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Safeguarding Jewelry During Summer Vacations and Beyond

Experts offer simple safety suggestions for protecting valuables.

A jewelry box that is kept in a bedroom is one of the least safe places for storing valuable jewelry.

A jewelry box that is kept in a bedroom is one of the least safe places for storing valuable jewelry. Photo by Marilyn Campbell/The Connection

Kenzie Campbell left her home recently for a week-long trip to care for her ailing father. While she was away, her Northern Virginia home was burglarized, and in addition to a flat-screen television and an iMac computer, the thieves got away with all of her jewelry.

“I could care less about the television and the computer,” she said. “But they took a Cartier ring that I bought during a family trip to Paris, my grandmother’s wedding ring and almost all of the gemstone jewelry that my mother had given me, like a pair of denim sapphire earrings, which were my birthstone,” she said. “It is heartbreaking, not because of the monetary value, but because of the sentimental value.”

Summer is a time when many go on vacation and leave their homes unattended. In fact, according to the FBI, more burglaries occur during summer months than any other time of the year. The U.S. Department of Justice further reports that an American home is broken into about every 15 seconds. However, experts say there are simple precautions the average person can implement to safeguard valuable jewelry from potential burglaries.

“A jewelry box is the worst place to store valuable jewelry,” said jeweler and goldsmith George Kaufmann of Robert Bernard Jewelers in Potomac, Md. “A jewelry box is an invitation for a crook. Essentially, you’re packaging all your valuables in one obvious place and making it easy for a crook to take.”

In fact, the Jewelers' Security Alliance, a nonprofit trade association that provides crime prevention information, advises homeowners not to store their most precious jewelry in a bedroom or jewelry box. Statistically, it's the first place a burglar will look.

Campbell says that was her experience. “The burglars never went into my bathroom,” she said. “They took all of the jewelry from drawers in my bedroom.”

Diversion safes are clever options for hiding valuables. “There are a lot of items out there like books that are not really books but spaces for valuables or picture frames that are really security for jewelry,” said Robin Wagner, an associate professor of interior design at Marymount University in Arlington. There are even safes disguised as household food containers complete with barcoded wrappers, as well as decorative, wax candles that are made with interior metal storage compartments.

Kauffman says certain pieces of furniture also work well for hiding jewelry. “I had a client who has a piece of furniture that was an antique and it had a secret drawer that rotated,” he said. “It was something that nobody would ever find.”

He also recalls a clever hiding place from his childhood home. “When I was a kid, my mother wanted a vanity, so she took shelves out of the linen closet and made a little dressing table. It was deeper than what she needed, so she hid valuables in the shelves that were hidden. Every home has some kind of nook and cranny where you can hide valuable jewelry. Unless a crook has time to spend hours combing through your home, these usually work.”

It’s also a good idea to consider adding covert jewelry storage spaces, such as those suggested by Kauffman, during a home remodeling project. Unfortunately, Bob Gallagher of Sun Design Remodeling in Burke said, “It is not something that people are thinking of when they go into a remodeling project. Clients don’t bring it up often. People want to remain hopeful that they aren’t going to be a victim.”

However, says Gallagher, jewelry storage is not a complicated process during a construction project. “You build a safe into the actual construction project, inside the framing of the house. Sometimes people ask for safes to be recessed into a closet so people can’t walk away with it, and you could hang a picture over the safe to cover it.”

Fairfax resident Susan Hergenrather, an assistant professor of interior design at Marymount University agrees, offering a caveat about traditional safes. “You can buy a safe, but if it is one that can be picked up and taken out, it is not much good.”

Knowing the value of your jewelry is another component of safeguarding it. “You have to have it tested to determine whether the stones are real and [to] determine their quality,” said Kauffman. “Sometimes a ring might be stamped 14k gold, but that doesn’t guarantee that it is real. Have jewelry appraised and that will tell exactly what you have.”

Valuable pieces of jewelry should be insured through one’s homeowner’s insurance policy, say experts. “If something is really valuable and irreplaceable, keep it in a safe deposit box at the bank,” said Hergenrather. “Keep a photo and written inventory of your valuables and put that in the safe deposit box. That way if something is stolen, you have an accurate record.”