Oil tops a record $120 a barrel? Bad news. Gold reaches a stunning $1,000 an ounce? Potentially very good news indeed.
Especially to Paige Rhodes, 40, of Alexandria, who has heaps of unwanted gold baubles cluttering up her jewelry boxes. Rather than wait for bold gold to come back in fashion — a return to the '80s, anyone? — women are scrapping their unwanted gewgaws for cash or checks at wine-and-cheese "gold parties."
Think Tupperware parties, but instead of buying plastic, guests bring gold (coins, watches, necklaces, teeth) to be assayed (tested) for carat content and weighed. Depending on the ounce-cost of gold that day, guests can walk away with hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
The party host pays them with cash or a check, then ships the gold to a refinery, where it is melted down and recycled. The refinery then pays the host — at a price higher than paid out to guests, the host hopes.
"Everybody wins," says January Thomas, 29, of Royal Oak, Mich., who started MyGoldParty.com this year shortly after she married into a jewelry-dealing family and found out what she could get for her unwanted gold. (A lot, because by late 2007 prices had tripled since 2001.)
In March, with the stock market swooning, oil prices soaring and the dollar falling, gold hit $1,000 an ounce for the first time.
Suddenly, gold scrapping for amateurs looked like good business, says Thomas, who has been traveling to promote and preside over gold parties while her website sells gold-party kits for $699 (includes a gold karat-testing machine, a scale, a jeweler's loupe and a how-to book she put together, My Gold Party).
Meanwhile, professional gold scrapping is booming, too. The largest gold buyer online, Cash4Gold.com, which is owned by a Florida refinery, Albar Precious Metals, records 25,000 transactions a month, and "it's going up every month," says Albar CEO Jeff Aronson. He attributes most of the increase to the $2 million to $3 million in advertising he spends a month, but he says the steady climb in gold prices has helped.
Online entrepreneurs have responded. Besides the many websites that buy unwanted jewelry, there's a new site, ExBoyfriendJewelry.com, which allows people to sell, trade, auction or give away jewelry from an ex — as long as they share the story of the gift on the site.
Still, gold parties can be a fun way to monetize unfashionable jewelry, says Cash4Gold.com president Howard Mosshin. "The economy is in the dumps, the housing market has hurt a lot of people, and people are looking for a way to find liquidity."
Thomas says many women don't like going to pawn shops. "At a party, they're less embarrassed about asking how much their jewelry is worth," Thomas says. "Besides, it's a form of recycling and de-cluttering."
Rhodes acquired a lot of gold jewelry in the 1980s, "but now I mostly wear silver," she says at a recent gold party here, where Thomas presided. Rhodes brought her doctor husband and a plastic food container rattling with heavy necklaces, bracelets and watches from her own collection and that of her late mother.
"We're not sure why she had six gold dolphin stickpins," Rhodes says, chuckling. But they are worth something, Thomas tells her as she tests and weighs and creates little piles of gold jewelry based on karat.
Gold is selling at $930 an ounce this day. Rhodes is thrilled to walk away with checks totaling $5,100. "Why not get rid of it if it's just going to sit in my jewelry box for 10 years?" she says triumphantly.
Besides, says her husband, Don,, 49, "you can always buy new gold things, if it ever comes back."