For the next 20 years or more – according to some experts – appraisal writing and store document updates will be lucrative customer service earners that will also help bring in estate jewelry and increase store foot traffic. Generational shifts, internet access to competitive insurance quotes and gold buys will be the driving factors in this trend.
Baby Boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 per day. For the age group of people born between 1946 and 1964, the oldest members are 70 years old and the youngest 52. These are prime ages for retirement and even end-of-life planning. As one age group completes such plans others will begin theirs, including Gen X’ers (1965 to 1976) and, of course, the much talked about Millennials (1977 to 1992).
“There’s a lot of buzz about the Millennials, how they’re not buying as much as their parents,” says Gail Levine, the executive director of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers (NAJA). “Wait until they turn 45.”
Gail references not just a change in consumer and jewelry tastes, but also defining generational characteristics. “Each generation wants to make a mark on this world,” says Gail. “They [Millennials] want things to pass on to their kids.”
Baby Boomers and Millennials don’t share many similarities, but one common quality is an appreciation for family heirlooms. The former group has sentimental attachments to previous generations and the goods they valued (for both sentimental and monetary reasons). The latter group appreciates the quality, craftsmanship and uniqueness of goods that aren’t mass-produced.
John Anthony, Jr., owner of John Anthony Jewelers in Bala-Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, has been helping a large number of both age groups in his store with appraisal writing and updating store-issued customer documents. John Sr. opened the family business in 1946. When John Jr. took over the store in the late 1990s, he inherited a family business that had legitimate concerns regarding a society that had become overly litigious.
“Improving appraisals for our store has always been a work in progress,” says John. “We’ve always wanted these documents to be a useful tool for customers while reflecting the quality and integrity of the jewelry we sell. But in the late 1990s, I was hearing too many stories about lawsuits and liabilities, so I upped our [appraisal] game with certain credentials.”
The concern over potential lawsuits then prepared John, his son (John III) and their staff for the demand of appraisal work they are currently experiencing. Fifteen to 20 years ago, appraisals accounted for roughly 10 to 20 percent of the store’s annual income. Today that number has grown to an astonishing 50 percent. “Given the volume of appraisals we do, I sometimes wonder if I’m an appraiser that sells jewelry or a jeweler that does appraisal work,” says John.
Joking aside, John and his staff are deadly serious about the value appraisal work brings to their store. As a policy, John has never advertised – ever. With the exception of a website, phone book and a business Facebook account, the family business was built almost entirely by word-of-mouth, most of that associated with jewelry sales, but much of it with the store’s appraisal work.
After decades of refining his store’s appraising infrastructure, his education and ongoing recertifications, and a strong work ethic for exacting standards, John has positioned himself and the family jewelry store as the destination for top-notch appraisal work. Based on his reputation, John has assisted a number of law firms to assess many estates, served as a professional witness, and helped customers in his market and many miles outside of his market sift through multiple generations of jewelry to determine current market values for heirloom quality jewelry.
“I’m overloaded right now,” says John. “I actually have to send some work to other credentialed appraisers.” According to John, aging Baby Boomers looking for current market values and Millennials deciding whether to keep or sell inherited heirlooms are just a part of the reason for the demand for appraisal work. Gold buys aren’t as lucrative as when gold was above $1,500 per ounce, but many people prefer to have cash today than wait for prices to climb tomorrow, or like the added discounts when a gold buy offsets the cost of a new jewelry purchase.
And, with ever-increasing access to the internet, many consumers are competitively shopping insurance companies more frequently. When a customer changes insurance companies, agents typically ask for new credentialed appraiser jewelry and watch appraisals. Depending on the insurance company, some firms have become more proactive in asking their clients for updated appraisals.
Last year John charged $75 per appraisal, but decided to increase that cost to $90 this year. In his market John has shopped appraisal prices higher than his ($110 to $125) from businesses that “aren’t as qualified,” according to John. Updating a customer’s store-issued paperwork – be it certificates of sale or insurance appraisals – are still done at little or no charge.
Eileen Eichhorn GG and president of Eichhorn Jewelry, Inc., is another jewelry store owner that has worked tirelessly for decades improving her appraisal business. Like John, Eileen serves her local customers and attracts clients from cities 150 to 300 miles from her Decatur, Indiana market.
“We’ve worked very hard to earn this reputation,” says Eileen. “I’ve never worked a 40-hour work week in my life.”
Eileen is much like her father John, but had a different balance of family business goals. Back in 1965, John worked long hours as a master watchmaker that also did jewelry repairs to create a fine jewelry store for the next generation. After working with Minneapolis-based J. B. Hudson Jewelers in sales and merchandising while completing her liberal arts degree from the University of Minnesota, Eileen joined the family business in 1975 to add appraisal writing as a key service.
Upon returning to the family store, topping Eileen’s to do list was finding appraisal organizations that would continue to keep her gemological and appraising credentials sharpened and updated. After an exhaustive search, she studied under the International Society of Appraisers (ISA). Years later, she became associated with the NAJA, and over the years has been active in state and regional industry-related affiliate trade associations.
“I get a lot out of my association with both the ISA and the NAJA,” says Eileen. The ISA is a group of appraisers that come from a wide range of areas of expertise. Eileen is an Accredited Member of ISA and a Certified Senior Member of NAJA, titles that have earned her work with many law firms regarding estate evaluations, testifying as an expert witness, and landing what she calls “whale appraisals.” Eileen has even worked on one appraisal that took 18 months to complete.
In the past, appraisal work accounted for as much as 15 to 20 percent of the annual income for Eileen’s store, especially in the years following the 2008 housing market crash. In more recent years that number has hovered around 10 percent. Ever the disciplined jewelry store owner, Eileen doesn’t count on the earnings coming from appraisals. It’s seen as extra income from a store service.
Appraisal work has had a direct impact on Eileen’s estate jewelry department. This product category has always been a part of her family store’s offerings. In the past estate jewelry has traditionally been roughly 10 percent of inventory. Today that number ranges from 30 to 35 percent. And, estate jewelry accounts for about 30 percent of annual sales.
A big driver of the store’s estate sales is the month-long Estate Jewelry Spooktacular, an estate jewelry sale scheduled every October. The store event is part of Decatur’s Callithumpian Parade and merchant events organized by the city’s Chamber of Commerce.
“People wait all year for this event,” says Eileen. “Ladies are known to grab trays and fill them with pieces ranging from $10, $15 and $25 each.”
Larger, more substantial pieces are also sold as part of the event and throughout the year. The October estate sale and the Callithumpian Parade have helped promote her store’s estate jewelry department. But for Eileen her reputation as an appraiser, estate jewelry buyer and seller, and her affiliation with appraisal organizations has helped her source jewelry of uncompromising quality and historical significance.
One notable piece was acquired a few years ago and quickly sold: a platinum ring with a 6.5-carat natural ruby with two one-carat pear shaped diamonds. “I never would have had the opportunity to acquire, let alone sell, this piece without my appraisal experience,” says Eileen. “This ring attracted very wealthy high-end buyers, two of which flew in to see the piece in person.”
With an average work week around 70 to 80 hours, Eileen divides her time as best she can to achieve a balance between her appraisal work and managing a jewelry store. At 63, Eileen has bigger concerns beyond her store.
“The incoming generation of appraisers doesn’t have the attention span and attention to detail as older generations,” says Eileen. “I’m a dying breed and hope the next generations bring the same level of commitment to jewelry appraisal writing, but I have my doubts.”