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Heirloom jewelry can reveal family secrets

Sandy Riper (right) meets with customerWhat’s It Worth? Wednesday! at Sunset Hill Jewelers, 23 N High St, offers free verbal appraisals at 4pm every Wednesday.

September 8, 2015

West Chester PA -- Sandra Riper is not a psychic, despite what some of her customers believe.

While appraising jewelry during Sunset Hill Jeweler’s What’s It Worth? Wednesday! Riper can not only value new and old pieces but at times gives insights into some unknown family history.

"Maybe grandmother had a boyfriend before grandfather," Riper commented. "Jewelry tells a lot about families. The items can be recycled and the age and circumstances tell a lot about what the family members were experiencing. They ask, 'How did I know?' Some believe I’m a psychic, but I’m not."

Riper recalled one woman coming to her What’s It Worth? Wednesday! event with three fine vintage pieces and a fourth one that was not so attractive. "I asked her about a family divorce in the 1980s," Riper said. "Indeed, an aunt had been divorced in that time period. My father created the same type of jewelry during that time period from unwanted wedding and engagement rings."

Riper, owner of Sunset Hill Jewelers at 23 North High Street, West Chester, began in August giving free verbal appraisals on Wednesdays from 4:00pm until 7:00pm at her store. Each week brings new articles for her to appraise and evaluate, many with unusual family stories.

On a recent Wednesday evening Phyllis Kidder brought in cameo bracelet refashioned with Victorian elements. Riper also provided a repair by adding a swivel clasp which made the bracelet easier to wear and remove.

While Sunset Hill Jewelers offers a full service of design, repairs and sales, at times Riper will refer customers to auction professionals. She recalled looking at a gold pocket watch and a star sapphire piece of jewelry. "I don’t sell many pocket watches and the market for star sapphires is small. I told the woman she should take the items to Freeman’s auctions in Philadelphia where she would receive a higher return since the auctions target collectors. I think that was good advice."

The idea for What’s it Worth? Wednesday! came to Riper one evening. "I just woke up with the idea,” she said. “We do a lot of verbal appraisals but not everyone was aware that we did so. What’s it Worth? Wednesday! is a catchy way to promote our free services. The jewelry doesn’t have to be antique. It can be of any age."

What Riper doesn't see are vintage men's wedding rings, especially from the 1900s. "The reason, and this is sad, is war took many men’s lives. The rings were lost. How many perished on the beaches of Normandy?"

People are surprised, and occasionally not pleasantly so, by the value of their items at times, according to Riper. Members of one family were convinced a piece of jewelry in an estate was worth much more than it was and were vying for ownership. She added that people don’t realize even in the 1920s and 1930s that synthetic stones existed.

Riper grew up in the family jewelry business and has been a part of Sunset Hill Jewelry from the beginning, more than 30 years ago. "I grew up here in West Chester and I’m still here," she commented. Riper is a graduate of the Gemological Institute of America. She has given lectures at the Chester County Historical Society on antique jewelry, been an instructor at night schools and given talks at various civic clubs.

Customers for three generations have trusted Sunset Hill Jewelers for designer and custom diamond engagement rings, wedding bands, necklaces, earrings, repairs, and restoration or redesign of estate jewelry. Sunset Hill Jewelers doesn’t define jewelry as precious or non-precious; Riper believes all jewelry is precious, sentimental, and should be handled with the utmost care.

For more information on Sunset Hill Jewelers see SunsetHillJewelers.com or call 610-692-0374.

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