Welcome to the gold party craze: A new day pawning

Sometimes when Amber Watson-Tardiff comes across a single cuff-link or a massive tangle of chains in her jewelry box, it occurs to her that it might be time for a gold party.

Like many people who are looking for an extra way to make some cash, Watson-Tardiff is skipping the pawn shop and opting instead to sip champagne cocktails with her friends while an appraiser announces just how much her unwanted bling will bring her in unexpected riches. With the price of gold hovering around $1,100 an ounce, the take can be pretty lucrative.
Watson-Tardiff, 26, of Morristown,N.J., has attended about a dozen gold parties in the last two years and she has hosted three. Her best personal take: $300 for a gold chain, one earring and two bracelets.

"I think these parties are a lot more exciting than Tupperware because you aren't spending money," she says. "You are going with jewelry you haven't worn in years, or broken stuff that can't be repaired, and walking away with cash. It's actually quite fun."

Julie Tilsner received $480 for what she refers to as a "dowdy" bracelet. Not only did she get to pocket some cash, but she also earned a refresher margarita for her surprising profit.

Gold parties take place in all sorts of venues: private homes, hospitals, even places of pampering. Jane Aransky's La Residencia Spa in Newton Upper Falls, Mass. gives its gold party goers a 24-karat gold facial, makeup lesson, mini massages and manicures. "By pairing the selling of their gold with treatments, it turns it into a fun experience," Aransky says.

It's been such a fun experience for Tom Kelly that he's created a business out of it. He began Gold Home Party Inc, in 2007 and has hosted more than 6,000 gold-for-cash bashes. His company, which is based in Pittsburgh, receives about 15 percent of the take after the jeweler (who brings his or her own equipment) and host get their share. The host usually gets 10 percent but the percentage for the jeweler can vary, he says.

"We are paying for the gold content and not the jewelry value of the piece," says Kelly. "It does not matter if it is broken or if the dog chewed on it. We are able to pay good money for items that the owner thought was 'junk.' "

Sometimes, however, the pieces people bring in are downright odd. Kelly once saw a guest try to hock gold from a dental filling -- that was still attached to a tooth (luckily, the tooth was no longer in his mouth)!

Gold Home Party is only one of dozens of companies that have sprouted up in the United States since the economy tanked and gold prices soared, according to the Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune.

Even charities are cashing in. Born2Fly International, a Florida-based watchdog group that's trying to put an end to child-trafficking, has held three gold-party events, collecting anywhere between 15 percent of the payout to the entire amount. "[Guests] were thrilled to be able to donate just by finding unwanted items in their jewelry box," said Diana Scimone, the director of Born2Fly.

As with anything that generates a lot of hype and a lot of money, fraud can run rampant. The gold party upswing, perhaps helped by complaints against mail-in cash-for-gold dealers , has generated a cry for more government regulation, according to the Journal. Opportunistic jewelers might undervalue a piece to convert a larger gain for themselves. "Your guard is down because you're at a friend's house," Claudette Carveth, a spokeswoman for Connecticut's department of consumer protection, told the Journal.

The solution is to do your research. Try to find out what price range your piece might go for, Watson-Tardiff recommends.

And then go for the gold! Silver and platinum are welcome, too.
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