Gifting good: How to find sustainable estate jewelry and watches

It’s true, good things do come in small packages. This Holiday season, give your loved ones the goods, while at the same time doing good for the planet. While a donation in one’s name to a favorite charity might earn you a gold star, I’m talking literal gold, in the form of sustainable, estate jewelry.

Did you know that there is more gold in jewelry boxes, around the world, than what’s left in the earth to be mined? And not just a little bit more, but 83% more. The amount of existing gold jewelry combined would weigh 95.5 tons. That means, instead of the gold industry emitting annual carbon emissions, equivalent to burning 300 million barrels of oil, we can, and should, buy estate, vintage and heirloom jewelry. 

Gold prices are nearing record highs. At presstime for this story, the price of gold, per ounce, was $2,019, just shy of the record price set earlier this year. With gold prices five times higher than 20 years ago, selling unworn, broken and out-of-style gold jewelry to your local jewelers can be quite profitable. Not to mention that recycling scrap gold into new designs is 99.9% cleaner than mining and smelting new ore. 

The largest selection of pre-owned baubles can be found on websites like eBay, The RealReal and TrueFacet. But consider shopping locally first. Jewelry is meant to elicit emotion. Sparkle and scale are only truly realized in person. Initially cold to the touch, gold quickly warms to body temperature, in a way, becoming one with the wearer. Here are several Tampa Bay area jewelers worth visiting. 

International Diamond Center carries a large variety of pre-owned watches. They also employ skilled jewelers who can repair jewelry or create a new piece using your existing stones.  Ashland Watches and Jewelry of Sarasota and Arnold Jewelers, in Largo, offer antique, modern and designer estate jewelry alongside Swiss watches. Hayman Jewelry Co. and Arthur Yates and Son, have a long history of buying and selling estate jewelry from their Tampa showrooms, for 90 and 75 years, respectively.

It is very easy to assess the value of gold jewelry to see if you are getting a good value or are getting raked over the coals. United Precious Metal Refining has a free app with a simple-to-use scrap gold calculator. Simply select the purity (14k, 18k, etc.) and enter the weight in grams, pennyweights or troy ounces. Yes, having three different units of measure for gold seems excessive, but remember that the gold trade has been going on around the world for over 6,000 years, so there are some complications. But, don’t worry, the app also has a calculator to convert measurements.

Alternatively, assess the quality of the piece with your senses. Does it feel heavy for its size? That’s a good thing. Does it feel very light? That means less gold was used. Look at the inside or backside of the piece. Is it crude and rough, or is it polished and well-finished? These little details speak to the time and pride the bench jeweler put into that piece. Lastly, you can inspect the hallmarks or purity stamps, required by law, to be on every piece of gold jewelry. Be forewarned, these assay stamps can be excruciatingly small and difficult to read. If you see figurative forms (faces, animals, buildings, etc.), there is a high probability that the piece was made in Europe. If you see a star followed by letters, then numbers, the piece was made in Italy. If all you see is “14k” or “18k” the piece most likely was made in the United States, or in Asia for export to the U.S.

While gold prices are soaring, the collectibles market for fine Swiss watches is down approximately 20% from peak hype two years ago. This means that your buying power is stronger this holiday season. When selecting a watch as a gift, consider a person’s lifestyle – does a bracelet, leather or silicone strap align best with their daily activities? Features like a stopwatch (known as a chronograph) are great for racing hobbyists. Does the person spend a lot of time on the water? Water resistance in watches is measured in “atmospheres” or ATMs. If you’re more sentimental, consider buying a vintage watch from the recipient’s year of birth or featuring a favorite color or birthstone.

If you enjoy antiquing, garage sales or thrifting, you’ll love the hunt for heirloom jewelry and watches. There is always the anticipation that in the next display case, the perfect treasure will be there waiting for you to claim. Amplify the joy of giving this year with the unique, thoughtful and responsible gift of pre-loved gold accessories. ♦

By Graham Wetzbarger

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