Cody Everett spread the contents of a plastic bag onto a red cloth on Sarah Rider's dining room table.
The bag held a jumble of old jewelry — necklaces, bracelets, rings, a pair of dangling silver earrings the size of silver dollars and shaped like cats.
The jewelry belonged to Judi Morinelli, one of about a dozen women who gathered in Rider's Omaha home on a recent Thursday night with bags of jewelry and bottles of wine. They were there for a gold party — the offspring of a Tupperware party and a visit to a pawn shop or a cash-for-gold store, and a growing trend in Nebraska and beyond.
Gold currently (as of late last week, anyway) sells for around $1,680 an ounce (silver is much lower at just above $30 an ounce). At that price, women often sell their gold jewelry for more than they paid for it new.
And sell they do.
Everett, of Omaha, a professional gold buyer since June (she signed up for training after attending a gold party herself), sifted through Morinelli's castoffs, much of which had sat forgotten in a jewelry box for years. Everett held a magnet over each piece to see if it stuck (a magnet won't pick up authentic gold or silver) and used a magnifying glass to look for markings — 10-karat, 14-karat, 18-karat or 24-karat gold, or .925 silver.
If there were no markings, she scratched the gold pieces and used acid to see if it turned the metal a coppery color, indicating a fake (she didn't accept unmarked silver). In the end, she weighed the pieces, punched some numbers into a calculator and, after asking if the owner was sure she could part with her treasures, wrote a check.
In Morinelli's case, a check for $121.20.
It felt like finding money in the street.
“I never wear it,” Morinelli said. “I hadn't worn it in 30 years.”
Home gold parties began popping up nationwide around 2008 as the economy slowed and people started looking for ways to save money — and find money they didn't realize they had.
Suburban Chicagoans Danielle Gerke and her cousin Mary Fields, who had spent 10 years presenting home jewelry parties and worked in jewelry stores before that, heard of the trend and founded their own business, Gold Rush Girls. Gerke and Fields threw their first Gold Rush Girls party in March of 2010, and, as the demand for parties grew, began to recruit and train other buyers, mostly family members and close friends. Gold Rush Girls now has more than 40 buyers (including Everett) in a dozen states.
“When you start the growth it's hard to stop it because people recruit people,” Gerke said.
Like any home-party business, the flexible schedule was appealing to many reps, she said. The fact that gold buyers don't have to be hard-core saleswomen doesn't hurt either.
“This isn't a buy-stuff party. It's a sell-stuff party,” said Rider, hostess of the recent Thursday night gathering in Omaha.
Until this summer, Rider had never heard of a gold party. Then a friend invited her to one.
Rider, 30, came of jewelry-wearing age at a time when silver was popular, and she was afraid she wouldn't find anything worth selling. But she unearthed a set of Black Hills gold earrings and a matching necklace — a never-worn gift from her grandma. She also brought along a sterling silver necklace from an old boyfriend.
She went home with a check for $40.
“That's a tank of gas,” she said.
Rider also liked hearing about the stuff that other guests brought — dated necklaces and earrings, old class rings, jewelry from old boyfriends or ex-husbands. Where had they acquired the pieces, and why did they no longer want them?
“The stories are what I liked most,” she said. She found them so interesting that she booked her own party.
At Rider's party, guests gathered around the dining room table where they admired a locket containing a 1970s-era photo of a smiling young couple — one of Rider's coworkers at Creighton University and an old boyfriend. They listened as Morinelli recalled losing one of her cat-shaped earrings while on a date with her husband in the Old Market. She ran through the streets looking for the earring until she found it.
(And she didn't sell the cat earrings).
Everett said she buys old Black Hills gold, rope chains, and class rings at pretty much every event she books.
She's seen her share of weird stuff, too — dental gold still attached to a tooth, gold flakes from a family's gold mine.
Gerke has seen dental grills, 14-karat gold press-on fingernails and a ring set with a baby tooth instead of a stone.
No matter how weird or how mundane, the pieces all meet the same fate — they're sold to a refinery, Gerke said.
The parties have drawn criticism, particularly from other gold buyers.
“The tough thing is the people that go to these parties, they're not well-informed,” said John Dineen, general manager of Sol's Jewelry and Loan, which has five locations in Omaha.
And because they often aren't well-informed, they don't know when they're not getting the best price, he said. Sol's generally pays 98 percent of stock market value for gold, Dineen said. The price of gold fluctuates, but late last week, that translated to about $52 a gram, he said. At a gold party, the hostess, the rep and the parent company all get a cut, plus, in the case of Gold Rush Girls, the guest who sells the highest dollar amount of gold gets an extra $100.
After all that, Dineen said, he doubted the payout to the seller matched what he would offer. (Gerke declined to disclose how much Gold Rush Girls pays for gold).
Gold Rush Girls, based in Illinois, is accredited with the Better Business Bureau there, said Jim Hegarty, president of the Omaha Area Better Business Bureau. But no reps had applied for accreditation in Nebraska, he said. He echoed Dineen's advice that sellers educate themselves about the price of gold, the quality of their pieces and the different ways of measuring gold before selling anywhere.
Gerke said she keeps an eye on what all other sellers are offering and tries to offer a fair price.
“We feel like we're pretty competitive and, in a lot of cases, we feel like we're better,” she said.
Plus, she said, the women (and men) who attend gold parties wouldn't necessarily sell their gold at all if they weren't doing it at a party, Gerke said.
“You're getting a glass of wine and cocktails, and some people maybe don't care to shop around,” she said.
Everett added that sellers drawn to home gold parties might not feel comfortable at a pawn shop.
Of course, there are other options, too. Most jewelry stores buy gold, too, including Omaha's Bergman Jewelers. Owner Larry Gilinsky would not disclose how much he pays for gold; competition is stiff in the cash-for-gold market, after all.
But for pieces that are collectible or antique, or that are still in good shape but the owner no longer wants, Gilinsky offered another option: selling on consignment.
“They might not get their money right away, but they'll get a lot more when it gets sold,” he said.
Regardless of whether they offer the best deal, home gold parties certainly have their fans.
Among them: Tessa Young, who had never liked the two thick rope chains that belonged to her husband. She'd never actually seen him wear them.
She took Rider's gold party as an opportunity to get rid of them.
“Right before the party, I was like ‘Where are those chains that I hate?'” she said.
He handed them over, and Young sold the two hated chains, along with a pearl earring missing its mate, for a grand total of $591 — far more than Young had thought possible.
It's possible the price of gold will drop, Gerke said. Or that the economy will recover and the cash-for-gold commercials and storefronts will fade away. But even so, she thinks there's a future in home gold parties.
Marriages end. Clasps break. Earrings go missing. Styles change.
“Its surprising how much gold people have,” she said.
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