In hard economic times, people often resort to selling personal jewelry items, especially if they need cash in a hurry. While its never advantageous to sell anything under pressure, there are some rules you should follow in order to maximize what you can get for an individual piece.

Joe Brandt, who has been in the jewelry business for nearly four decades, says a seller should understand that value, when it comes to jewelry, is very subjective. It all depends, he says, on who is buying it.

Just because you have had an appraisal done on Aunt Hilda's broach, and the appraisal came in at $1,000, it doesn't mean you can get that much in the marketplace.

"Most appraisals are done for insurance purposes, and they measure the retail replacement cost of an item," Brandt told ConsumerAffairs.com. "That doesn't mean you're going to get that if you try and sell the piece."

So how do you find out what your piece of jewelry is worth?

"The easiest way for people to see what their jewelry is 'worth' is to take it to several places that buy jewelry and get competing offers for it," Brandt said.

Those places might include retail jewelry stores, or even pawn shops. In fact, despite the stigma sometimes attached to pawn shops, they might in fact be a good choice if you need to raise money quickly, and would be able to pay it back within a short period of time.

"In most states pawn shops are required to hold an item for a specific period of time before selling it. So, if you wanted to keep the piece of jewelry, you could go back when you had the money to, in effect, buy it back," Brandt said.

Brandt has written a book, "Protecting The Family Jewels," which covers many aspects of selling jewelry, written with an eye toward helping sellers protect their assets and realize the most for them when selling. Throughout, he counsels jewelry sellers to know what they have and understand why it might, or might not, be valuable.

"In any event, no matter what the scenario is, the value of the components has meaning. In today's market, gold is a very big portion of the picture. If what you're selling has a diamond, that certainly has a very large bearing."

The best way to sell, he says, is to an individual through a private sale. He says selling on eBay is reasonably safe, if done carefully and with the assistance of a third party like PayPal to handle the financial transaction.

Unfortunately, some people never get to sell their jewelry because it gets stolen during a burglary. Brandt says most burglars, especially the pros, are looking for jewels not your wide screen TV when they break into your house. Unfortunately, most people make it all too easy for them.

"The thief usually heads straight to the bedroom and there, on top of the dresser, is a jewelry box full of jewels," Brandt said. "The homeowners can lose all of it in a matter of seconds."

Brandt urges jewelry owners to keep their valuable pieces in a creative hiding place, like a hollowed out book. Then, to make the thief think he's made an easy score, keep a jewelry box full of costume jewelry on top of the dresser. In case of a break-in, that could be the only thing the thief takes.

"So you're out $50 worth of costume jewelry," Brandt said. "It should be the worst thing that should happen to someone."