NAJ summit

Back to the NAJ Summit 2022!

Image for National Association of Jewellers (NAJ) Valuers summit.
National Association of Jewellers Valuers Summit, 2022

About a year ago, I was first invited to attend the National Association of Jewellers (NAJ) annual Valuers’ summit. I didn’t really know what a valuer did and I wasn’t that familiar with the NAJ either. But, they wanted a talk on brooches, which I love, and it sounded like a fun weekend. And it was!

The 2022 summit

I’ve just come back from the 2022 summit and if anything, it was even more fun. The NAJ are the professional assocation for anyone in the jewellery trade. They cover retail jewellers, manufacturers, valuers, gem dealers, people who make and sell new jewellery and those who also deal in older pieces. The annual conference is a chance for people to get together, attend workshops, listen to talks, meet old friends and make new ones. It’s a brilliant opportunity for professional development and continuing education.

The summit took place in the Staverton Park Estate hotel, near Daventry, not far from the historic jewellery centre of Birmingham. There was also a fancy dinner after a full day of workshops and talk. Sadly, I didn’t win a pair of diamond earrings in the raffle, but it did raise an impressive sum for the NAJ’s educational charity.

Talks at the summit

The summit includes lectures and talks as well as workshops. These offer general information and interest and cover historic subjects as well as stories from the trade.

Life in the jewellery trade

David Callaghan’s time in the West End jewellery world is legendary. His talk, ‘Fings Wot I Bort!’, was a fantastic romp through forty years of jewellery discoveries and sales.

Emily Barber and Kate Flitcroft, the Jewellery Director and Senior Specialist from Bonham’s auction house gave a fantastic presentation on life behind the scenes at an auction house. They showed us glittering gemstones, historic jewels and fabulous discoveries – a wonderful look at some of the most exciting sales of the last few years.

The symbolism of jewellery

Next up, I finally made good use of the months I’ve spent digging into 19th century newspapers, on the hunt for great stories about lockets. I went through love, death and fashion and finished up with some of the oddest things I’ve come across. I’ve written more about two of the more surprising ones here and here.

Hayden Peters, the founder of the Art of Mourning website, came over from Australia to give a talk on the social significance and symbolism of British mourning jewellery. With the help of images and music, he unravelled the design of eighteenth and nineteenth century memorial jewels.

The Devil’s metal

Jack Ogden’s talk on platinum in the nineteenth century explained how it had come into jewellery use, and how many later nineteenth century white metal jewels, might be platinum in disguise. It was both tremendously informative and very entertaining.

And, through research into magazines and images, he managed to include early dentistry, including platinum false teeth for dogs, to a glamorous platinum tiara worn by opera singer Lilian Nordica in a Coca Cola advert from 1904.

Finally, Hanne Faurby gave a wonderful talk on the Fabergé in London exhibition, which closed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in May.

Workshops at the summit

The workshops are one of the best things about the summit. They’re run by industry experts in small groups and offer hands on learning opportunities.

What does a valuer do?

I went to a great workshop by David Byrne, a veteran of the industry, introducing valuing. At last, I know what a valuer does! As the name suggests, a valuer puts a price on your jewellery (beyond the obvious sentimental one).

Valuers are responsible for insurance and probate valuations. If you lose your favourite diamond necklace while scuba diving, for example, a valuer will price up a replacement or suggest a fair insurance payout. Valuers have to be experts on gemmology, jewellery techniques and know the market. They also have to understand and recognise antique jewellery and know how to assess its value. The valuer’s job includes pricing gemstones by weight and quality and measuring the quantity of precious metal in a piece. On top of that, they need to know how many hours of work it took to make. Was it hand-made or cast? Are the gemstones natural or lab grown? Was it made by a famous jewellery house or studio jeweller? Valuers have to look at all these things and come up with a fair value.

When things go wrong…

Rosamund Clayton ran the next workshop I attended. After years of experience in the trade, her talk was full of horrifying (but very entertaining) stories of what could happen when things go wrong. She told us about court cases in which she’d been the expert witness, gemstones going missing in the post and the vital importance of making sure your paperwork is up to date. Insurance has never been so much fun!

Gemmology for the complete beginner

Anna Dighton, independent valuer, and Flori Van den Brande, from A.E. Ward, took us gently through the mysteries of sapphires and rubies. With the help of great slides and a tempting array of samples, they explained how the colours of gemstones were described, from the poetic inky or cornflower blue of sapphires to the pigeon-blood of rubies. I was amazed to learn how much the price could change from a reasonably affordable sub-hundred pound per carat to much, much higher sums.After that, we learnt about some of the ways of improving the look of a stone, from the almost ubiquitous heat treatment, to glass filling and diffusion methods.

Let’s see how it’s made

The last workshop I attended was a really useful eye-opener. Using a great selection of wax and metal models, Barry Sullivan explained how to recognise cast ring mounts from their typical orange-skin surface. He also showed us CAD designed pieces and explained how to recognise the tell-tale build lines. We looked at different ways of casting and their advantages, as well as how jewels were made in multiple parts. Finally, we talked about how to write a good description.

The supplier showcase

On Sunday, jewellery suppliers took over one of the halls. They brought supplies of gemstones, jewellery findings and did demonstrations of equipment. It was a great opportunity to learn about the commercial side of jewellery and to handle truly lovely gemstones.

I was really impressed by the colour range and quality of lab grown diamonds. Moreover, could lab diamonds and other synthetic stones solve some of the ethical and environmental problems of gemstone mining? The London diamond bourse are offering demonstrations of some of the newer technology for testing diamonds. It would be fascinating to try them out.

To round up

I had a fabulous time at the summit and I learnt a huge amount, both about jewellery making and about its history. I met lovely, friendly people and had some really enriching conversations. If you have any interest in jewellery, I would recommend the NAJ summit and Valuers’ conference to you.

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