Unsighted/desktop ‘valuations’​; A stress-free dream or potential nightmare?

Modern life is all about speed and convenience. We want things done quickly and with the least amount of disruption and inconvenience possible.  You could argue that learning which corners you could cut off a process, is a good thing. However there are some things that you just cannot cut corners on, and valuations for insurance is one of them.

Over recent years there has been an increase in companies offering unsighted or so-called desktop ‘valuations’.  They claim to have done away with the hassle of you having to take your watch or jewellery to someone or for you having to send them away to be valued.  Now you can get everything done from the comfort of your sofa. Just take a photograph of your watch or jewellery, ping them off in an email, and hey presto, a completed valuation is with you in short order.

Sounds perfect doesn’t it but, in reality, it is too good to be true.

Few people realise that in the event of an insurance claim, the onus of proof falls on the claimant to prove an item’s existence and value. Just because you have insured a one carat diamond ring, does not mean the insurance company will settle a claim, especially if the facts are not wholly reliable. Oh no, they are going to want you to prove it, and that is the whole point of a professional valuation, it is there to protect you. It is there to provide your insurance company with provable facts, based on an expert physical inspection of the piece, so any settlement will be sufficient and able to replace what you have lost.

An unsighted, or desktop ‘valuation’ cannot do this and it could instead leave you either under-insured or worse completely uninsured.

The reason being an ‘unsighted or desktop valuation from a photograph’, is not a valuation; it is an unsupported opinion. The person compiling the so-called ‘report’ is guessing from a photograph and not examining the actual piece, so they are unable to determine or record the pertinent and critical information required for a justifiable valuation.  All they can do is assess what they can see in a picture, which in most cases is extraordinarily little and they have no way of proving what they have reported should you have to make a claim.

Now let us imagine you have a one carat, round brilliant cut diamond single stone ring, set in 18ct yellow gold. You have sadly lost the ring and need to claim on your home insurance, and all you have in terms of proof is an unsighted ‘valuation’. The critical aspects that this report cannot substantiate are the following.

Metal purity
Just because your ring looks yellow in a picture, does not mean it is gold. It also does not indicate whether it is 9, 14, or 18ct gold. You are claiming for an 18ct gold ring, but your insurance company may only settle on a 9ct gold ring because it is the most prevalent gold purity used in the UK. And there is a significant difference in value between these purities.

Is that a diamond?
How do you prove that the stone in your picture is a diamond and not a white sapphire, a colourless

spinel, or even cubic zirconia? The simple fact is you cannot.

How much does your diamond weigh?
A carat is a unit of weight and is not always relevant to the size of the stone.  To obtain an accurate carat weight, the stone either needs to be weighed on a set of special scales, or in the case of mounted stones, the length, width and depth measurements are used with a mathematical formula to calculate the weight. There is no way you can achieve any of

that from a photograph; it is not even possible to have an accurate educated guess of the weight from the photograph, so your settlement could be based on a stone that weighs significantly less than what you actually had.
How do you prove colour and clarity?
Again you can’t, can you detect the theme here? The variation of colour and clarity grades has an immense impact on a diamond’s value. And your unsighted ‘valuation’ cannot prove either the colour or clarity grade because you cannot grade a diamond from a photograph. You think your diamond is a G, VS1. But your insurance company thinks it is more likely to be an I, SI2. How do you prove otherwise?

These limitations are not just for single stone diamond rings; they cross over into every aspect of jewellery! Factor in the probable incorrect guesses with the actual weight of the item and how it was made, which could result in a totally under-guessed ‘value’, unsighted/desktop ‘valuations’ based on a mere photograph are a disaster waiting to happen.

What if you have a diamond set bracelet? Let us imagine it is set with a total of 100 round brilliant cut diamonds and the person doing the guessing thinks they are around 2.0mm in diameter each. This would mean each stone is approximately 0.03 carat, so you have a total of 3.00 carats in your bracelet. But what if your diamonds were actually 2.2mm and weighed 0.04 carat each? Your bracelet would then contain 4.00 carats of diamonds. It is absolutely impossible to detect a 0.2mm difference from a photograph! This would result in approximately 1.00 carat of diamonds you would be short in any settlement. Again, because you cannot prove it!

What about your coloured stones? Can you tell the difference between an inexpensive blue topaz and a more expensive aquamarine, or a synthetic sapphire from a natural sapphire from a photograph? No, you cannot. What about the difference in qualities for any gemstone? The difference in value for these stones can be hundreds to thousands of pounds but the only way to determine any quality factors is to physically examine the stone.

Despite the misunderstood belief, that all you need is a reference number to value a watch, they are, in fact, fraught with problems that arise from an unsighted ‘valuation’. A reference number does not prove the watch is genuine; some of the new super fakes have all of the correct reference numbers and are so convincing that it takes a valuer with specialist knowledge spending considerable time examining the watch physically to determine whether it is fake or genuine.

A reference number neither indicates the quality or the originality of the watch. With some vintage and collectors watches, small aspects such as the dial finish, the type of font used and the spacing of the text have a significant impact on the value. Some watch references have been in production for a decade or more, and their values vary by thousands of pounds. Can you determine, and ultimately prove, where your watch falls in terms of value from just a photograph? Unfortunately, you cannot.

The simple fact is an unsighted so-called ‘report’ is no substitute for a professional insurance valuation. It is not a physical inspection of the goods to be insured it’s a guess from a photograph with an arbitrary figure attached and nothing more. But most importantly, when it comes to the crunch, nothing that has been documented in an unsighted valuation can be substantiated, which can leave you in a very precarious position when it comes to settlement.

The whole process of an unsighted/desktop ‘valuation’ may be convenient, but they are certainly not fit for purpose. Is trading your security and the certainty of the correct settlement, worth it for the sake of convenience?

To ensure your items are correctly valued, you need to have them physically inspected by a professional valuer.

Gareth Brown FGA, DGA, GIA-Pearls, CPAA, AJP, FJVA

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