the appearance of yellow-ness in a diamond, making it look better. Faint or medium blue fluorescence will not detract from the beauty or value of a diamond and might actually be considered a distinctive identifying feature.  If blue fluorescence is strong or very strong, however, the diamond may, on rare occasions, appear “oily” or lose a bit of transparency, particularly when viewed outdoors.

Here are a few things to think about that relate to the color of the diamond you’re selecting:

  1. What size diamond would you like?
  2. What is the shape and facet arrangement of the gem?
  3. If the stone is well cut, and therefore more brilliant, the color grade may not need to be as high.
  4. If the stone is intended for an engagement ring, you may want to spend a little more and get a better color.
  5. If the diamond is less than .25 carats, it doesn’t show its color to the same extent, so a top color grade may be unnecessary.

One needs to determine how colorless they would like their new diamond to be, relative to their budget. Some will opt for a colorless stone because of its great rarity and others will choose lower color grade diamonds because one or more of the other C’s is more important to them. There are many that will select a diamond with a color grade in the G to J range because they’re not the most expensive and yet, the average person will not see any color in the stone. There is no right or wrong answer. With a clear understanding of the nature of color in diamond, you simply need to decide what’s most important to you.

CLARITY: The clarity grade of a diamond is an expression of the visibility of features within the stone and on its surface, at 10 power magnification. Internal characteristics are called inclusions and surface features are called blemishes. The eleven possible grades are as follows:

  • FL                                          Flawless
  • IF                                          Internally Flawless
  • VVS1 &VVS2                           Very, Very Slightly Included
  • VS1 & VS2                              Very Slightly Included
  • SI1 & SI2                               Slightly Included
  • I1, I2 & I3                               Included

As with color, top clarity grade diamonds are very rare and very expensive. However, the average person will not generally be able to see even an SI2 inclusion with their untrained eye. Is rarity important to you? How much would you be willing to pay for it? There are a few things to consider when deciding on your preferred clarity grade. It’s harder to see inclusions in:

  1. Small stones
  2. Diamonds with points like marquise and pears
  3. Gems with smaller facets
  4. Bezel-set stones with metal covering the entire edge of the diamond.

With these things in mind, you might opt for a lower clarity grade stone than you would otherwise. Be aware, however, some inclusions are less desirable than others. Chips and surface-reaching fractures may actually undermine the durability of the gem.

CUT: The third “C” is the most complicated. The cut grade is assigned after considering the geometry of the finished diamond and the care that was taken in polishing the facets, regardless of the stone’s shape (i.e. round, oval, pear, cushion, etc.) and facet arrangement. A well cut diamond returns as much light to the viewer’s eye as possible. This light could be seen as brilliance (white light), fire (colored light) or sparkle; hopefully a pleasing combination of the three.

A complication arises when the following question is asked: “what combination of proportions and angles creates the ideal balance of brilliance, fire and sparkle?” There have been a variety of answers to that question. Many diamond cutters, scientists, gemologists and jewelers have offered their opinions and presented their evidence. As of yet, however, an “ideal” has not been universally agreed upon, particularly for shapes other than round. So where does that leave you?

The laboratories that assign a cut grade, use terms to describe ranges of cut quality. GIA’s cut grading scale, for example, is as follows: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair and Poor (it is assigned for round stones only). After seeing a number of diamonds, you’ll realize that not every “excellent” cut diamond looks the same but every one should look more brilliant, fiery and/or sparkling than a “very good” or “good” cut grade diamond and you’ll develop an opinion of what type and pattern of light return you prefer. If you’re shopping for a round diamond, use these grades as a guide, but regardless of whether the diamond is round or not, consider the type and quality of light return. Do you think it’s attractive?

CARAT WEIGHT: This is the only one of the 4-C’s that has nothing to do with quality. There are large, poor quality diamonds and small high quality diamonds. Carat weight, however, has everything to do with rarity. Big diamonds are harder to find than small ones, so they’re more expensive. What’s a carat, you ask? A carat is a unit of weight that equals a fifth of a gram. One carat is made up of 100 points.

There’s an interesting phenomenon that relates to carat weight. The price for certain significant weights is higher than one might expect. The cost of a half carat (50 point) diamond, for example, is higher than a 49 point stone, all other factors being equal. The difference is more than one point would justify, however. The reason for the jump in price is the psychological significance of a half carat. Other significant weights are one carat, a carat and a half and two carats. So, if you’re interested in buying a one carat diamond, you’ll save some money if you get a “98 pointer” instead. It will look like a one carat stone but no one will know it’s a couple of points shy.

As you’re shopping around, decide which of the 4-C’s is most important to you. Although you may not consider yourself a diamond expert, you now know what makes one diamond more or less desirable than another and you know what you’re willing to spend. Make sure that you allow your own personal sense of beauty to guide you in selecting your perfect diamond.

This article was written by Daniel W. Campbell, BS, GG, FGA, Graduate Gemologist and Associate Appraiser at Bernards Appraisal Associates, LLC in Gladstone, New Jersey. (908) 234-1153

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Taking Stock – The Importance of Archiving Your Assets

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It’s human nature to keep thoughts of devastating fires, storms and theft furthest from our minds. But if disaster strikes, are you prepared? Having a detailed property inventory is the first step to ensuring that you will not only survive a damage loss, but that you will be made whole again.

So why is it that doing a property inventory is the last thing on our ‘to do’ list? Is it that taking inventory of our lives is too close to home? A property inventory is crucial not only to determine adequate amounts of insurance coverage prior to a loss, but it will also expedite the claims process after a loss has occurred.

Establishing adequate insurance coverage for the contents within your home is the driving force behind the decision to conduct a personal property inventory. Having an up-to-date inventory not only establishes your net worth of tangible property, it also helps you to adjust your insurance coverage accordingly. You may even discover that after your assets are valued you are under-insured, or better yet, over-insured, and paying too high an insurance premium.

However, there is another reason you may consider conducting an inventory. Perhaps you are relocating, scaling down or starting to consider which items to bequeath to loved ones. Whatever your goals, knowing the value of your property is the first step to making an informed decision.

Developing an Inventory/Appraisal

There are two common types of property inventories: written and pictorial. The ideal inventory combines both types of inventories, including a detailed written and enumerated inventory that is supported by photographs of the property. There are many different software options out there to help with the inventory process, however it is essential that you have a value to go along with the description.

After the Inventory/Appraisal

After you have developed your inventory or received your appraisal it is important to store a backup copy at an off-premise location, such as a safe deposit box or with a trusted relative. You should also provide a copy of your inventory/appraisal to your insurance agent and use this document to review your current content coverage to make any necessary adjustments. In many instances, the valuable items, including antiques, silver, Oriental carpets and jewelry may not be covered under your general homeowners insurance. Specialty items often require special coverage beyond the basic contents coverage. This additional insurance coverage is referred to as a rider or floater and provides the policyholder with extra protection beyond the provisions contained in a standard insurance agreement.

Updating the Inventory

The property inventory should be updated every six months to one year. The appraisal is required by the insurance industry to be updated every three years for adequate insurance coverage. If you are in the process of re-furnishing your home or collecting, be sure to continuously collect receipts from new purchases and keep them entered in a database.

Tips for Pictorial Inventories

  • Take wide-angle photographs or a video of entire rooms.
  • Take individual, close-up shots of expensive items.
  • Zoom in on important labels and special features such as signatures of paintings, underside of an antique vase, close-up image of the reverse of an Oriental carpet to illustrate the foundation weave, and the secondary construction of antique furniture, i.e., the drawer frame.
  • Take photos of the interior of cabinets, and drawers to illustrate the contents.
  • Label each photo with the description, item name and date.

Although it is always important to document the big ticket items, such as artwork and antique furniture, don’t forget that the small items such as decorative art and silver can really add up. At some point in our lives there comes a time when we need to take stock of all the personal artifacts we have inherited and/or accumulated along the way. Don’t wait until it’s too late, for you never really know what you have until you have lost it.

The above article was written by Martine M. White of Bernards Appraisal Associates, LLC, in Gladstone, New Jersey. Ms. White is a Senior Certified Appraiser of Antiques & Decorative Arts with the American Society of Appraisers and the Appraisers Association of America. Ms. White has been appraising personal property in the Metropolitan area since 1988. Martine and her associates specialize in appraising fine art, antique furniture, Oriental carpets, silver and jewelry. Martine can be reached at 908.234.1153.