This 14-karat yellow gold and sapphire ring is from the early 20th century. The intricate gold scrollwork and good quality blue sapphire of about 0.80 carats in weight elevate this piece to investment grade status.
There is a lot to be said for tradition. After all, traditions are only developed after decades, and sometimes centuries, of honing and polishing cultural precepts. Our ancestors' venerable customs have shaped the most important events of our lives, from graduations to weddings to holidays. And one of mankind's most enduring customs is the idea of jewelry as a store of value. This might seem like an anachronism in the modern world, hopelessly adrift among the glittering neon lit skyscrapers and beckoning digital alleys of the current age. But that assessment could not be further from the truth.
Originally, the term "the family jewels" was not a euphemism for the male genitalia, but actually referred to the crystallized wealth of affluent, aristocratic dynasties. While most of the middle class has never understood the importance of this time-honored method of wealth building, today's rich wisely remember the advice of their ancestors and continue to store a portion of their net worth in investment quality jewelry.
Portable, valuable and seductively radiant, many such jewels have become the stuff of legend. The Dresden Green, The Timur Ruby and The Crimson Star of Siberia are all famous jewels that elicit images of ancient nobility, ornate palaces and above all, lavish wealth.
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Mysterious, exotic and alluring, a large, vibrant colored gem is the soul of a high-end piece of jewelry. Consequently, desirable investment grade estate jewelry will usually be mounted with one or more fine, sizable colored stones. In most instances, very high quality jewelry becomes a means to display the attributes of the exceptional gems mounted in it. This is emphasized by the fact that a typical piece of investment quality jewelry will derive over 75% of its intrinsic value from the gems mounted in it.
Oftentimes cheaper jewelry is mounted with many smaller stones in an attempt to imitate the look of a more expensive piece set with fewer, larger gems. Do not be fooled by this trick; a single, large gem of a given weight is worth many, many times more than a parcel of smaller stones that equals the same weight. Actually, large colored stones can possess such incredible value density that it is not unusual for a very high quality piece of jewelry to easily fit into the palm of one's hand, yet be worth as much as a car…or even a house!
However, only the finest of gems are appropriate as investment vehicles. For example, the big three colored stones - emeralds, rubies and sapphires - are renowned for their unparalleled beauty, unsurpassed durability and instant name recognition. Jewelry set with these stones qualifies as investment grade if the largest gem exceeds 0.50 carats in weight. Unfortunately, high quality emerald, ruby and sapphire jewelry that is reasonably priced has gotten much harder to find over the last couple of decades.
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Other colored stones, such as aquamarine, tanzanite, spinel, tourmaline, imperial topaz and some fancy garnet varieties (spessartite or rhodolite), are exciting and compelling alternatives to the big three. These gem varieties offer the promise of rapid price appreciation as they inevitably become more widely known. However, these stones must be larger to qualify as investment grade, preferably at least 1 carat.
Another group of ultra-rare stones also exists, consisting of colored diamond, alexandrite, tsavorite garnet and demantoid garnet. Due to their extreme rarity, these glamorous gems must only exceed 0.30 carats in order to be considered investment quality. The buyer must beware though. Because of their great value, this last group of gems is often counterfeited with synthetics or other imitations.
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Some colored stones like amethyst, citrine and blue topaz are too common to be investable and should be avoided. Please note that the minimum investable sizes for stones given are approximations that will vary based on the quality and number of gems present. The finer the stone, the smaller the size that is acceptable. Likewise, if a greater number of gems are present (like in a tennis bracelet), then even estate jewelry with smaller sized jewels than those listed above can still be desirable.
A word about white diamonds is in order. While they are beautiful accent stones, it is best to avoid them as the main stone in an investment-oriented piece. White diamonds are very common relative to fine colored stones. You can test this by walking into any jewelry store and comparing the number of large diamonds set in jewelry with the number of large, non-synthetic, high-quality rubies, emeralds or sapphires.
The number of diamonds will far outweigh the numbers of these colored gems available. This suggests that colored stones have a greater capacity for future price appreciation vis-a-vis white diamonds. While this doesn't completely disqualify white diamonds from investment consideration, one should only purchase them with caution.
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If a colored gem is the soul of a high-end piece of jewelry, then the setting is its temple. Precious metals have exemplary properties for this role; they are dense, tarnish-free, and radiate a soft, almost mystical sheen. Accordingly, platinum, palladium or 14 karat (or higher) gold are all fitting materials for investment grade jewelry settings.
Gold needs no introduction, having been worshipped throughout the ages for its immutable, rich yellow glow. In contrast to the ubiquity of gold, lustrous-gray platinum is much rarer and hence usually found in very expensive, high-end jewelry. Silvery palladium, another platinum group metal, is relatively new to jewelry and is consequently rarely found in older pieces.
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It is important to note that gold of less than 14 karats (58.3%) fine is not investable because the alloy becomes increasingly susceptible to corrosion and tarnish under that level of purity. Gold-plated or gold-filled alloys as well as the plebeian metal silver should all be avoided for investment purposes. Due to the remarkable density of precious metals, a high quality jewelry setting will be solid looking and feel fairly heavy relative to its size.
An adept way to inspect a setting is to turn it over and look at the reverse. If it is finely finished, the setting should look almost as good on the back as it does on the front.
The vast majority of estate jewelry in the world is not investment grade. For example, in a typical chain jewelry store none of the inventory could appropriately be called investment grade. In a high-end jewelry store, some pieces might be considered investment grade, but be priced too high to make good investment sense. If you were to peruse the estate jewelry selection of a better antique store, perhaps one in one hundred pieces would be both reasonably priced and qualify as investment quality.
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Obviously, real investment grade estate jewelry is difficult to find, affirming just how desirable and rare these items really are. Great men have opposed mighty empires and waged desperate battles in order to possess important gems. Lofty women have murdered rivals and seduced the powerful for a chance to cradle these dazzling jewels within their hands.
For centuries the wealthy and influential have understood the beguiling attraction of these persuasive luxury assets. And with prices starting at only $400, almost anyone can enjoy the rarity, beauty and investment potential of investment quality estate jewelry.
Read more in-depth Antique Sage jewelry investment guides here.