Evaluating and Selling Jewelry
So Aunt Petunia has just kicked the bucket, and she left you a small treasure-trove of shiny objects that you think are gold, diamonds, and priceless heirlooms. The question is, how can you tell what's profitable and what isn't worth the trouble? Well here we go with a primer on gold, silver, platinum, and diamonds, how to identify them, and what you can get for them.
I've been working in the pawn broking industry for a bit now, and as part of my everyday job I have to evaluate and price jewelry. With that in mind, I'll be giving you an idea of what you can expect from pawn shops, as well as reasonable charges when selling privately.
(You'll also learn how much you may have gotten ripped off when you bought your girlfriend that "gold" necklace last Christmas.)
Precious Metals: What they're worth to the world
The mainstay of the jewelry industry is precious metals: gold, silver, and platinum being the most popular. All have their own benefits and all have their respective drawbacks.
Before we start, you should know that many websites, sellers, and buyers price metals by the Troy Ounce, and I'll be refering to value by the gram, since most jewelry isn't going to weigh more than a few grams. For ease of reference: 1 Troy Ounce = 31.109 grams.
Silver is a beautiful metal, strong for settings and full pieces alike, and is relatively cheap compared to the other metals. A quick way of identifying silver is to look along the inside of a ring, or along the clasp/end of a necklace or bracelet. What you're looking for is a little number like ".925" or ".999." This is the percentage of silver versus other metals that are in your item. Sterling silver, one of the most common types, is made up of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper.
Current prices for silver are at about $0.18 per gram. I would expect to sell a weighty silver chain necklace (about 30 grams) for about $10 if you're being fair. Since we know that stores aren't fair, you can usually get away with selling them for about 2.5 to 3 times that amount. As a pawnbroker I tend to avoid buying silver at all, mainly because I can't sell it as readily, and also because I can't give the customer enough money to make it worth their while.
Ah yes, gold. Traditional or white, gold is the most common and popular of the precious metals for most jewelry. Gold is weighed and valued by a system of karats, with 24 karats being pure gold, and is abbreviated after the value number as "K." Most people know that you can buy jewelry in 10K, 14K, 18K, and sometimes the full 24K (though this is rare).
Gold is a very soft metal, so other metals are added into any jewelry of less than 24K, and typical alloys include zinc, silver, and copper. When you're trying to identify how much gold you've got in a piece, you're going to follow the same guidelines as when checking silver, only this time you're looking for a 10K, 14K, or similar on the item. If you see certain letters after this value, such as EP, GEP, or P, it means that the item is gold plated and not solid.
Currently gold is at a high and valued at about $24 per gram, with predictions of rising again in the future. The price assumes you have a 24K piece though, so a little math is required to find the value of your ring/necklace/etc. To find the market value of your item, use the following equation:
Market Value = (karats / 24) x ($24) x (weight in grams)
In this case, a 10K gold ring weighing 3.0 grams would be worth: (10/24) x ($24) x (3.0) = $29.95. So for that ring you'd be looking at market value of about thirty bucks.
Platinum is an incredibly strong metal, very hard to work, but very good for jewelry that's going to be put to the test. It's often used as the setting in gold and silver jewelry to hold diamonds and other valuable stones. The price of platinum fluctuates often for a few reasons: it's hard to work, hard to find, and Russia.
Wait. Russia? Yep, the good old Russians. Since the largest producer of platinum in the world is the Russian Federation, even the slightest rumors about fluctuating prices over there will send our prices into spirals up or down over here. And no one can seem to get them to let us in on their market information, so we're stuck in half a guessing game.
You can identify this precious metal by again looking on the inside of your ring, or near the clasps of your necklace/bracelets. What we're looking for this time is a little more complicated. Since Platinum can be made up of a few differend metals from the platinum group, these pieces are going to be marked with a number, followed by an abbreviation for platinum such as Pt or Plat, then either followed by the abbreviation for another group metal, or a number and the abbreviation. This can continue up to three or four times depending on how many different platinum group metals are in your item.
For instance, if you have a ring that is 85% platinum and 15% iridium, then you could see any of these markings:
850 Pt 150 Ir
85 Plat Irid
850 Plat Irid
Or really any combination of the above to indicate how much platinum is in the ring/bracelet/whatever. Right now, as long as the item is at least 56% platinum it is usually considered good, and sometimes as low as 50% is acceptable.
The current prices for platinum are at about $46-47 per gram. Yeah, it's a whole lot of cash for this quality metal. Expect to be charged out the butt to buy anything made entirely or partially of platinum, and expect to be able to charge quite a bit in turn. A solid women's ring (3 grams avg.) could net you up to $150 at cost, 3 to 4 times that at profit sale.
Diamonds are a girl's best friend, and the arch enemy of a guys wallet. There are so many different cuts and designs that this rare stone may come in that it would take another article in itself to go into sufficient details for identification and accurate pricing. Here are a few quick guidelines, though, on what you can expect to sell and buy them for.
In a pawn shop you're not going to get much for a diamond. I tend to buy them by a point, where one point is equal to .01 carats, and I only give $1-2 per point. This is a pretty common way of buying them and you'll usually get your item priced based on the diamond quality and the precious metal content. So if you have a 3.0 gram 14K ring with a 1 carat diamond in the middle, you're looking at about (14/24) x ($24) x (3.0) = $42, plus $100 in points for a total of about $142. Expect a pawn shop to sell that same ring for about 4-5 times that much.
The easiest way to identify a diamond is to use a diamond tester, which is like a small electrode that you push onto the diamond surface. It reads green for diamond or orange for not, and it makes an annoying beep if you touch metal. I wouldn't recommend getting one though, unless you're going to be doing some frequent buying, selling, and testing, because this little baby can run you $90 or more. For a one time batch of selling, try calling local pawn shops and jewelers and ask if they can do some identification for you. Usually it's free, but you might have to shell out a few dollars to get a lot of stuff tested at once.
Selling Your Jewelry: A few thoughts
There are a few places you can find to sell your jewelry, and you're going to find different results from each one.
Jewelers and Gold Buyers
There are shops out there that specialize in buying and recasting fold jewelry. Check your local yellow pages or the internet for jewelers, gold sellers/buyers, or precious metal wholesalers. Also check around your local jewelry shops and pawn shops to see if they have contact information for someone who buys gold and other metals at market value. My store, for instance, has someone who buys all our scrap gold once per month, and we've managed over $3000 in one trip!
The trick here is to make contact and see what happens. It'll take some searching, but there is usually someone in the area willing to buy your gold. Be prepared to travel and meet the potential buyer somewhere, and it wouldn't hurt to have measurements of weight for all your items beforehand. Or take a small scale, whichever. You'll have to work out the details with your buyer.
Online marketplaces such as eBay usually hold the best chances of selling your pieces at a decent price because so many buyers have access to your listings. The trick to finding a buyer and selling your goods for a decent price online is in writing the advertisement. A few tips:
- Include clear pictures
- use different angles to display the whole item
- Mark items clearly if they are in a collage
- Be specific in your ads, with as much concise detail as possible
- For precious metals always include weight, color, karats, and composition (platinum, silver).
- include sizes for rings and lengths for bracelets/necklaces
Private selling through classified ads in your local paper, Craig's List for your state, or local publications can allow you to charge a little more for the right buyer, but usually these ads cost money to place.
The biggest issue you'll run into using this method is usually length of the ad, except on Craig's List. You'll need to be very short and to the point to save space and money, and always assume your reader is too lazy to read illustrious and artistic details about the item. A good ad for a ring may read:
LYG ring, 14K, one .5 carat dia in center; size 5; $100 obo.
That 46 character ad could run you $0.46 to $2, but it's well worth it for the $100 sale at the end.
Don't overlook friends and family either when you're selling. There may be a cousin or old roommate out there that could really use a gold necklace, diamond ring, or silver bracelet for the upcoming holidays, and buying from you would probably be cheaper than from a store (unless you're that kind of friend). As a rule, try not to price gouge anyone you'll have to spend holidays with.
Now I work at a pawn shop and far be it from me to tell you not to use them. They provide immediate cash for almost any item and they're relatively easy to find. The thing you need to remember however, is pawn shops sell items very cheap, and in order to do that they have to buy them very cheap as well. If you see a ring exactly like yours going for $100 in the case, expect to only get $15-20 for it when you sell it.
If you're okay with selling that cheap, which usually results from getting the item for free, then go ahead and use your local pawn brokers. A good shop will tell you up front if they can't give you as much as you want, and many will recommend you sell using one of the methods above instead. Unscrupulous brokers (and there are a few!), will lie and tell you the item isn't worth anything, then turn around and sell it for a lot more than they paid for it. A good rule of thumb is this: if the place is uncomfortable and the broker gives you the shudders, go somewhere else. Trust your gut, it's a good judge of character.
The main issue you're going to run into with costume jewelry is this: it's fake. Very fake. Fake, fake, fake, fake, fake. Instead of gold or silver you're going to have steel, aluminum, nickle, tin, or any other cheap colored substitute. Diamonds will be cubic zirconias and other precious stones will be colored glass. It's going to be impossible to make a great profit off costume jewelry unless you're unethical and willing to lie, but I'm not about to tell you how to do that!
Sell the costume jewelry in sets and make sure it's clear that's what you're selling. Never market costume pieces as real, as it can result in angry customers and some sites/papers will ban you from advertising if you get enough fraud complaints (usually only one or two). A good time to sell costume jewelry is around Halloween, and try putting together nice costumes to sell as a set. Use that fake, but pretty, tiara to set off a duchess or little girl's princess costume. If you have some sewing skills this can be a great way to make extra cash around September and October.
The main point is this: don't lie to sell your fake stuff. Make it worth buying instead!
I've gone over how to identify and sell the most common precious metals and diamonds, and I hope you learned something valuable from reading about it. I'll leave you with a few thoughts as you go out into the world a little more sell-saavy.
First, precious metals fluctuate and their values rise and fall often. Take this into account and always check market prices before selling or buying.
Second, there are many options for getting rid of your old jewelry, but not every method works for every person. Experiment, talk to people, and research your options before jumping into a decision.
I hope you enjoyed this article and found it useful. If you have any questions or requests for other articles, please feel free to send them my way!