Necklaces and pendants are the most popular jewellery items that ValueMyStuff sees, accounting for almost 30% of our jewellery valuations. Within that number, however, there is a great deal of variety and it takes a trained eye to separate the wheat from the chaff.
At Sotheby’s most recent 2019 auction of Magnificent Jewels, it was a necklace from the collection of Hélène Beaumont, glamorous 20th century society figure of the French riviera, that attracted most attention. The symphony of emerald and diamond sold for more than $3.5m despite being an unmarked piece. Much of what we value is unmarked – and here’s how.
Silver or Platinum? Necklace Materials
In recent decades the jewellery market has been one of the most reliable, partly thanks to the inherent value of its materials. The finest jewels are dug up at a steady rate these days, and few new mines are opened, producing a steady but limited supply of stones for necklaces – this keeps prices high.
The stable value of gemstones has led to a buoyant market for jewellery. In fact, at the top of the market jewellery sales often feature unset gems sold with the intention of being set in a ring, as a pendant, or in other pieces of jewellery. When it comes to necklaces, the biggest stones tend to be worn as pendants.
There is no universal scale of grading for gemstones, and different attributes are valued for different stones. For example, for an emerald to be an emerald it must have a darker tone (otherwise it is known as green beryl) while white diamonds are graded on a colour scale from D to Z.
Translucent stones are generally judged on carat weight, colour, brilliance and cut. The importance of cut is generally a question of taste, but the cut will also affect the brilliance, as will ‘inclusions’. To the untrained eye, gems are difficult to judge and can be distorted by the mounting of the gem and its condition. Sometimes it can even be difficult to separate costume jewellery from the real stuff!
Working out which precious metal a necklace is made from is usually easier for the average person than the stone. The vast majority of western jewellery is made from gold, silver, or platinum. You’ll probably know that gold comes in different standards (usually 9 karat, 14 karat or 18 karat) depending on how much alloy it contains; telling how pure gold is without markings is difficult without a trained eye, however. Silver tarnishes over time and is much less resistant to scratching than platinum, so those are often discernible too for all but the best condition silver pieces.
Necklace Designs & Marks
When it comes to prices, stones tend to set the bar, but design is a crucial factor too – especially for necklaces. Necklaces featuring large diamonds, rubies, emeralds or sapphires will of course always carry a value – but fashionable arrangement of semi-precious stones like tourmalines, lapis, amethysts can raise the value of other examples too.
Where multiple different types of stone are used, design makes the difference between a colourful necklace and a great one. Names are key here; unmarked necklaces are common, but marks that can be used to establish the date it was made or the maker really help with valuation. Thankfully, necklaces have a lot to offer in style and signature pieces (like the Beaumont necklace) can sometimes be attributed in that way.
It will come as no surprise that household names like Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels often fetch the highest prices in the saleroom. Big-name 20th century designers tend to have fairly obvious marks. There are many marks you might not recognise, however, on less conventional or older jewellery so be sure to check them out.
Some particularly stylistic necklaces might attract interest from a particular type of collector by virtue of their design. Unusual stones, cuts or settings can all add to the charm of the piece – collectors love to see something new within their niche! For antique examples, pareurs (matching sets of earrings and brooches) are especially appealing to collectors.
Condition and Provenance
When it comes to necklaces, especially those which might be more valuable, condition is an important consideration. Material here becomes important – platinum is valuable because it wears very well, and this can stand older pieces in good stead. The same goes for tarnishing on higher-karat gold.
On older pieces the survival of any intricate carving or delicate work can be important but can also reflect the age of a piece. Indeed, if a necklace purports to date to the 18th century you’d expect it to carry some wear and tear, especially if made of silver or softer gold. This is where provenance can come into play.
For newer pieces, original jewellery boxes, receipts or any other paperwork can reduce the doubt of unmarked examples. Reproductions of famous 20th century designs are not uncommon, so making sure your necklace is genuine would be important to its valuation. If you do decide to get a necklace valued, giving as much detail as you can to a valuer will be a great help!