As price of gold rises, more people are selling old jewelry at parties, pawn shops

Wednesday, December 8, 2010
David Ratledge, a gold buyer, writes a check after evaluating several pieces of gold jewelry brought to a gold party Monday, Dec. 6, 2010 in Jackson. (Fred Lynch)

Move over Tupperware, there's a new party in town. In-home gold buying parties are rising in popularity as the price of gold on Wall Street soars to record heights.

With gold at $1,424.10 an ounce Monday, Pamela Barns of Jackson gathered up the broken chains and empty ring settings out of her jewelry box and brought them to a gold party at her neighbor Robyn Hosp's house. She went home with a check for more than $500.

"I got a lot more than I thought for them. It's kind of shocking actually," Barnes said.

Set up in the corner of Hosp's basement, gold buyer David Ratledge of Kelso, Mo., a representative of Little Rock, Ark.-based Braswell & Son, evaluated piles of old rings, necklaces and even coins for hours.

He performed several scratch and acid tests to verify the gold content, put them on his scale and printed out checks on the spot from his laptop.

David Ratledge uses a loupe to check the karat markings on gold items brought to a gold party Monday, Dec. 6, 2010 in Jackson. (Fred Lynch)

"I'm a middle man," Ratledge said. "I evaluate the gold and write a check, then I bag it up and send it to Braswell & Son. They send it to a refinery and melt it down."

Ratledge joined the company in May after attending a gold buying party with his wife, who also now is a gold buyer. In July, they had 44 parties. At an average party he pays out from $2,000 to $4,000, but Sunday night he had an $8,000 party.

"I started doing it on the side to make some extra money," said Ratledge, who owns a construction company. "But it's turned into an every-night job. I have a party every night from now to Christmas. Some days we have two in one day."

Ratledge receives a commission on the gold he buys. The party host also receives 10 percent of the value of the precious metals purchased. Ratledge buys gold, silver and platinum -- even gold teeth.

People who become curious about selling their old gold after seeing "cash for gold" advertisements on television feel more comfortable selling their gold at a party, Ratledge said.

"It's referred to them by their friends, and they're in someone's home that they trust," he said.

Hosp loves seeing how much her friends get for the odds and ends they bring in.

"You think it's about the gold, it's not. It's about the friends," said Hosp, who has hosted three gold buying parties.

Local jeweler Kent Zickfield said people often get confused about the value of gold.

"They think if they have an ounce of gold jewelry, they will get whatever gold is selling for an ounce for it," he said. "Jewelry isn't pure gold. When they melt it down, by the time you get the dirt out of it you have about half gold and half other materials."

The percentage of gold in a jewelry item depends on its karat value. Ten karat gold is 41 percent pure, 14 karat is 58 percent pure and 18 karat gold is 75 percent pure.

"If you bought a piece of nice jewelry and you think you're going to sell it for three times what you paid for it, you're not. You might as well just keep it as a nice jewelry piece," Zickfield said.

Zickfield, who has been in the jewelry business since 1967, said gold prices are linked to the world economy.

"When the dollar is low, gold is usually high," Zickfield said. "Other countries don't want our dollar right now, so it drives the price of gold up."

As gold prices continue to rise, Plaza Pawn manager Irene Spinner said she has seen more people coming into her store to sell their gold items. The prices the shop pays for gold are based on current market values, she said.

"We make loans on it, buy it for scrap and buy it for resale," Spinner said. "Our main goal is to pay as high as we can for all three categories. People are hurting right now and they have a way to make some extra money when they have gold just laying around the house. You have to give them a fair price because if you don't, the next guy will."

But Spinner is concerned that out-of-town gold buyers, who don't require identification, encourage burglaries.

Last week the International Coin Collectors Association set up shop buying precious metals, coins and antiques in the Holiday Inn Express in Cape Girardeau. Over five days, the company saw hundreds of people who brought in valuables and were paid on the spot for them.

According to Spinner, organizations similar to this don't have the same standards her store does.

"We have cameras and we require IDs. We just don't get stolen things in here," she said.

"That's not something we want. Those people who come to town and stay for a few days and then they leave, they've got everything they want and then they're gone. What they have will never be traceable."

mmiller@semissourian.com

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