Old jewelry worth its weight in gold?

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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.”

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.

Most buyers of gold won’t pay anything for stones, with the exception of diamonds. So if you want them, remove them yourself or have them removed before you turn a piece of gold jewelry over to a buyer.

Gold coins

If you’ve inherited somebody’s coin collection and it includes some gold coins, these can be sold for meltdown as well. But it will probably pay to get an informal appraisal first. Coin dealers who are members of the American Numismatic Association subscribe to a code of ethics and should be able to examine gold coins and tell you whether they have more value as coins or bullion.

“When valuing gold coins, there are a lot of components. When the price of (gold) is very strong, based on authenticity, condition and rarity, some coins are worth more for their bullion than they are as a coin. A good dealer should be able to help you with this,” says Jay Beeton, the association’s marketing director.

Beeton also suggests getting a second opinion — “because there are people who will take advantage of you.”

Dental and other gold

Dental fillings, gold teeth, bridges and crowns are usually 16 karat gold and can be resold as well. Some dental gold contains platinum as a hardening agent, and that has a separate and often greater value. It pays to shop around if you have this kind of gold to sell. It can be harder to value than gold jewelry.

Gold knickknacks, medallions and religious items also are salable, but again, first find somebody who will help you determine their value as a collectible before you sell them to be melted down.

Valuing your gold

It’s easy to get burned in the gold-selling game. So it helps to have a clear idea of what you’re selling before you approach a buyer.

The following presumes that we are talking about 24 karat gold. But most people’s jewelry isn’t that pure. So you have to figure out how much gold is in the jewelry or item you want to sell and multiply that percentage by the value in pennyweights. Use the chart below to do the calculations.

Percentage of purity
Karat Percent
24 100
22 91.7
18 75
14 58.3
12 50
8 33.3
6 25
1 4.167
Source: The World Gold Council

Most gold transactions are conducted in pennyweights, with 20 pennyweights, or DWT, equal to 1 troy ounce of gold.

Go to the World Gold Council, an international organization of mining companies, for the current price of gold. It fluctuates constantly, so what you see there is unlikely to be what you’ll be paid for your gold, but it will give you a ballpark figure. The Gold Spot Price is in troy ounces. If gold is selling for $1,000 a troy ounce, divide the $1,000 an ounce by 20 pennyweights, and you end up with a value of $50 a pennyweight.

The next step is to figure out how much your gold weighs. If you have a jeweler’s scale, that makes it easy. But if you are using an ordinary kitchen scale, you’ll have to convert to pennyweights: 1.5 kitchen grams = 1 pennyweight, and 1 kitchen ounce = 18.23 pennyweights.

For a simpler, but even rougher measurement, know that the weight of one penny coin = 1.5 pennyweights. Put your jewelry in one hand and have someone drop pennies into your other hand until the two feel of about equal weight, then count the pennies and multiply by 1.5.

Finally, expect that the dealer will keep some for himself — at least 10 percent and maybe as much as 30 percent.

That’s the negotiable factor and what makes doing these calculations worthwhile before you shop the gold around.

Finding a buyer

Gardner and Gusky offer this advice on getting the most for your gold.

Tips and caveats
  • If you are dealing with a refiner, ask if the company is a member of the International Precious Metals Institute, which encourages ethical business practices within the industry.
  • If you are dealing with a jeweler, ask if they are members of Jewelers of America or the American Gem Society. Both of these organizations advocate for ethical standards and professionalism in the retail jewelry industry.
  • In almost every part of the country, pawnbrokers and other businesses buying gold or other valuables are required to file reports with the local district attorney or the state attorney general’s office, providing a copy of the seller’s photo identification. If you aren’t asked for identification, take your gold and leave.
  • There are reputable scrap gold dealers who buy gold via the Internet, but it’s hard to verify their ethics. An indication that they are trustworthy is their willingness to send you a packing envelope that is registered and requires a signature from them when you return it filled with your gold. The shipment should also be insured. The dealer should then quote you a price, which you can accept or reject. If you reject that offer, the dealer should be willing to return your gold in similar packaging.
  • Don’t accept a deal that requires you to turn over your gold and wait for whatever check the buyer chooses to send. At the very least, get an estimate and a guaranteed price range.
  • Shop around. You may find great differences in the offers you get for your gold.
  • Don’t get your hopes up too high. While what you’re selling may look like a big pile of gold, by the time it’s melted down and the impurities are removed, it may not amount to much.