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Cabarrus Magazine

Don’t Fall for Fakes: Local Jewelry Appraiser Shares His Expertise

May 04, 2018 03:34PM ● By Jason Huddle
                          Tony Laughter

When he was in fourth grade, Tony Laughter (pronounced Law-ter) received a rock and mineral collection from his Aunt Ruby. “Yes, that was her actual name,” he laughed. From that point forward, a passion for minerals and gemstones led Laughter into the jewelry business.  After earning his geology degree from Colorado State University, Laughter enrolled at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in Santa Monica, CA, and received a Graduate Gemologist Diploma, with a trade designation of “GG”.

“I was very fortunate that one of my classmates at GIA was Fred Mouwad, the son of one of the most important diamond buyers in the world,” Laughter remembered. If you’ve heard the name before, it may be because Mouawad designed and manufactured 11 "fantasy" bras for Victoria’s Secret, which were made from precious gemstones and valued at between $2 million and $10 million dollars each.  “In fact, the GIA main campus in Carlsbad, CA is named in honor of Robert Mouawad,” Laughter explained. “So, I was very lucky to be hired by Fred.”

After graduation, Laughter began to work with the Mouawans. “The very first piece of jewelry I touched, day one of my new career, was a 40 carat D Flawless diamond – 6 million dollars,” recalled Laughter. “The same week they bought a 100 carat-plus D Flawless for around $13 million dollars! Talk about starting at the top.”

From there, Laughter continued his career that took him all over the world, including places such as Bangkok, Thailand, Vail, CO and Scottsdale, AZ. Finally, he arrived in Charlotte, NC. “I returned to the U.S. and gained that experience working for several prestigious companies…where I got my introduction to estate jewelry,” Laughter explained. “During these years, I was selling, buying estates, and always appraising.” Needless to say, Laughter has learned a lot over the years when it comes to Jewelry and appraising. Now, he calls Concord, NC home and was willing to share some of his knowledge with CM.

Laughter says the first mistake many make, when it comes to jewelry appraisals, is in the selection of the appraiser. “When searching for a jewelry appraiser, it’s important to know the extent of their trade experience,” he explained. “Did they just graduate as a gemologist, with little if any retail experience?  Also, are they a Graduate Gemologist?  Many insurance companies will reject an appraisal with high valued items, if not written by a GG.” Laughter added that, an “appraisal” provided by a seller is not the same as an independent appraisal. “The insurance company may accept it at first purchase, but I can tell you from years of appraising, that these are often over inflated values with insufficient detail. We often refer to these as 'puffed up', or 'feel good appraisals'.  The reality is they’re only trying to make the customer feel good about the purchase. It’s unethical.”

If you were to come to Laughter with jewelry to appraise, the first thing he is going to ask you is about the purpose of the appraisal. He says there can be different market values, depending on whether the appraisal is for an estate settlement, divorce or insurance coverage, for instance. “Often, what the client really needs is consultation,” said Laughter. “I can often save them lots of money without the need of a full written report.”

Regardless, Laughter says it’s important to have your jewelry appraised, even if you’re not planning on selling it. “I’m really amazed (even after all these years of seeing it), at how many people assume their homeowner’s insurance is sufficient to cover All their jewelry,” he said. “The coverage for jewelry can be as low as $1,500 combined!  So, I always remind them to contact their insurance company and get the items listed (scheduled), and that they will pay a yearly premium usually quoted on a per $1,000 basis.” According to Laughter, most insurance companies recommend updates every 3 to 5 years, depending upon market conditions. “If in doubt about the value of the jewelry, we welcome appointments where we can often rapidly sort items for basic values, and then decide if full written appraisals are needed.”

Of course, there is also a need for Laughter’s industry because of gemstones put up for sale that are misrepresented in their quality, or are simply outright fakes. Laughter explained he’s currently involved in a case where a consumer purchased what was represented as a synthetic diamond (3 carats), online for $3,000 dollars. The stone turned out to be a Moissanite imitation, worth a fraction of what was paid. “And of course, everyone is pointing fingers at each other,” Laughter explained. “It’s a gamble for sure with gemstones, unless you’re a gemologist.”

Laughter says the simple solution is to get a money-back guarantee and then bring it to an appraiser. “We offer pre-purchase verification for a reduced fee. It can save you from overpaying, or even worse – getting ripped off!”

For more information on Tony Laughter or jewelry appraising, visit Jewelry Appraisal Resources (JAR) subcontracts with The American Jewelry Institute (AJI), appraising for eight Jareds the Galleria of Jewelry stores in the region, and is also available for appraisals at the Gibson Mill office in Concord.

Story by: Jason Huddle

Photos Courtesy: Tony Laughter

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