Is It Time to Cash in on That Jewelry Box?

By LORI ETTLINGER GROSSJULY 9, 2006GOLD and silver prices have fallen from the peaks they reached two months ago, but after five years of steady increases, they are still at levels that are spurring people to cash in unwanted jewelry for its scrap value.In Patchogue, N.Y., one gold buyer, Jim Sarno, owner of Budget Buy and Sell, says customers have been hauling in jewelry boxes and emptying them onto his countertops. The sudden and unrestrained exhibition of personal belongings often means only one thing: the people are there to sell."If you aren't wearing your jewelry, you are losing money," said Lisa Hubbard, executive director of the international jewelry division of Sotheby's. "Focus on what the cash would do for you."Scrapping gold for cash is an appealing option for those who are getting rid of odds and ends like a single earring or a broken chain and can be profitable, especially if you have an accumulation of castoffs. Outlets for sales range from local jewelers or gold buyers to smelters who advertise on the Internet; gold buying is highly competitive, and shopping around is advisable.Advertisement"Show the jewelry to two or three active buyers," suggested Russell Fogarty, a wholesaler at Kazanjian & Fogarty in Beverly Hills, Calif. "Buyers base their offering prices for modern gold items by first weighing them and determining the actual gold content. If the pieces are wearable and relatively desirable, the offer will be above the intrinsic value of the gold." But simple gold chains, he said, would go for less.AdvertisementKeep in mind that prices offered by buyers are for pure material, and that nearly all gold, platinum and silver jewelry is made of alloyed substances that require the addition of other metals to make them strong enough to withstand daily wear and tear. Gold that is 14 karat is 58 percent pure gold, while 18 karat means 75 percent and 24 karat is 100 percent; the price paid will reflect the amount of actual gold that is bought.Gold now sells for $633 an ounce, down from $725 in May. But that is much more than about $265 an ounce in July 2001. Jon Nadler, a precious-metals analyst at the bullion dealer Kitco.com, does not expect the price to fall below $540 an ounce, and he says it could hit $730 next year.The resale market for antique and estate jewelry is so closely scrutinized for valuable items that much of what is sold for scrap is instead salvaged and sold as jewelry. "Even the smelters and scrap buyers are smarter than" to let some items be melted down, explained Barry Weber, the chief executive of Edith Weber & Associates in New York, a gallery specializing in rare, antique and estate jewelry, who often appears on "Antiques Roadshow." "They pick out anything that has greater than scrap value," and it ends up in retailers' showcases.Janet Levy, a principal at J.& S.S. DeYoung, a 170-year-old wholesale firm in New York, advises consulting a specialist saying the education received may pay off well. "If you go to a jeweler rather than a refiner," she said, "and he or she notices that you have a period piece rather than something that can be scrapped, you can get a huge added value."Getting a professional appraisal is informative and reassuring; it also avoids mistakes. Ms. Levy suggests seeking out someone with credentials that are recognized in the jewelry trade. "Look for someone with jewelry trade affiliations, such as the American Gem Society," or someone who has training with the Gemological Institute of America, which requires rigorous educational standards to be met before a candidate is deemed an expert. Knowing that an affiliation with either group will increase consumer confidence, members often display their qualifications in shop windows or on business cards.Generally speaking, jewelers with these credentials are expected to examine jewelry with greater skill. "We recently bought a piece with an alexandrite in it that was set in yellow gold" and was thus very valuable, said Alan Levy, Ms. Levy's husband and also a principal at DeYoung. "To the ordinary person, it would not have looked like very much. That's why it's good to go to someone who is knowledgeable."Experts should also have the resources to investigate further if necessary. "We get calls from people every day asking for information on pieces a client has brought them for evaluation," Ms. Levy said. "What is wonderful today is that we have the Internet and digital photography so that we can give them a very good idea of what it is they are looking at."AdvertisementDaphne Lingon, senior jewelry specialist at Christie's, suggests asking questions of anyone performing an evaluation: What is the metal, and should it be tested for gold content? After 1898, all jewelry made in the United States containing gold was required to be stamped with its number of karats; the most common mark is 14k. Unmarked jewelry should be tested. When was the item made, and has it been repaired? According to jewelry industry analysts, the age and condition are, in most cases, vital for assessing value.Please verify you're not a robot by clicking the box.Invalid email address. Please re-enter.You must select a newsletter to subscribe to.View all New York Times newsletters.If a piece is desirable on the secondhand market, it may be worth substantially more than the value of the metal and gemstones.Keep in mind that smaller firms may be selective because they need to keep their markets in mind. "Ask them if they sell the type of jewelry you have," Ms. Hubbard of Sotheby's advised. "The estate jewelry market is about so much more than just the metal."Then there are companies, like Circa Inc., that will buy most anything. Circa, based in New York, also has offices in Chicago, San Francisco and Palm Beach, Fla., and sells jewelry to dealers and retailers across the country. "We have a market for almost any type of jewelry," said Chris DelGatto, its chief executive and co-founder.Designer names are persuasive; whether the jewel is antique, estate or contemporary, collectors regularly respond to them. "I would be reluctant to sell any jewelry for scrap that has any kind of name associated with it," Mr. Weber said.And bear in mind that fashion can be fickle. "There's a renewed interest in big, chunky charm bracelets as fashion," he said. "It's the kind of jewelry that years ago was basically traded for scrap value. Now it's being traded at jewelry value."So what was once the bane of the jewelry drawer can sometimes be deemed a charming vestige of a life lived, of mementos collected or given along the way.Because so much jewelry is now called "collectible," adding that je ne sais quoi to the price tag, can bargains still be found? While there are always exceptions, the reality is that there are few, if any, true bargains anymore, most dealers say.AdvertisementAnd even though high market prices for gold may prompt people to unload old jewelry, secondhand jewelry is a market all its own, with prices generally unaffected by the precious-metals markets."Jewelry as a collectible is pretty well insulated from a commodities market," Mr. Weber said. "In the case of fine estate jewelry, essentially you are buying art that happens to be made from jewelry materials."MANY dealers base prices on what they have paid, rather than an item's worth as determined by metal weight and gem quality. "The first thing to understand is that I haven't changed any of my prices since gold has gone up," said Benjamin Macklowe of Macklowe Gallery in New York, which specializes in decorative arts, including jewelry. "The best way to get really good value is to buy things that are aesthetically challenging and interesting; the greatest value remains in its design and beauty."At auctions, one can often buy estate jewelry below market prices. "Generally, the prices at auction are 30 to 50 percent less than retail," said Gloria Lieberman, vice president and director of fine jewelry at Skinner Inc., the Boston auction house. "We prepare our auction prices three months earlier than the sale, so the jewelry is not up to market value."Auction houses offer a mix of antique, estate and contemporary pieces. For jewelry from periods that are favored by collectors, like Art Deco and Edwardian, it's more difficult to reveal a sleeper, but among items from periods like the 1950's, 60's or 70's, you may uncover a gem.A version of this article appears in print on , on Page BU6 of the New York edition with the headline: . Order Reprints| Today's Paper|SubscribeWere interested in your feedback on this page. 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Is It Time to Cash in on That Jewelry Box? 1

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