Spring Cleaning: What to Know Before You Resell Your Jewelry

Richard Tilles, president and cofounder of Circa, talks top gems, trends, and what to know before you give and get.

diamond ring Cartier Panthère brooch Photo: Courtesy Circa

For the past 18 years, Circa has been handling the delicate process of appraising, offering to buy, and ultimately reselling jewelry from private collections. “We’re a very approachable company,” says cofounder and president Richard Tilles. “Our idea from the beginning was that you should get the same luxury experience when selling your jewelry that you did when you bought it.” To that end, every Circa office (all 12 locations, from N.Y.C. and Beverly Hills to Madrid and central Hong Kong) provides private and one-on-one consultations—and, for convenience’s sake, same-day payouts.

Before you decide to clean out your collection, we asked Tilles what pieces get top dollar, the stories that have stayed with him, and more.

Gems That Get Top Dollar

Whether it’s a diamond, an emerald, a sapphire, ruby, or other stones, top quality gets top value. We’ve seen a little bit of a buoyancy in the diamond market recently. We buy a lot of diamonds. We see 5-plus-carat diamonds, sometimes even 10-carat diamonds here. Obviously we know that larger is better—the larger the diamond is, the rarer it is. Because the diamond is rare, they get quite valuable at that level. And, of course, quality speaks volumes.

vintage diamond rings

Van Cleef & Arpels marquise diamond and sapphire ring, circa 1950; Harry Winston 14.81-carat pear-shaped diamond ring, circa 1960.  Photo: Courtesy Circa

Provenance Is Paramount

There are different qualities that make a ruby or a sapphire or an emerald valuable, and that is different than diamonds—it has to do with where the gemstone was originally mined. Country of origin becomes very big and very, very important in the colored-stone world. A ruby from Burma is the pinnacle of what collectors look for. A sapphire from Kashmir is the pinnacle of what sapphire collectors look for. And an emerald from Colombia is at the top of the heap.

vintage ruby bracelet

Van Cleef & Arpels ruby and diamond bracelet, circa 1950.  Photo: Courtesy Circa

The Brands That Always Sell

Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels are the two brands that have the most legs—meaning that we have collectors that are just waiting for us to buy these brands so that they can come buy it from us. Certainly, there are a whole host of others that are also very important—JAR, Taffin, and, of course, David Webb are very collectible.

Iconic Pieces Command High Prices

If you’re looking at a piece of Cartier jewelry and it doesn’t look like Cartier, you’re not going to get the kind of passion and value that somebody would give for, for example, an iconic Cartier Panthère bracelet.

Cartier Panthère jewelry

Cartier Panthère bracelet in gold, onyx and diamond; Cartier Panthère brooch.  Photo: Courtesy Circa

Hot Watches

We’ve seen a huge demand for vintage stainless-steel sport watches by Rolex and Patek Philippe. We’ve seen these values skyrocket probably in the last 5 to 10 years. They have become really, really desirable, and we get very excited when we see a watch from the ’60s or ’70s that has a faded dial or a faded bezel.

Vintage Rolex watch

Rolex Stainless Steel Daytona; Rolex 1675 Vintage GMT Master Watch, circa 1960s.  Photo: Courtesy Circa

Weigh the Emotional Value

There’s nothing more exciting than telling a client that they have a lot more than they thought. But we can’t pay you for the emotional value that’s in the piece. This is something that we say a lot. We literally can only pay you for the value that we see. We often direct clients to keep a truly sentimental piece.

The Stories That Stick

One day, a mother and daughter came in with a group of jewelry; most of it had been made in the ’20s and ’30s. The last piece in the group was a Cartier, platinum-and-diamond, black-and-white enamel lapel watch with accents of diamonds—a pretty rare item. We said that we would pay $25,000 for this very special piece. Unfortunately, that offer stopped the entire purchase then and there. They perhaps believed that if we would pay that much, it could be worth even more. A week later, they both returned after bringing the collection to several major auction houses and other jewelry buyers. They told us that no one offered close to what we did—and the auction houses were far less, as well. Plus, they would have had to wait quite a while to be paid if the items were sold at auction. But we always pay immediately, and so we did. Were they happy? You bet. Were we? Always.

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