The woman behind a counter at Gold Pros in Westfield Countryside mall found "14K" stamped on a clasp of a chain my sister gave me when I graduated from high school. She poured acid on a few links and polished a spot until it turned brown — proving it was real gold. She weighed it and made me an offer: $80.
Not bad, I thought. I had been prepared for less. But aloud, I demurred. "Hmmm. I was just curious."
Hold on, she said, she would call her manager. Her next offer: $100.
I marveled inwardly at the jump, but I didn't plan to sell the chain, which I intended to use in my quest to find the highest selling price of gold.
She was eager to buy and had my necklace behind the counter, out of my reach, as she called her manager again. Final offer: $120.
• • •
The gold rush has corner shops popping up with human signs advertising: "We Pay More."
Clearly, money is being made. Gold prices started rising about five years ago, following fears of a faltering U.S. economy that sent investors toward tangible currencies. Gold traded for a little more than $400 per ounce in 2005. It has more than tripled in the years since, despite a significant drop in recent weeks.
Traveling buyers set up shop in hotel ballrooms and in homes where friends gathered for gold-buying parties. People scoured jewelry boxes and even pried gold fillings loose from teeth.
It wasn't hard to see why. When I picked this gold chain from a basket under my sink several weeks ago, gold was selling for $1,650 per ounce.
• • •
My second stop was Almas Jewelry & Watch Repair on Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa, where a man told me his acid test showed my gold was less than 14 karat. Maybe it was 8 or 10, he said, and offered me $20.
At Goldmax on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, a buyer wearing a suit offered me water, soda or juice and a chair.
His job was to educate me, he said, and save me the gas and time of driving around town. Goldmax, with 259 stores nationally and 28 in Florida, is the country's largest gold buyer in the United States, he said. They could guarantee the best price because they dealt in bulk.
This time, my chain passed the acid test as 14 karat. That means it's a mixture of metals with 58.3 percent gold, he told me. At that moment, an ounce of pure gold was trading at $1,664, he said, referring to his computer screen where the price changed every five minutes.
His offer: $82.89. If I accepted, he would write me a check and my chain would head to a Salt Lake City refinery where it would be melted into bullion.
I do the math later. An ounce of gold equals 20 pennyweights. At the price of $1,664 per ounce, each pennyweight would cost $83.20. My chain, which includes other metals, consists of 1.92 pennyweights of gold. ($83.20 x 1.92 ounce = $159.74).
Of course, there is the cost of doing business.
When I said I wanted to check some other shops, he called his manager and got me the employee pricing, guaranteeing me the highest he could go: $95.61.
The only way that offer could be beat, he said, was by a jeweler who offered partial store credit. He mentioned an amount I might be offered by such a jeweler: $150.
• • •
A pawn and jewelry store on U.S. 19 in Port Richey called the Golden Nugget has a little of everything. Smartphones and gems and Masonic rings and tools and an AK-47. A shark fossil sits above a stack of silver bars. A man behind a counter had a 9mm pistol on his hip. Next to him sat the shop's pit bull, Ivy, who wears a pink collar with a tiara on her tag.
He weighed my chain and offered me $112 — "if it tests out," he said.
I told him I had an offer of $120. He said he could match it. I told him politely that I would think about it.
Did I really want to haggle with a guy with a pit bull and a AK?
One more stop: a former neighbor who owns a jewelry shop in South Tampa.
For me, he says, $125.
He had beat my best offer by a wimpy $5. Still, I felt confident I'd found the top of the market.
I took the money.
He took my gold to a local refinery.
Later, I call the refinery and asked if it will buy gold from me. No. It buys only from companies, jewelers and pawnshops and won't tell me how much it pays.
I checked back with the buyers who offered the lowest bids.
Goldmax did not return several calls. At Alma's, the man who said my gold was less than 14 karat stood by his acid test. He couldn't risk paying for 10 karat gold only to find it was less than that. He offered to test again, and said he has a good reputation and had not been interested in buying my gold, based on the test.
I believed him. But I had learned that finding a reasonable offer requires effort and bargaining is part of the process.
Don't trust your gold to one set of scales or one acid test, and don't take the first offer.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3431.