'It’s sad to see people sell their heirlooms'

'It’s sad to see people sell their heirlooms'
Gold from the 1980s or grandpa's molars is melted down in smelters.

SEATTLE -- Dana Richardson’s golden retriever puppy, Kiva, was sick. To pay Kiva’s vet bills, she plundered her jewelry box and sold some gold.

In need of cash, Maura from Auburn, Wash., rounded up a couple of gold chains and pendants she’d gotten as gifts and headed to the Southcenter Doubletree. She walked out with a check for $25.

“It helps,” she said with a shrug. “It pays the gas.”

The jewelry will be sold to a smelter and heated to 1,947 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature at which tangled necklaces, wedding rings from failed marriages and bracelets from ex-boyfriends become one molten, golden memory.

No sale is more final than selling scrap gold.

“We’re throwing it in a furnace,” said Chuck Wilkinson, a partner in Goldarama.com, which held the expo, “so we always say if you have any misgivings, don’t sell to us.”

But sell some must.

One seller cashed in a dental filling from the mouth of a deceased grandfather for a $52 payoff. (Not having to see Gampy’s gold molar in the jewelry box was probably priceless.)

“With the price of gold up and the economy down, this is a good thing to do,” Wilkinson said.

The recycling aspect makes it a “green” business, he added, but sellers say they’ve got money, not the environment, in mind.

Trading in 1980s Gold

Richardson, of the Seattle suburb of Des Moines, opened velvet cases to reveal what she called “my 80s gold;” jewelry that was the height of fashion in flashier times.

“If you were around in the 1980s, we all had gold jewelry on,” to match the big hair, she said. (Remember the Solid Gold dancers?)

No more.

“That big, thick necklace,” she said, pointing to a gleaming serpentine chain, “you couldn’t get away with it now.”

Richardson’s payout for three necklaces, a couple bracelets, a broken earring and an old wedding ring her husband had to have cut off his finger: $551.88.

Testing for Karats

“Gold expo” conjures images of rowdy hordes haggling over King Tut-style treasures. In reality, it’s a small, quiet corner of a hotel ballroom lined with chairs.

When it’s their turn at the table, prospective sellers drop their offerings in gold-colored plastic bowls. Testers first use a magnet on the item. Precious metals aren’t magnetic.

Next they use magnifying glass to examine the gold for a stamp, or hallmark, indicating the karat. It’s illegal to falsify a hallmark, but Wilkinson said testers occasionally find fakes.

To make sure the item isn’t gold plated, testers file it before hooking it up to a device that reveals the grad of the gold in karats by running an electrical current through it.

This is the moment of truth. Sellers, most of whom are women, typically wait in hushed anticipation for the digital readout, and are sometimes disappointed by the results. Wilkinson said that’s to be expected given that the retail markup on jewelry can be as much as 700 percent.

Whatever the outcome, testers weigh the gold in grams and pay by the grade.

On this particular day, the expo was paying $6.10 per gram of 10-karat gold, $8.10 per gram for 14-karat gold, and $10.10 per gram for 18-karat gold. (Goldarama also buys silver. The company is locally owned. Kingston resident Lisa Hamilton is a principal.)

Local testers rarely see 24 karat gold, but when they do, tester Chantal Stevens said, it’s usually from the Middle East, where pure gold is more popular. Stevens, who is 27, said it has a deep, orange-y glow and doesn’t appeal to her. People her age prefer white gold or platinum, she said.

Fed to the Furnace

Meg Zook of Mercer Island brought in her 1980s gold jewelry and was so intrigued by the process she became a tester herself.

“You see all walks of life,” she said. “Sometimes it’s really sad because some people aren’t doing that well. It’s sad to see people sell their heirlooms.”

Sellers are less sentimental. “They don’t seem to care,” she said.

In some cases, women are purging bad memories. Those sellers aren’t concerned about price, Zook said.

Tester Lorna Pflauner said unloading old gold is for some like lifting a burden: “I’ve heard a lot of people say they’re cleaning out the clutter and it’s a good feeling.”

Lost its Luster

Not everyone is simply liquidating assets. Zook remembers a man from India, where gifts of gold to the bride are traditional, who brought in the bridal gold his American-born wife returned to him after their marriage dissolved. Some of the jewelry contained other gems and was so extravagant that they convinced him to take it to a jeweler, she said.

“He looked really sad,” Zook said.

Debbie Kinnear of Sammamish didn’t look thrilled with her transaction, either. She sold two necklaces, one made of 12k gold and the other of 14k karat gold. She got $154.16 for the pair, and while she was satisfied, it wasn’t mad money. She needs the cash because she’s unemployed.

“This is just one of the things I found within five minutes,” Kinnear said. “I might come back.”