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Tuesday, December 7, 2010


To ISA, with thanks...

I recall when I was writing for National Jeweler Magazine in the 1990’s, the staff was discussing a feature article I was writing and someone suggested limiting me to 5,000 words. Someone else blurted out, "Ralph can't say Hello in 5,000 words. Let's give him 7500." And they did. So it’s not lost on me that I can be long winded. Hopefully you’ll be entertained.

I can still remember my very first ISA meeting in 1988. At the time I owned a retail jewelry store in Los Angeles with my cousin and partner. I had just completed my studies at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in Santa Monica and realized almost immediately that I still knew little about appraising. At the suggestion of Cos Altobelli, one of the appraisal “gurus” of the time, I attended a Los Angeles Chapter ISA meeting. The meeting’s featured speaker was Elly Rosen, a gemologist and one of the real “old timers” in ISA lore.

Rosen not only confirmed my thoughts but when I asked a couple of questions that would soon have obvious answers he asked me if I had “taken our courses yet.” Jim Goodman, an art appraiser and local from Los Angeles, blurted out “He’s a prime candidate!” At the time I didn’t know if that was a compliment or not. Was it that I was in desperate need of formal appraisal education or that I was a really bright dude who would get a lot out of the ISA courses.

In the end it didn’t matter because looking back both were true (okay the “really bright” assessment is my own). And certainly I was both intellectually and professionally desperate for the knowledge I would need in pursuing a new element in my career. I knew that the value of that knowledge would serve me well but the magnitude of that benefit was yet to be discovered.

To jump ahead, my education and networking with ISA have provided me with immeasurable benefits. As I seamfully (as opposed to seamlessly) cruise into retirement I can’t help but think back on the 27 years that have passed since I wrote my first appraisal in 1984. I was working on a monochrome display IBM XT computer that we had purchased for about $4,500.00 and the only real software aside from the operating system was a simple word processing program that a friend wrote for us from scratch. Before I ever turned on that computer I attended two “training classes” at the computer store where the machine was purchased. It may as well have been a foreign language class where the instructor didn’t speak English. My partner validated my utter confusion when he said, “Ralph there aren’t many things in the world that scare me but that thing scares the hell out of me!”

So there I was, generating appraisal reports that I knew instinctively were inadequate. One-page reports with a copy we retained in a file folder, printed on a noisy dot matrix printer (I think that was another four hundred dollars!) and folded to insert into a plain envelope.

And have things changed since then. I remember my first digital camera. It was a digital video system with a light box. Cost: $1,800.00. Value to me: Almost none. While it beat having to waste film and run to the photo lab every day, I never did get the thing to work to my satisfaction. Ultimately I found that a $150.00 digital hand held camera with jewelry displayed on plain white paper was the most efficient and produced the highest quality photos I could offer short of a very expensive custom made system.

While I have benefited enormously from the lightning speed at which technology has developed and had loads of fun doing so, I’ve become increasingly aware that I have developed so many other interests that I have already moved on. As the Jewelry Judge of Princeton I have not only survived, but thrived during the twelve years since I opened up here in New Jersey.

I am grateful for the foundation that ISA provided me way back in the late 1980’s and continuing as additional classes and conferences enhanced my ability to write credible, professional appraisal reports.

I end this cyber-manuscript with what I think is a pretty funny story. One of the members of the Los Angeles ISA chapter at the time I joined possessed a Ph.D. in a seriously academic field. In relating an argument he’d had with another member about an approach to teaching a particular appraisal principle he was told, “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” and as he exclaimed, “Who is he to challenge my educational credentials? I come from academia!” I couldn’t resist: “Really? You don’t have an accent!” The joke fell flat as he continued his rant but I still think it’s funny and so I felt compelled to relate it to anyone unfortunate enough to read it.

So thanks ISA and those members who have been so supportive and helpful over the years. Rather than name all of the fine appraisal professionals who have contributed so much to my development and success I’ll say a simple “Thanks. You know who you are.” One exception who has to be identified is Maurice Fry, founding ISA member/owner of ISA whose vision and generosity extended well beyond what most members will ever know. So here’s to you, Maury, and I raise a glass to ISA as well.

Ralph Joseph, GG, ISA CAPP

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