Chinese Pandas: As Jewelry?

Posted on 8/11/2015

It is very common to come across a 1/10-ounce or 1/20-ounce gold Panda coin that has been converted into jewelry.

Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.
— Chinese Proverb

Rich and rare were the gems she wore,
And a bright gold ring on her hand she bore.

— Thomas Moore

Just the other day a collector wrote to me to ask about the value of a coin. He has one to sell and the prices he was offered are well below those in the NGC Chinese Modern Coin Price Guide. He wanted to know why. At first he described the coin as Brilliant Uncirculated, but later changed that to formerly mounted in jewelry. This makes all the difference in the world to a coin’s value and it is important to understand why.

Pandas are often said to be the cutest and most popular animals in the world. Their lovable appearance is a big part of the appeal of Panda coins. Another lure is the beauty of the coins themselves. This is never truer than when the coins are in perfect, or near-perfect condition. In numismatics, condition and value are related; the better the condition the higher the value. So collectors take pains to preserve their coins in the best possible condition. That usually means storing a coin collection in a vault or safe, or at least out of sight.

Many other people, though, want to display their affection for Pandas openly. This may be through Panda-themed clothing, backpacks, umbrellas, or jewelry. From the start of the Panda series in 1982, jewelry has been a major use for the coins. The most extensive sales catalog I’ve seen for the 1982 gold Pandas is entirely about jewelry settings. It shows Panda coins mounted as rings, pins, necklaces and bracelets. When the coins were released, the China Mint presumed that jewelry would be a very large market for them. It was.

To this day, it is common to come across Panda coins either in jewelry or that show signs of previous jewelry use. The 1/10 oz. and 1/20 oz. sizes are particularly popular. So popular that one coin store used to sell 10,000 1/20 oz. gold Pandas per month to a jewelry company. So popular that one telemarketer made its own gold Pandas to fill the demand (they stopped after legal action).

1/10 oz. and 1/20 oz. coins are excellent sizes to fit in a ring, or to dangle from a bracelet. The coin is held in its place by pressure from prongs or a surrounding mounting. Unfortunately, this marks it permanently. If the coin is later removed from the setting, the scars from its former captivity will remain. In addition, the coin may pick up nicks and scratches while it is handled, or worn.

Coins that were once used for jewelry, like this 1993 1/10 oz. platinum Panda,
often have scratches, wear and other impairments like mounting marks."
Click images to enlarge.

Due to this damage, collectors generally shun ex-jewelry Panda coins. Only a key date or rare type will bring a substantial price. In many cases an ex-jewelry Panda is worth roughly its melt value. That means a coin like a 1995 1/20 oz. platinum Panda that might bring $4,000 in pristine NGC PF 69 condition could bring less than $100 at auction, as happened not long ago.

So what is a collector to do to avoid the pitfall of ex-jewelry coins? One thing is to learn to recognize the signs of jewelry damage. There is nothing better, though, than to buy a coin that is authenticated, graded and guaranteed by NGC. This makes sure that every coin in a collection is a real jewel.

Peter Anthony is an expert on Chinese modern coins with a particular focus on Panda coins. He is an analyst for the NGC Chinese Modern Coin Price Guide as well as a consultant on Chinese modern coins.

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