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Old jewelry worth its weight in gold?

It could be the right time to recycle your gold jewelry.

The price of gold tends to rise when the economy is doing poorly. Over the last two years, gold prices have risen about 70 percent. Though the price has dipped since reaching record highs, gold still shines.

And it is infinitely recyclable. "We are one of the greenest industries around," says Cecilia Gardner, president and CEO of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, a nonprofit effort to ensure industry ethics.

"Gold has been recycled since ancient times. Once gold comes out of the ground, it never goes back in. It's used over and over again."

The kind of gold you can sell ranges from inexpensive gold trinkets to dental gold to solid gold coins and fine jewelry.

Dealing in gold
Here's what you need to know to get the most money from what you have to sell.
Getting down to gold tacks
  1. Selling jewelry
  2. Gold coins
  3. Dental and other gold
  4. Valuing your gold
  5. Finding a buyer

Selling jewelry

A jeweler, pawn broker, gold refiner or scrap gold dealer will buy the stuff in the back of your jewelry box at a price based on the weight of its gold content, minus a handling fee. He melts down the jewelry, extracts the gold and sometimes some of the hardening agents and resells it or uses it himself.

You can pocket the cash -- or if you prefer, many jewelers will trade the old jewelry in for something you like better.

The gold content of jewelry is indicated in karats. Solid gold jewelry is 24 karats. Lesser jewelry has less gold content and more of other metals and hardening agents. Gold buyers will only pay for gold. With few exceptions, other metals have no resale value.

Generally, the gold content of any piece of jewelry will be marked on it somewhere -- on the inside of a ring or bracelet and on the clip of a necklace or the back of an earring. For instance, a 14-karat piece of jewelry may actually have "14 karat" inscribed on it in tiny lettering or the lettering may say "14/24" or "14K."

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The less gold content in a piece of jewelry, the less money it will be worth to anyone who intends to melt it down. When you buy jewelry in the store, you are paying for the design and craftsmanship, as well as any precious and semi-precious stones that may be a part of the piece. A beautifully designed piece of jewelry may have more resale value as used or "estate" jewelry than it will have as recycled gold. If you think that might be the case, get the piece appraised.

Michael Gusky, owner of Goldfellow.com, points to the heavy gold chains and bracelets that were popular among men in the 1970s as perfect candidates for meltdown. They have no resale value as jewelry because they are so far out of fashion, but the best of them had substantial gold content. Gusky says he recently paid $1,575 for a gold bracelet a customer bought 30 years ago for $1,000 during a visit to the Caribbean. The customer was "absolutely stunned," Gusky says.

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