When you need a little extra cash, digging through your jewelry box isn’t a bad place to start. But should you go to a gold buyer or hit up a pawn shop? Here’s how to get the best prices for your shiny goods.
Manage Your Expectations
Before you get too excited about raking in the cash, it’s super important to ground your expectations in reality. You may have an heirloom diamond necklace that belonged to your eccentric great aunt Mimsy, but to everyone you’re selling to, it’s just a necklace (and that diamond might not even be real). As Howard Rubin of the National Association of Jewelry Appraisers explains to the LA Times, it’s exceptionally rare to sell a secondhand piece for anything close to its purchasing price.
Rubin also notes that a piece of jewelry won’t sell anywhere near an appraised value for insurance purposes either. Those appraised values are based on the retail cost of replacing the item, including profit for the manufacturer, wholesaler, and retailer. The actual amount you’ll get for your jewelry depends on a lot of different variables, including beauty, rarity, where it was bought originally, and the materials that make up the item. Rubin cautions that you should never try to sell jewelry you really like, unless you’re desperate; there’s probably no profit to be had. Most people that are willing to buy your used jewelry are trying to make a profit themselves, so keep that in mind.
Evaluate Your Piece
To determine the ballpark value of your piece, you need to look at it objectively. For example, Anne and MJ Gabel, professional jewelry buyers at the Angie’s List Blog, suggest you look at your piece like a used car:
…when you go to value the used car, you must know the make, model, year and mileage to start. The same is true for a diamond – you must know the carat weight, color, clarity and cut in order to determine the value.
You can get a feel for what your item might be worth by looking for similar items in completed eBay auctions, or by looking at prices of someone else’s used jewelry with similar characteristics. Add a discount to what you see, as your buyer will be looking to turn a profit.
You may not feel comfortable trying to do that yourself, however, so it’s a good idea to seek a qualified appraiser. Unless you’re trying to sell some royal jewels, however, Neil Beaty, the owner of American Gem Registry, suggests you don’t necessarily need to pay a professional. Deborah L. Jacobs at Forbes explains:
If you’re short on funds and the diamond is likely worth less than $2,000, have the stone evaluated for free by a professional diamond buyer or even a pawnbroker. Visit two or three shops to get a range of opinions; in the end, you’ll have a solid idea of the specifications and state of your stone.
According to Beaty, the appraisal is a perfect time to ask questions about selling your piece in different markets and under certain circumstances. A good appraiser knows current market trends and can give you an idea of what kind of cash you’ll really get out of your items, so ask as many questions as you can. If you’re forward with them, they may very well level with you and give you a ballpark estimate you can keep in mind. You can easily find qualified appraisers through The National Association of Jewelry Appraisers web site. Once you locate a few near you, be sure to double check their reviews online and see how they stand with the Better Business Bureau as well so you know you’re not walking into a trap.
Prepare It for Sale
Depending on where you sell it, restoring your piece of jewelry can make all the difference in fetching a decent price. Sometimes all a musty old heirloom needs is a little cleaning to make it sparkle again. Christina Peterson at Good Housekeeping suggests you use a little warm water and some dish soap to get that luster back. Use a soft bristle toothbrush to gently clean the item (a hard toothbrush can scratch gold and some gems), then let it air dry. If the piece needs a little more cleaning power, you can also make some homemade jewelry cleaner with salt, baking soda, and dish soap. For some items, a nice bath with some denture cleaner can do the trick too.
If you don’t feel 100% comfortable cleaning the item yourself, however,Arden’s Jewelers in Sacramento, California recommend you seek a professional’s help:
Some jewelry stores may even clean it for free. Warning: the wrong cleaning can damage and even destroy jewelry. If your are unsure of how to clean the jewelry or gem, let the professionals do it… Never clean gold and gems in chlorine. Ammonia based cleaning products are used throughout the jewelry industry, but they can damage some gems. Try and avoid them.. The best cleaning tip is to know for certain the best cleaners to use on your jewelry and do it carefully.
If your item is in need of repair, Arden’s says it’s best if you leave that to the professionals as well. You could damage the item further if you don’t know what you’re doing, greatly impacting the value. If you’re just looking to make the item wearable again for personal use, by all means, go nuts. If you’re dead set on selling it, though, let a pro take a look first.
Sell It to a Jeweler or Pawnbroker
While you’re out trying to get your piece appraised by jewelers and pawnbrokers, it’s worth considering the offers they might make you. According to Rubin, local jewelers are likely to give you the best price because they’ll see you as a potential customer. Reciprocity is a powerful force. Of course, if they don’t usually buy used jewelry, they may just offer you store credit, which may or may not be ideal for you.
Alternatively, Beaty suggests consignment jewelers can try to sell your jewelry for you. This has it’s own ups and downs, however:
You might fetch a better price than selling to an industry insider because the diamond will be sold to the public, but the dealer will take a 25-40% commission. If you choose this option, never fail to obtain strong dealer references…
Pawnbrokers can be a crapshoot when it comes to getting a somewhat decent deal. They’re unlikely to give you anything close to what you’ll get at jewelers or online, but they might work in a pinch if you know your way around those establishments. The one thing pawn shops have over all other options is speed. If you need cash extremely fast, it’s your best bet.
Sell It for Scrap
Selling your jewelry for its scrap value is another quick way to make some cash. That means you’re only selling it for the value of the materials that make up the piece, and it will likely be disassembled and melted down into bullion later on. This is also the easiest way to sell your jewelry. All you have to do is show up to a gold buying store with the items, or mail them off, and they’ll usually make you an offer immediately. Bob Frick at Kiplinger gives a quick rundown of what returns you might see, depending on the current state of the market:
When you sell gold coins or bars, you should expect to receive at least 90% to 95% of the current market value. But with gold jewelry, you’re likely to get only 70% to 80% of the melt value. The difference reflects the dealer’s profit, plus the cost of melting and refining your gold and turning it into new gold jewelry or bullion.
Before you do this, however, you should know what kind of scrap value you’re working with. Steve Gillman at The Penny Hoarder suggests you bring your gold and silver items to a local coin shop or metal buyer just for an appraisal first. Whether you actually decide to sell there or not, they’ll be willing to make an appraisal because they want to buy your stuff. But even if they make you an offer, you can still shop around to see which store will give you the best deal. Gillman notes that you can do the same thing with online buyers, but if you deny their initial offer, the postage for sending your items back is on you.
If you want to determine the scrap value on your own, The American Gem Society offers some simple steps to walk you through it:
- Look up today’s spot value in the newspaper or internet. This will be quoted in $ per ounce.
- Determine the item’s weight . Pennyweights (dwt) and grams are both used in the trade. Re-figure spot gold per dwt or per gram.
- 20 dwt = 31 grams = 1 troy ounce
- Figure the purity of the item. Fourteen-karat (14K) gold is .585 pure gold. 18K = .750 or 75% So, if you have 10dwt of 14K gold at $435 per ounce:
- 10dwt X . 585 X $21.75 = $127.23
- Now for the variable part. The buyer will pay only a percentage this figure, because of the refining costs and overhead associated with gathering up enough gold to sell to the refinery. They are also speculating on the future gold value, which may be less than it is today. Expect to be offered less than 50%.
You can also check the gold price at the goldprice.org web site, and get a decent estimation of how much bullion is actually in your gold or silver jewelry with the Bullion Spot Price calculator. For selling individual diamonds, things get a lot trickier. Deborah Jacobs at Forbes explains:
…selling your diamond can be a major headache. Unlike gold, which has a quantifiable melt value, resale prices for diamonds have no one objective measure, making it easy for inexperienced sellers to become confused and overwhelmed.
It’s ill-advised to sell a loose diamond without knowing more about it. As you might expect, the fast and easy method is rarely the best method. If you have the time, you’re probably better off getting a few appraisals and trying to sell your jewelry as actual jewelry, not scrap.
Sell It Online
Selling jewelry online is a lot like selling anything else, but you have to take some precautions. If you do manage to sell your item, either at auction or via an ad, the transaction can have complications. Selling jewelry on eBay can be effective, especially if you already have a good seller reputation. Once you’ve sold, however, there’s a period where both the buyer and seller have to trust each other and hope the rest of the transaction will continue without anyone trying to pull a fast one. If you sell on a classified ad web site like Craigslist, you have to meet the buyer in person, which comes with its own set of risks.
For the safest route, both for you and your jewelry, services like I Do Now I Don’t make things easier. You offer up your jewelry for auction like you would normally on an auctioning web site like eBay (most are diamond engagement rings that didn’t stick the landing). Once you find a buyer, both you and the buyer send everything to the folks at I Do Now I Don’t. They make sure everything is hunky dory (your item is legit, they paid in full, etc.), then they send things where they belong so nobody gets conned. If you do decide to sell online, however, it’s still recommended that you get a few appraisals so you know a reasonable price you can sell it for