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Filing a Void

This article was reprinted with permission. It was printed in the November-December 2003 issue, pages 18-19, of Modern Jeweler.

A New Appraisal Training Course Focuses on the Basics, but is it too basic?

Rick Wilson can't wait to get his hands on the first edition of the J-Bar "Resource Directory" that will be issued by the Jewelers Vigilance Committee in March of next year. J-Bar, short for the Jewelers Board of Appraisal Review, will issue a directory that lists those who have enrolled in and successfully passed the test for JVC's new education course in jewelry appraisal basics. But the California litigation lawyer won't be combing this reference book for the names of appraisers to hire as expert witnesses or write appraisals for his clients.

Cliff hanger

He'll be looking to see if lawyers on the other side relied on the J-Bar registry in their selection of an appraiser. "If I find that they have, I'm going to wave the resource book in front of the jury and ask the appraiser, 'Are you a member of J-Bar, that appraisal training group which admits it teaches a minimum standard and allows members to take its certifying exam at home with an open answer book?' And when the appraiser answers yes, I'll face the judge and say, 'No further questions, your honor.'"

This use of the book as a means to destroy the credibility of experts is clearly not what fellow lawyer Cecilia Gardner, JVC's executive director, had in mind for the watchdog group's new white pages for appraisers. She hopes it will lead attorneys like Wilson to the appraisers they need to help them with cases. And she notes that many of the people listed in the resource book will have more distinguished qualifications than mere passage of the J-Bar exam. Indeed, she tells Modern Jeweler that she thinks a J-Bar listing alone is not enough of a reason to choose an appraiser as an expert witness.

And therein lies the problem with J-Bar for Wilson, who was on the faculty of the University of California's Hastings College of Law in San Francisco for two years. "Why list a person whose only credential is passage of the J-Bar exam if you think the course is insufficient to make that person a fully trained professional?" he asks. "You're just begging for trouble."

Wilson sympathizes with JVC's attempt to acquaint America's thousands of untrained, self-professed jewelry appraisers with the basics of their trade and the legal dangers of uninformed, incompetent jewelry appraising. It is these purposes that drew people like Ron Harder, president of Jewelers Mutual Insurance Co., and noted appraiser Patti Geolat to sit on J-Bar's board of governors in its initial development stage back in 2000.

While Harder remains a supporter, Geolat, who does not Intend to take the J-Bar exam or list In Its resource book, is having second thoughts. "I was impressed by the sincerity and determination with which JVC wanted to tackle the persistent problem of bad appraisals," she says. "Then when I learned that J-Bar's exam would be a self-administered open-book test, I started to have strong doubts. After all, it's not like there's a ton of information and theory in the course to be mastered."

So did Barry Block, president of the Jewelry Judge in Garden City, New York, and also an advisor to J-Bar. "I don't know if the J-Bar Resource Book is good for the trained professionals who list in it," he admits. "On the one hand, it may cheapen the credentials of professionals listed in a directory with people whose only credential is passage of the J-Bar exam. On the other hand, it may make people whose only designation is J-Bar membership look, by association, more qualified than they are."

Wilson shares Geolat's and Block's concerns as well as Gardner's. "I understand JVC's desire to set a minimum standard of care," he says. "But, such a standard, according to J-Bar's own press releases, would still fall short of what is needed. So its resource book would mainly be of use to lawyers looking to undermine the credibility of appraisers."

Wilson is referring to a JVC press release issued last June that describes the J-Bar course as one "setting out the basics of appraising while highlighting the pitfalls." Later in the release, the course is described as a "starting point from which jewelry professionals can build towards more technical education."

Wilson questions whether such a preliminary level of education is adequate enough to justify putting those who pass J-Bar's stake-at-home exam in a listing of appraisers sent to people like himself as well as state attorneys general, consumer affairs bureaus, better business bureaus and insurance companies. "From my perspective," Wilson says, "a J-Bar listing is a liability not an asset. JVC Isn't doing anyone any favors by making appraisers targets of lawyers like myself."

Written by David Federman, Executive Editor

Copyright © 2004 by Modern Jeweler

CJAO's Letter to the Editor

It was printed in the January-February 2004 issue, page 16, of Modern Jeweler.

Dear Editor,

As the current chairman and co-chairman of the Council of Jewelry Appraisal Organizations (American Gem Society, International Society of Appraisers, and national Association of Jewelry Appraisers), we would like to repeat our standing on the J-bar issue.

To begin with, Cecelia Gardner of the JVC was given a copy of the appraisal standards that were adopted by the CJAO, the combined product of the appraisal standards of the three organizations, to know what standards should contain to protect not only the appraiser, but the consuming public. This standard has been accepted by most of the jewelry industry organizations and professional appraisers in the United States and Canada.

The J-bar standard is a dangerous shortcoming from the reasonable and acceptable CJAO appraisal standard. We believe the J-bar program will create numerous legal ramifications and destroy what the appraisal profession has fought and strived for. There are no short-cuts to maintaining the ethics and integrity of the appraisal profession. In conclusion, AGS, ISA, and NAJA do not endorse J-Bar in any way, shape, or form.

James Jolliff, chair
Cos Altobelli, past chair
Katherine Vandygriff, board member

Council of jewelry Appraisal Organizations, Annapolis, Maryland

Reprinted with permission secured by email from Cos Altobelli

My Letter to the Editor

It was printed in the January-February 2004 issue, pages 16-17, of Modern Jeweler.

Dear Editor,

Your November article on J-Bar, the JVC's new beginner's course in jewelry appraising, is right to ask if it lives up to the meager expectations it fosters in students. After reading the article, as well as the course, I question how it can be considered even a first step in appraisal training. A backward step is more like it.

Perhaps no one knows J-Bar's shortcomings better than the article's writer, David Federman, and appraiser Patti Geolat, whom he quotes. As authors of the highly regarded "The Professional's Guide to Jewelry Insurance Appraising," which has been given out to hundreds of jewelers by Jewelers Mutual Insurance Co., they must be aware that J-Bar condones practices that are condemned in their book and by just about every appraisal society.

In case you're unfamiliar with the J-Bar course, let me explain its principal points of focus. Under the heading "What You Can Expect to Learn," J-Bar says it will teach 3 things: 1) how to appraise items that enrollees (mostly retailers) sell in their own stores; 2) how to appraise jewelry for insurance purposes, and 3) what to be aware of as far as proper ethical and legal conduct.

Right off the bat, the J-Bar course advises students rendering an appraisal on a piece they sold to "Make sure, however, that your selling price is the appraised value, for purposes of the appraisal." It is unacceptable to elevate one's selling price to a replacement value. The courts have consistently rejected this approach and require market analysis instead. The appraisal community long ago discarded the idea that an item's acquisition cost is the item's value except in some rare and isolated situations.

The J-Bar course defines "Insurance Replacement Appraisal" as "Appraisal used by a consumer to obtain insurance or to satisfy their curiosity as to what a 'new' value would be." Although the first portion of the definition needs refinement, it is the second portion that is totally incorrect. An insurance replacement appraisal is not a "one-size-fits-all" report that can be used for non-insurance assignments like satisfying curiosity. This is inexcusable for a group that calls itself "the legal watchdog of the jewelry industry."

J-Bar collides with long-accepted practice in the area of insurance appraising. For this reason, I am mystified by support that JVC garnered from the American Society of Appraisers, whose standard textbook, "Appraisal Principles and Procedures," written by Henry Babcock established him as the equivalent to Robert Shipley in personal property appraisal education. In their book, Federman and Geolat followed Babcock's lead by insisting that the "market data approach" be used for insurance appraising. Yet J-Bar advises students to junk this approach in favor of the "cost approach." Babcock taught, and the courts have ruled, that this method is inappropriate for such valuations. So how can J-Bar claim to be a primer of legal responsibility when it gives methodological advice that heightens, rather than reduces, jeweler liability? There are many more bones that I could pick with J-Bar. But my intention here is to challenge its own claim to teach minimal standards to appraisers. By promoting practices that have long been denounced by professional appraisal groups, J-Bar fails to provide even a preliminary education in jewelry appraising. Maybe this is why the J-Bar course has yet to receive an endorsement from the appraisal societies, trade groups and insurance companies that it consulted in the planning stages. If you want to get a correct basic education in jewelry appraising, don't look to the JVC for it. Look to the appraisal societies - at least three of which are on record as opposing J-Bar.

Respectfully submitted,

Bill Hoefer

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