Gold, silver values soar

Gold and silver are near record highs, but cashing in on that by selling old jewelry or coins can be tricky. A number of local companies buy gold, but dealers all advised sellers to be careful and comparison shop before letting go of their precious metals.

Gold on Tuesday was valued at $1,525 an ounce and silver at $36 an ounce on international markets.

Local gold dealers said there can be considerable variation in the amount of money that dealers offer, how they calculate value and how they operate.

Part of the variation is because the store relies on the staff to accurately figure out just how much gold there really is in a piece of jewelry or a coin. A ring might be marked 14 carat but really be 12 carat, they said, or it could be gold-plated.

Most stores take a tiny amount of gold from the jewelry and put a drop of acid on it. The color shows its purity. Phil's Coins uses an electronic sensor, said manager Phil Martinez.

Licensed gold buyers are required by the Wichita Police Department to hold jewelry and coins for 14 days in case the pieces are stolen.

Bill Baker of Speedy Cash said the company has to be compensated for taking the risk for having the price of gold go down during the waiting period.

The better a store is at figuring out the exact amount of gold, the better it can get an accurate read on its profit.

Bruce Harris, owner of AOK Enterprises, said he paid 85 percent. Martinez said he paid 70 percent to the general public and more to dealers.

Baker said he pays at least 50 percent.

"Some mail-in companies pay as little as 18 to 25 percent of the value of the gold," said Speedy Cash's Baker. "We are at a minimum double that."

Harris said the locals all pay better than they used to — because he started offering a better percentage.

"Places used to pay 30 or 40 percent of the value," he said, "and now they're paying around 70 to 85 percent."

But they all said it pays to do careful comparison shopping.

One store owner advised sellers to do it in person so they can watch the jewelry being weighed and examined for purity. It helps to know if the scale is properly calibrated for accuracy.

Pay attention to whether the price quoted is in grams or pennyweight. And get quotes at four or five places to at least get a competitive prices, say dealers.

"They can offer you 1/20th of what it's worth if you're not paying attention," said Lt. Barry Von Fange, of the Wichita Police Department, who oversees the department that licenses the gold dealers.