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What to do with Old Wedding Gowns, Rings

By Darci Smith • Bankrate.com

When Molly Cue’s marriage ended, she wrapped her two-carat diamond engagement ring in tissue and shoved it into the toe of an old loafer.

It was four years before the ring finally came out of the closet. When it did, instead of wondering about what could have been, Cue considered how much she could sell it for. After consulting the original jeweler and the jeweler’s recommended reseller, she was surprised to learn that the custom-designed ring would bring, at most, 35 percent of the $15,000 her ex-husband had paid for it.

“It wasn’t worth getting rid of it,” says Cue, 36, of Indianapolis, who didn’t realize that the appraisal value means little unless the item is stolen. Unlike friends who “just don’t want to see (their rings) anymore,” because of the relationships the rings are associated with, Cue decided she didn’t want to get rid of hers that badly.

With an estimated 40 percent of first marriages ending in divorce, Cue is surely not the only divorcee left holding the baguettes. Or wedding dress or platinum band, for that matter.

What’s a girl to do?
So what’s one to do with that stuff?

For women like Cue, finding a private buyer for an old engagement ring is “the best scenario,” says Bert Wait, owner of Hinsdale Fine Jewelry Co., in Oak Brook, Ill. A private sale can bring about 50 percent of the ring’s retail price, excluding sales tax, he says. The remaining 50 percent can be credited to a jeweler’s overhead, he says.

Regardless of the reason for the lower-than-retail prices, sellers need to remember that they’re only selling an old engagement ring. Period. “When you sell a piece of jewelry, you’re not selling your memories,” says Wait. “You’re not selling the event. You still have that.”

An exception to the 50-percent estimate would be rings from more exclusive jewelers, such as Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, Harry Winston and Cartier. “Those famous brands will bring a premium,” says Wait. “They’re highly collectible.”

If a private buyer can’t be found, head to a firm or an individual that specializes in buying previously owned jewelry, says Wait. Reputable buyers will view the ring and give a price based on a GIA diamond grading report and their own observations on the piece.

Buyers should never ask a seller, “How much do you want?” he says. “The minute you hear those words, get out.” Don’t forget the Internet Of course, wedding items numbering in the thousands can be found on Web sites like eBay and Craigslist. Researching her “This Week on Craigslist” column for Phillyist.com, Jen A. Miller says she often finds listings for rings and dresses to be either too detailed or too sparse when what’s best is something in between the two.

“Some are all business,” she says. “Others are short and painful: size and the words ‘never worn’ or ‘worn for a few days’ or even a pithy remark about the previous owner.”

Miller advises sellers to keep it less personal, even having a friend write the listing. Then, to ensure traffic, she says, always include a photo — but not one from the big day with a big white dot over the bride and groom’s once-happy faces. “It’s creepy!”

Resigning to consign
Consignment is a good way to bid good riddance to old wedding gowns.

Jeanette McQueeney, 33, of Grosse Pointe Park, Mich., recouped $200 of the $650 she paid for the dress for her first wedding.

“It took forever to sell, though,” she says. “They had it at the consignment shop for about a year and a half. Just as I forgot about it, a check arrived.”

Michael’s, a consignment shop on Madison Avenue in New York City, features a bridal salon stocking as many as 50 high-end designer gowns at any given time, says owner Laura Fluhr. Wedding gown prices range from $650 to $2,500, Fluhr says, and a Vera Wang gown can often be had for $1,200.

“There is a very strong demand for very beautiful previously owned gowns,” she says.

Besides women divorcing their gowns along with their spouses, Fluhr’s consignment clients are often selling in hopes of freeing up valuable closet space or balancing out overspending on the front end.

Customers often ask for the history of secondhand gowns, afraid of buying into bad karma, Fluhr adds, but “even if we know, we don’t tell.”