How to determine the value of jewellery

What is the value of jewellery?

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then so is value. This goes some way to explaining how a plastic crown recently sold for almost $600,00 at a Sotheby’s auction.

The signed crown had been worn by the rapper Notorious B.I.G. in a photo shoot, just days before his murder in 1997. An iconic image of Biggie wearing the crown, is one of the most celebrated in hip hop culture.

If this seems outrageous, let me add some perspective. The 1996 auction of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ personal possessions realised $211,500 for a triple strand of FAKE pearls. It was irrelevant that they were costume jewellery-it wasn’t the pearls which were being bought, but the connection with Jackie O. With history.

And history chooses its cultural icons. They are celebrated and remembered in a multitude of different ways and vary wildly from one generation to the next.

I am often asked if jewellery is an investment, but value means different things to different people.

The monetary value of jewellery does not necessarily move in the same way that equity markets move, although there are certain pieces which hold and increase spectacularly in value. These are typically signed, collectible pieces, or those featuring stones of immense rarity- for example, Argyle pink diamonds.

But jewellery is different. It is personal in a way few other things are- we wear it on our person. Jewellery tells stories and creates a visceral connection with people. We inherently understand this as we have deep emotional connections to inherited jewellery.

To lovers of 90s hip hop, losing Biggie was comparable with a baby boomers’ sense of loss in John Lennon’s death. So what is the value of jewellery? Is it the pleasure you get wearing a piece that your mother wore? Or a pendant that you bought on a special holiday (that turned out to be fake)!!? Or a ring to celebrate the birth of a child?

To consider the plastic crown and fake pearls cheap and worthless fails to contextualise them, and misses the point. Value is not necessarily a reflection of the monetary worth of an item- as the sale of these items of costume jewellery vividly illustrates. Jewellery is intensely personal and has an innate power to connect us with people, culture and history. And that is its unique value.