It’s thrilling to get a “steal” at a vintage store, antique mall or consignment shop that you might not have bought elsewhere at full price. But what would you do if you found out that the half-price platinum watch encrusted with diamonds was a stolen good? Pawnshops have for decades been a place where people go to save some money (or get some money). In a time where a penny saved is a penny earned, discounted used items are flying off the shelves at places like the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, whose day-to-day operations are dramatized on the History channel show Pawn Stars.
Some items, like tools and furniture, are straightforward to purchase, since their condition can usually be assessed with a thorough look-over. A Cartier bracelet or a De Beers ring is more complex than that. Pawnshop owners are jacks-of-all-trades, not specialists in jewelry. While the family-owned establishment on Pawn Stars will hire an appraiser to set a fair price, there is no guarantee that stores not appearing on national television will make that effort. Jewelry pricing goes beyond what the buyer simply thinks the item is worth to them, because so many factors are involved in the investment.
Pawnshops lack the in-depth knowledge that jewelry stores can provide about the actual face value of a piece. Scratches, clouds, and other flaws on a gemstone’s surface are detectable to a trained eye using a magnifier. Lacking these tools and a commitment to the jewelry profession, a pawnbroker could overlook such imperfections and pass a VVS1 diamond off as an FL one. (If you don’t know what that means, ask a jeweler.)
The very nature of a pawnshop can result in the transaction of illegal goods. Desperate people visit pawnbrokers to get easy money in hard times. If someone is behind on their rent, they can give up their jewelry to a pawnshop and be given a loan that they must pay off or forfeit the item. All too often, the original source of the piece is someone else who was robbed by the loan seeker. If this is the case, and it is discovered that the item has been stolen, investigators can demand it be returned to its rightful owner even after a customer of the store has purchased it.
Pawnshops are not the root of all evil; many are run as legitimate businesses. Like any industry, the stores vary depending on the owners and their dedication to serving their customers. If you’re searching for real quality jewelry that will last and can even give you a return on investment, taking your business to an actual jewelry store is the best option.